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Friday, October 02, 2015

Genius Talks: Kobe Unplugged

On July 3, 2015, Jemele Hill conducted an interview with Kobe Bryant that BET aired under the title "Genius Talks: Kobe Unplugged." Hill's questions were predictably pro forma but some of Bryant's replies provided insight into his approach to basketball--and life. Here is a summary of some of Bryant's more thought-provoking comments.

Bryant said that he has tunnel vision about criticism, comparing his approach to Secretariat flying down the track with blinders on, unaware of anything happening on either side and only focused on running. I believe that Bryant has long adhered to this philosophy, though his staunch denial that he was even aware of public criticisms made about him early in his career seems a bit disingenuous; it is difficult for a public figure to be completely oblivious to how he is perceived and Bryant often seems very focused on refuting his doubters, which would be hard to do if he were not even aware of the criticisms.

Bryant declared that Phil Jackson's coaching gave him an advantage over Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and the league's other top guards. This is very interesting because Bryant is a straight-shooter both with praise and with criticism. Some people attempt to diminish Jackson's accomplishments by suggesting that many coaches could have won just as often as Jackson did if they had coached the same players but Bryant firmly believes that Jackson's approach gave him an advantage over the other great shooting guards of his era.

Bryant stated that failure does not exist because "the story continues." He added, "I play to figure things out. I play to learn something." Bryant believes that there is weakness involved with either playing with a fear of failure or playing with pressure to win and that the best method is to center himself and focus on the process. This is not easy to do but it makes a lot of sense; if you focus too much on what you have to lose (or gain) then you lose sight of what you have to do next.

As the story continues, one can learn from previous chapters. Bryant noted that failure in one setting just teaches you what you need to do better next time. Success teaches you what you should continue to do but you still have to evolve because the competition will adapt and evolve.

Bryant acknowledged that he pushes his teammates and he hates excuses. Bryant said that Shaquille O'Neal played "mean," which Bryant respects, but O'Neal also put his arm around guys and encouraged them. After his difficulties relating to O'Neal and some of his other teammates, Bryant "self-assessed" and learned not to be a jerk (though Bryant used a different word), which Bryant half-jokingly said means either changing or being the same way all the time so that people get used to it.

Examining his self assessment seriously, Bryant said that an important moment in his personal evolution was when Rick Fox told him during a team meeting, "We just want to feel like you are a part of us." Bryant admitted that he had never looked at things that way. Bryant began to "approach the game on a human level" and tried to connect with his teammates emotionally instead of just continually pushing himself and them.

Bryant believes that the most important thing for young players is to ask why things happen. If a screen/roll play results in an open shot in the corner a player should understand why that happened, what adjustments the other team might make and how to counter those adjustments so that someone else will be open if that first option is covered. This analysis reminded me of something that Phil Jackson once said about Bryant. Jackson called Bryant a "hard-headed learner" because Bryant would not do anything unless someone could explain to him why he should do it that way. This trait can be viewed negatively or positively but I think that it is positive. A smart person questions authority and questions what is happening as opposed to just passively accepting things. Bryant is "hard-headed" but in a good way--and if a coach cannot articulate a good reason for doing things a certain way that could be a sign that things should be done a different way.

Bryant concluded the interview by describing how he wants to be remembered after he retires: "I think it's that I reached my highest level of potential. As much as I could have accomplished I accomplished. I left no stone unturned. I tried and learned as much as I could to be the best possible player I could be to help my team be the best possible team it could be." Bryant recalled that when he was 16, he vowed to himself that he wanted to be a "talented overachiever" and he hopes now that this is his legacy, that he will be remembered as someone who did not rely just on talent but who also worked very hard.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:36 AM

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