Kobe Bryant has never become happier than on the day he has held up the NBA’s Larry O-Brien trophy.
It has happened five days in his life, culminating five successful seasons that proved good enough for Bryant to add another ring to his fingers. But Bryant remains unsatisfied not just because he has not won more. Or that the outlook on Bryant’s championship prospects seem bleak considering the Lakers’ 13-35 record and his season-ending right shoulder injury that required surgery. Bryant also would love to win an NBA championship by securing a Game 7 victory with a game-winning shot in an opposing team’s arena.
“There’s nothing like being a villain,” Bryant said in a recent podcast with Nike to promote his “Kobe X” shoes that will become available on Feb. 7.
Bryant has often said he loves when he enters a hostile environment, whether it involves a taunting crowd or an imposing opponent. All because it just unlocks Bryant’s competitive spirit to dominate even more.
That partly explains why Bryant dismisses those who believe his demanding personality and win-at-all costs mentality becomes an unhealthy obsession.
“Average people would say that,” Bryant said. “If you’re comfortable being average, that’s completely fine. That’s not for me. I like trying to do something as perfectly as possible. It’s crazy and it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing in the world. But that’s something I enjoy.”
So much that Bryant insisted that he would not tell the younger version of himself to temper himself.
“I wish I could take how I see the game now and give it to me back then,” Bryant said. “But there’s something about not having perspective that gives you a killer edge and being 21 years old and 22 years old and not having perspective of you need to appreciate winning championships. You need to appreciate where you are. There’s something about not having that perspective that makes you an absolute stone cold killer.”
Bryant has surely cemented himself with that reputation. But just as that mentality helped Bryant win five NBA championships, it also sparked feuds with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. Earlier in his career, Bryant received plenty of criticism for not elevating his teammates, though they once included the likes of Kwame Brown and Smush Parker.
Yet, Bryant’s hard-line approach also meshed well with complementary players, such as Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. Though they disagreed at times with Bryant’s shot selection, both Gasol and Fisher appreciated his complementary personality, competitiveness and skillset.
“When we have a championship caliber team, we’re going to reach our full potential and you’re not going to mess it up,” Bryant said. “So either get in line or get the hell out. That mentality is something of a throwback. I think I inherited that from Mr. Jordan being one of my muses and that’s my personality.”
Bryant also recently inherited third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after surpassing Jordan earlier this season.
“It was really weird,” Bryant said. “I grew up admiring this guy. I studied so much form him. It’s weird to look up and be here. I feel like I’m carrying on his legacy by passing him because i learned so much from him.”
But Jordan does not represent the only player Bryant has learned from to perfect his craft. Bryant had said earlier this season he spent his childhood studying tape of “absolutely everybody,” including former Lakers greats (Magic Johnson, Jerry West, James Worthy, George Mikan, Byron Scott), other guards (Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier) and even big men (Bill Russell, Bob Petit). This season, Bryant even picked Worthy’s brain more about mastering different post moves.
“Learning, it’s always that. That’s always been the most fun. It’s figuring out the puzzle,” Bryant said. “I love my craft, man. I love what I do. I don’t do it for the lights. I don’t do it for the cameras. I don’t do it for the money. I love playing the game and I never ever lost that.”
There is also another thing Bryant plays for — to fulfill the villain role. But as the Lakers expect Bryant to return in the 2015-16 campaign in what will likely mark the last season of a 20-year NBA career, Bryant hopes it can somehow all this way. He makes a game-winner in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in an arena away from Staples Center, leaving the crowd gaspingly quiet and the Lakers’ star viciously satisfied.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org