Kobe Bryant has dazzled so many people over so many years with his countless highlight reels, his ability to play through injuries and his steely competitiveness. Yet, the Lakers’ star is currently in Brazil showing the same giddy enthusiasm over the soccer landscape as most Lakers fans do when he’s performing on the court.
Bryant appeared on set with ESPN gushing about the growth of American soccer, a possible Argentina-Brazil final and his impressions on Brazilian star Neymar. But he hardly shared the same enthusiasm for U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinnsman, who questioned Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million contract as an example of American sports organizations deferring too much to veteran stars. Klinnsman invoked Bryant’s name as an example illustrating why he cut star American veteran Landon Donovan from the U.S. roster.
“Kobe Bryant, for example—why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million?” Klinsmann recently told New York Times magazine. “Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?”
Bryant smiled when those words were read back to him.
“I thought it was pretty funny. I thought it was pretty comical actually,” Bryant said. “I see his perspective. But the one perspective that he’s missing from an ownership point of view is that you want to be part of an ownership group that is rewarding its players for what they’ve done while balancing the team going forward. If you’re another player in the future and you’re looking at the Lakers organization, you want to be a part of an organization that takes care of its players while at the same time planning for the future. Jurgen is a coach, a manager. He’s not a GM or owner of the franchise. When you look at it from that perspective, it changes a little bit. But you probably could have used another player as an example.”
Klinnsman found Bryant as the perfect example for obvious reasons.
Bryant remains a global brand and makes the Lakers relevant even amid suffering their worst record in L.A. franchise history. For all he has accomplished with five NBA championships and a fourth-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list, Bryant also faces health uncertainty after experiencing two major injuries within the past year. Though the Lakers only have four players under contract next season, Bryant’s contract within the recent labor deal gives the team only enough financial flexibility to pursue one max-level caliber free agent instead of two. Yet, the Lakers are also mindful that outside of LeBron James, very few of this year’s free agents are even worth pursuing.
But do not expect Bryant to explain those dynamics to Klinnsman during his World Cup visit.
“I don’t need to hug it out with Klinnsman,” Bryant said. “I probably won’t.”
Bryant also laughed off Klinnsman recently questioning Team USAs’ chances to win the 2014 World Cup considering its group play features opponents in Ghaha, Germany and Portugal. How would Bryant react if a coach expressed such doubt to him?
“I don’t think they’d ever say that to me,” Bryant said. “My reputation precedes me. As a team, you just rally around it. I think you have too look at it from a point of view as a tactic to motivate his guys even at the point of making himself the bad guy to the team. As long as it brings the guys together to get out there and perform and prove their coach wrong, then it works. It’s a tough draw. but we’re up to the challenge. If you’re going to be the best, you have to beat the best. We’re up for it.”
Instead, Bryant appeared more bothered about a certain rival named Tim Duncan tying him for NBA championships after the San Antonio Spurs beat the 2014 Finals against the Miami Heat. Duncan appears in great position to win a sixth ring next season to eclipse Bryant.
“If you ask me if I’m okay with Tim doing it, I’m not,” Bryant said. “I’m not okay with that.”