Kobe Bryant will return to Staples Center on Monday for his first Lakers game since he (literally) dropped the mic after scoring 60 points in his grand finale and train his eyes on the rafters, where his jersey(s) will be retired to flank the rest of the Purple and Gold legends.
Bryant joined Lakers.com to discuss how he’s grown as a dad, why sports is a perfect metaphor for life, his 60-point finale, his “Dear Basketball” film and other projects, his jersey(s) retirement, the Lakers young players and more.
Below is a transcription of the conversation:
MT: OK Kobe, let me start here … despite still being busy with Kobe Inc., have you been able to spend more time with and enjoy your third daughter in a different way from your first two girls when you were in the thick of your playing career?
Kobe: Yeah, I’ve been able to be around way more and see her grow on a daily basis. You know how you can go to sleep Monday night and wake up Tuesday morning and she’s grown? But previously, you’d go on a road trip on Monday for a week, come back and you’d miss her first word. So it’s awesome to see the progression daily.
MT: How have you evolved as a dad, and how has that grown together as you enter this stage of your professional life?
Kobe: I had to figure out how to teach. Parenting is teaching. How do you teach your children to be upstanding citizens? How do you teach them that they can accomplish what they set out to accomplish? How do you teach is the most important thing. But stories certainly help. Even me, my kids can get tired of what I have to say and what V* has to say, so I figured out the best way to do that is to hide (teaching) in entertainment. Where they can see a video and can learn and understand complex messages from animation, or song. Where they can watch one of the (projects) we do like “The Golden Democracy” or “Dear Basketball” and see something fun. They can learn something about the game of basketball. But hidden inside both of those are really powerful life messages.
*Bryant’s wife, Vanessa.
MT: I’ve always felt like sports is a great metaphor for life, but without the consequences of politics or war, where you can learn about what hard work and teamwork can do for you, what winning and losing means, and so on. From playing at the highest level possible and now as a story teller, how do you look at sports?
Kobe: Absolutely, because there’s no greater metaphor for life than sports itself. The fact that we can have a collection of athletes that come from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, different political views, but yet can figure out a way to understand each other, how to work well with each other towards a common goal … there’s no better metaphor for life than that. So as a storyteller it’s about finding those little nuggets and pulling those out, and having the story bring that to life. In this way, we can reach not only the average basketball or sports fan, but also those who don’t watch sports. Like “Dear Basketball,” which is a basketball film. But yet I have people come up to me and say ‘I wasn’t a basketball fan at all, I wasn’t thinking about basketball, but that film moved me.’ If we can do that, I feel like we’re doing our jobs.
MT: Because of all you accomplished and what you built, you can get into any room. How do you now maximize what you built as an athlete and personality as you move forward?
Kobe: We have a very, very solid team here. What we do is build and find partners that believe in the core philosophy that sports is the greatest metaphor for life. If they believe that and can see the potential in that they will be great partners. From that standpoint, we have a great team of young creators, artists and filmmakers to go out there and create the work.
MT: There’s long been the thought that a competitor like you or Michael Jordan wouldn’t want to coach, because it’d be hard to tolerate and understand players that didn’t work as hard as you, or didn’t have the same drive. How has it been as a parent and a boss at Kobe Inc. from that standpoint?
Bryant: It’s different. In sports, when I was playing, you have certain restrictions with the teammates that you have. You have some that won’t work as hard as others and there is nothing you can do about it. You have to try and drive them and pull them. But during the season you’re working with a time crunch as well, so things need to be more immediate. If you’re playing Monday, you’re playing Tuesday, or you have Finals or playoffs, that stuff creeps up, so you have to drive and push a little bit more.
The industry I’m in now, with creativity … you don’t want to strangle the creative process. You want to be able to give freedom and the ability to grow. So my job really is just making sure we find the right talent, people that are obsessive and love what they do, and creating an environment in which I put them in the best possible situation to grow. And that is it. As a parent as well, it’s just about being patient and teaching. Fortunately for us, both of our kids are extremely, extremely hard workers. It’s also about how to process failure, success and anxiety and all the things that emotionally (impact) kids at that age. It’s our job to teach.
MT: What was your goal with “Dear Basketball,” the short film you did together with renowned animator/director Glen Keane and Oscar winning composer John Williams?
Bryant: For me it’s just really exciting to be able to create this piece with Glen and John. I’ve been a fan of Glen for years, and John, obviously. To actually see Glen receive the accolades and praise that he’s deserved for years and years of creating so many iconic characters has been a joy for me. And for the story itself, I wrote it from a really, really personal place. I’ve gotten a kick out of seeing people’s different reactions to the film, because if we’re doing our jobs as storytellers, the reactions and interpretations will be different for each person, in a sense. Because they’ll relate it to something they’ve gone through personally. And it’s been a joy for me to see those reactions from people and to hear what moved them and how it moved them. As a storyteller, that’s what’s most enjoyable, to be able to move people and take them to a place that was forgotten or an emotional turning point in their lives.
MT: That makes me think of the 60-point game … how so many people were moved by that night, and have that memory forever … something you gave them. You can’t do it on the court anymore, but is this next phase at all about trying to do it in a different way?
Bryant: That’s absolutely right. In that last 60-point game, what you see is the action. You see what I’m doing. But as a storytelling company, we can’t just simply show you what’s happening, we have to show you why it’s happening. If you build in that character as it is happening how it leads to that place, this way, you’re not only inspired by what you’re seeing, but it’s hitting home personally if you understand why.
MT: So was the 60-point game basically a culmination of everything you were as a player? Persistence, tenacity, endurance, footwork, skill, direct leadership…
Kobe: It was kind of a snap shot of the arc of my career, really. The struggles to start. The ebbs and flows throughout the course of the game. Physically being tired but pushing through. That perseverance. The footwork that was there, the fundamentals of the game were there. But also the emotional strengths to be able to have the inner confidence that this thing will turn around. It’s OK. I don’t care if millions of people are watching, just focus on the thing you love doing because you’re doing it for the last time. Being able to emotionally find the enjoyment in that versus the burden of the pressure of the situation.
MT: When the jersey goes up … is it going to be two different jerseys, or one with the number slashed? Do you know?
Kobe: I have no idea. That is a great question. I have no clue.
MT: Perhaps the building will be similar to how it was for the 60-point game, with a ton of excitement, but without all the angst that was there for Game 7 against Boston. What are you expecting?
Kobe: I don’t know. I’m expecting a lot of energy. I myself am going to be really excited to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m also really excited to share “Dear Basketball” with them. Something that’s really personal, this whole journey, the beginning of the journey as a Laker all the way to the culmination of having my jersey retired as a Laker.
MT: And for someone who grew up watching the greats of the game, I’m sure the significance of being up there next to Magic, Kareem, Wilt, West and company won’t be lost on you.
Kobe: No question. Those were muses to me growing up as a kid. To have my jersey up there with them is a dream come true. My goodness, that’s insane.
MT: OK two quick ones about the current young Lakers. I know you had a conversation with Brandon Ingram last season, and wonder what you’ve seen in his development up to this point?
Kobe: He’s developing from what I’ve seen, and not just in the big games, but in the games that aren’t nationally televised and don’t have fanfare around them, still being able to perform at a really, really high level. It seems like he’s starting to figure out the beat of the NBA game. Starting to figure out the rhythm of the league. Starting to figure out the defensive packages that he’s seeing night in and night out. It’s really exciting to see how he’s developing.
MT: What would be your main point of emphasis to Lonzo Ball or really any of the Lakers young players?
Lonzo: Just focus on doing the work. You’ve been around me long enough, Mike … you know it’s all about the work. No matter what you’re asked for stories or (what may be good for) TV debates … it doesn’t really matter. In the end it’s just about getting better. Focus on your game. That’s it.