Throwing It Back With … Kobe Bryant
Obviously the idea of our site is to remember the past, reminisce about sports and relate current sports events to the best part of our sports memories.
And, the idea of “Throwing It Back” is to catch up with a former sports star to catch up and find out what he/she is up to.
Sometimes, the broad scope changes.
Superstar Kobe Bryant made a surprise visit to UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Throwback Attack was there for his visit to a small classroom on campus. Luckily for our purposes, the moderator, Jon Spaventa, asked Kobe a lot about growing up and his childhood. But, Kobe did touch on a lot of current topics, all of which are included in the Q & A below.
[We must note, not every question asked in the hour and a half session has been printed here and some of the questions at the end were asked by those in the classroom.]
When did you start playing basketball?
I started at three. I knew I’d be a basketball player. It was not as global then, but it was fun. I knew I’d want to do it for the rest of my life.
Did your dad influence your choice?
I played all kinds of sports. It was a thing that gave me an outlet. I couldn’t stop.
Did you know you were talented then?
I had one year in the Sonny Hill League in Philadelphia when I played one whole summer and I scored zero points. That was when I was 10 years old. In my family you can’t have that. It was unacceptable. My whole family talked trash to me. But, I went back and changed my game up. I knew when I came back from that horrible summer I was going to wear kids out. I didn’t know whether I was good or not. I was going to make myself good enough. You have two options. One, is you quit. One, is you work your way through. I’ve never been a quitter.
What was life like in Italy?
It was normal. I didn’t know anything different. It just felt natural. This is where I grew up. I wasn’t the ‘Black Mamba.’ I was just Kobe.
How do you compare soccer players to basketball players?
There are a lot of similarities. Footwork, skillwork. But if you’re talking about a pure athletic comparison, from that respect, if I ran that much, I’d die. Their schedule is crazy, non-stop all year round. It’s a tough sport. But it’s different. Basketball, you’re getting beat on all the time. At least I am.
Are you 100 percent healthy?
I’m healthy enough. I’m good. If I had to, I will make a way to make it work. I will figure out a way.
[Spaventa and Bryant briefly bantered at this point, before Kobe told the following story]
I find things to entertain myself with. In the first round against Oklahoma we’re up 2-0. We go to Oklahoma and in games three and four I couldn’t bend my knee at all. After Game 4 [in Oklahoma], I’m lying on the training table and one of the doctors walked by afterwards. He examined me and said ‘I need to drain your knee.’ There was so much fluid in my knee I couldn’t run. They said they would drain my knee as soon as we got back to Los Angeles [prior to Game 5]. I was so excited. Now, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are friends of mine. I found the biggest cigar I could find and I walked out of the locker room with this big cigar in my mouth and Kevin Durant says ‘What’s up?’ I said ‘I’m getting my knee drained. This series is over.’ [Laughs.]
When you were in high school, were you as spoiled as high school athletes now with the shoes and the endorsements and all the things surrounding them?
When I was coming up, it was right at the start with the shoe companies. The whole marketing of high schools was just getting there. My teachers did a great job with me. I have a great relationship with them to this day and [they have] helped me to this day.
[After discussing why Kobe didn't even go on an official visit to Duke - because he said he wasn't going to go there anyway because he was going pro and Kobe didn't want to take a spot from another potential kid - he was asked if Coach Mike Krzyzewski was his favorite coach. Nope, it's Phil Jackson.]
Phil is incredibly smart. … From understanding what the group needs to do and how to make them work as a unit. It’s hard to find a coach today who is able to do that.
Do you buy into the Zen?
Honestly? I never read one book he gave me. I would tell Phil ‘You know I’m not going to read that.’
What was the last book he gave you?
Blink. I looked at it, blinked, and then that was it. [Laughs.]
There was a lot of reports this past year about you not practicing because the idea was to keep you fresh for games.
What’s weird is that I’m used to being there. I love practice. It felt like coaching. You have to have people understand to compete like it’s a game in practice. I saw a lot of buddy-buddy. What that does is you lose the edge in practice. You perform like you practice and you lose that edge.
Do you have any rituals or gameday habits?
Can’t say that I do. If I’m tired, I sleep. If I’m not, I stay up; watch TV or a movie. For meals I have either chicken or salmon. Just work on preparation. I don’t believe in superstition because if that day doesn’t line up, you’re thrown out of your routine. You can’t force a situation.
What was life like for you in those first years?
The timing was different. The speed was different. I had to work on shoring up my moves and work on how to make my game quicker. I broke my wrist before my first year playing pickup ball at Venice Beach. That was not very smart.
Who are your favorite players?
All of them. I mean that. I’m a student of the game. I love to watch them all. I learn tidbits from every one of them.
You’ve been to UCSB as a player [the Lakers held training camp there twice], with your summer camp and now you’re in a classroom. Is there any aspect of college you feel you’d enjoy?
Getting an education. [Laughs.] I tried to say it with a straight face, man.
What are you most proud of?
I feel like I’ve squeezed every ounce out of it. This is something I wanted to do as a kid. I wanted to be one of the top players. You ever seen that movie Rudy? I met Rudy. I met him at a game in Sacramento and we started talking. I said to myself that I have a lot of talent, but if I work as hard as a guy who doesn’t have as much talent, but would work that hard just to try to make the team, then I can do that everyday.
How many years do you have left?
Three to four. I feel great. My knee feels great. My finger is still broken. I can’t bend it, but that’s OK.
What is your feeling about the NBA lockout, from your perspective?
It’s weird to hear about so much money being tossed around. We’re fighting, not just for ourselves now, but for the generation after us. We want to make sure everybody is taken care of for years to come. Its a dogfight, man but we’re in it. It is what it is.
Why would the agents push decertification?
I don’t think it’s a good idea now. There was a time but that ship has sailed. If there was a time to decertify, it was the initial time [of the lockout].
What are your goals for the year?
Going to win another one.
What’s Ron Artest like?
He’s wacky, but I love the guy. He’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He’ll give you the shirt off his back. I love having him [on the team].
Who is the toughest player for you to guard?
It’s Carmelo Anthony. By far. His size and his strength. And he knows how to use it. ‘Melo can post up, he has a midrange game, he’s good from three-point range. He can step back. That give lot him a lot of options. As a defender, you have to choose one [to defend] to try to throw him off his game.
Who is the toughest player that guards you?
Tony Allen. He playes me well. He’s little, but he’s tough. He’s scrappy. He won’t quit.
Who are some of the players you take pride in beating?
All of them.
When you retire, is your goal to be considered the best ever?
That’s not important. It’s impossible. That’s not a goal worth shooting for. Some people say Jordan is not the best because it’s Wilt. Or it’s Magic. So, that’s impossible.
What are the things Michael Jordan can do better than you?
He has huge hands, so that helps when he goes to the basket because he can better control the ball. He can pick up a ball like its a tennis ball.
Because you’re one of the smartest players we’ve seen, are you ever going to be a coach?
I don’t have the patience to be a head coach. You’re making another lifelong commitment. I know how I’d do things. I’m obsessive. I’d be on it all the time. Plus, I’d have to catch Phil. And that’s a whole other mountain to climb.
How close are you to going to Italy?
Anything you’re hearing is (rumors). My group and I, we won’t speak in public. Whatever you hear or hear people say, it’s not official. That’s not how we do business.
Tell us about one of your many programs to help kids.
It’s called the After School All-Stars. It’s all about helping kids find a path. Whether they want to be a photographer or a chef or whatever. It’s all about helping them find a way on their path.
Where do you expect to be 10 years from now?
In a rocking chair, smoking a cigar in South Carolina.
Why South Carolina?
Why not? [Laughs.]