Grab a seat and gather around Kobe Bryant. The Lakers’ star will answer any question posed by any of his fans in China. Really, anything.
Bryant held a fireside chat recently during his promotional Nike tour in that region, touching on everything. His mental focus. How he stays motivated. What moves he works on during the offseason. How he keeps his confidence. And, of course, how will he play in the 2013-14 season after appearing in only six games last year because of injuries to his left Achilles and left knee.
“I can say I want to be able to jump as high as I used to. I want to be as fast as I used to. But no; I don’t jump as high as I used to,” Bryant said. “That’s okay. I’m not as fast as I used to be. That’s okay, too. I’ll figure out another way to do it.”
The majority sentiment supported by Bryant and those around him suggests he will resort to his strong fundamentals both with his footwork and in the post. It also appears Bryant could face some restrictions with his minutes both with playing time and possibly even sitting on certain back-to-backs.
It also could entail Bryant relying on a pretty simple approach toward his game. Bryant revealed to his Chinese fans that he only has two moves he performs in the perimeter and along the post, which includes initially driving to his right before using a series of cuts and head fakes to throw off his defender. But Bryant maintains his minimalist approach has largely contributed toward his success that entails five NBA championships and a fourth place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. Bryant also reported sharing this wisdom to Nick Young.
“To be unstoppable, you have to first be predictable,” Bryant said, recalling his conversation with Young. “If you’re unpredictable, you don’t know what the heck you’re going to do. So how can you dictate to the defense what you’re going to do? So you have to be really simple.”
Bryant’s skills have hardly appeared simple.
His career-high 81 points, his string of 50-point plus performances and his collection of game-winning shots all included similar themes. Bryant scored through double and triple teams. He made countless shots both close and far away from the basket.
Yet, despite teammates once calling a young Bryant “Showboat” for his flashy style early in his career, he maintains he focused more on his fundamentals than becoming a human highlight reel.
“I do the moves over and over,” Bryant said. “Especially in my younger days, I didn’t really focus on trying to get my feet faster. I focused on the moves. Whether it was a fadeaway, or whether it was a crossover, I did the move over and over and over. Then, I got faster at doing moves. My feet got faster at doing the moves. When you have repetition with what it is you’re trying to do, you inevitably get better and faster at that. The most important thing in basketball isn’t speed anyway. It’s not speed. It’s skill.”
Bryant has plenty of skills, obviously. But how will he handle the uncharted territory that entails returning from two major injuries in his 19th NBA season? Sounds as if Bryant will take the same grinding effort he took in rehabbing and training as he will on the basketball court.
“When I’m running and I’m really tired and the finish line is on the other side, if I look at where I have to run, I get even more tired,” Bryant said. “What I do is I look down. I just look at my feet moving. Then the next thing you know, you look up and you’re crossing the finish line.”
Whether Bryant crosses the finish line seems unclear. Will Bryant delay Father Time during the remaining two years on his contract? Will Bryant still rank among the NBA’s elite? Will he somehow collect another NBA championship with a roster currently considered a rebuilding project?
That explains why Bryant said he’s “more motivated now than ever.” It also explains why Bryant will openly address topics in an informal Q&A with his Chinese fans both about his vulnerabilities and how he plans to master them.
“If you miss the shot, you’ll still be here learning. If you make the shot, you’ll still be here learning,” Bryant said. “What I’m saying is you’ve been in moments where you missed a shot. But you’re okay. You’re fine. You still move on. You still have a good time. You still laugh. You still joke. You still go out and you still play hard. What you have to understand is that those pressures are self inflicted. They’re self made. It is part of your imagination. You have to be able to control your mind and understand exactly that pressure does not exist. It does not exist. We create pressures ourselves.”