TORONTO — Every move that Kobe Bryant made sparked hysteria as cameras clicked and flashed endlessly. His mere presence caused several to chant his name. Every word that Bryant said sparked smiles. Every joke Bryant told preceded a laugh track.
Usually Bryant creates this atmosphere after he scores a basket for the Lakers. This time, Bryant sparked a stir amid the estimated 150 journalists, both real and imagined, that surrounded him during his media availability at a local hotel as part of NBA All-Star weekend.
Bryant’s press conference started with alleged reporters clapping upon his arrival. Then, several things happened that very few of his contemporaries experienced. Bryant offered a linguistics lesson by answering questions both in English, Spanish and Italian for nearly 27 minutes. A few international media members greeted Bryant with retirement gifts. One Toronto-based reporter handed Bryant a personalized “Thank you” card. A Japanese reporter gave Bryant a piece of artwork that depicted the Lakers’ 37-year-old star as a samurai.
Somewhere in between, Bryant talked about basketball, including the fans selecting him for his 18th and final All-Star game during his 20th NBA season on Sunday at Air Canada Centre.
“I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were four in my first All-Star game,” Bryant said. “How many players can say they played 20 years and actually have seen the game go through three or four generations? It’s not sad at all. I’m really happy and honored to see this.”
Bryant also sounded more than happy to talk. He joked he will play only 10 minutes as a starter for the Western Conference, mindful that he has nursed soreness in recent weeks in right shoulder.
“I do so much work to get ready and there’s certain games it’s there and it’s not,” Bryant said. “The hard part is being able to accept that and deal with it on a nightly basis.”
Bryant then turned serious and reiterated he has “zero” aspirations to win the All-Star MVP after collecting four (2002, 2007, 2009, 2011) to tie Bob Pettit.
“I’d tell you if I wanted it,” Bryant said. “I’ve never been one really to pull punches. I’m really just enjoying this whole thing with being around these players and talking to them one more time and going out and practicing and enjoying the game. The competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something and prove something, that’s gone.”
Bryant admitted he still laments the Lakers losing in the 2004 NBA Finals to Detroit and 2008 NBA Finals to Boston.
“I wish I could have won the two that got away,” Bryant said. “Those are tangible things that I felt I could have adjusted or changed from a leadership perspective, from an executional perspective.”
Bryant then argued he should have been “more nit-picky” about ensuring the Lakers run their “automatics” better during the 2003-04 season. Bryant also wished he had his teammates “play with a more physical nature” throughout the 2007-08 season before facing the Celtics.
“Those are the things that sit with me still,” Bryant said. “But I also learned a lot from them.”
Bryant then expressed gratitude for returning after experiencing three-season ending injuries to his left Achilles tendon (April, 2013), left knee (Dec. 2013) and right shoulder (Jan. 2015). Bryant also sounded less disappointed even when he conceded “it would’ve been amazing” if he ended his 20th and final NBA season with a championship.
“I can’t complain about that,” Bryant said. “I’ve enjoyed wining to the tune of five championships. I’ve been very very fortunate to have those. For most players, it’s very difficult to get one. You got to be able to take the good with the bad.”
Bryant shared that attitude during his press conference that was filled with non sequiturs.
Bryant described Toronto as “really cold” before calling it “one of my favorite cities.” When a reporter asked if he could speak any Arabic, Bryant enthusiastically asked him to teach him some words. Bryant offered greetings to reporters stationed from Taiwan, China, India and the Philippines. On how to receive membership in the so-called “Vino Club,” Bryant quipped, “To be old in age and young in spirit.” When asked to name any Canadians not named Drake, Bryant answered with Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Andrew Wiggins and Rachel McAdams. When someone inexplicably asked him if Michael Jordan played better with the Chicago Bulls or Washington Wizards, Bryant politely answered, “Chicago, absolutely.” Bryant often repeated his advice for aspiring players both to stay dedicated to the craft and aspire to big goals.
“You have to believe that they’re possible,” Bryant said. “It’s easier said than done. We all have dreams. But once you go through the process of trying to make those dreams a reality, you hit obstacles. Then unfortunately because of pressure or anxiety or responsibilities, you give up on those dreams. Somewhere along the line, you lose that imagination. I think it’s important never to lose that. You have to keep that. That’s the most important thing. I never gave up on it.”
Bryant also addressed various news topics.
Bryant ruled out playing any sport, including baseball, after retirement. Bryant joked that he will spend his first day of retirement this way: “I’ll probably wake up, have some coffee and go back to sleep.” He then reconfirmed his interest in Kobe, Inc., and the company’s involvement in storytelling.
“I love being creative. I absolutely love it,” Bryant said. “I love formatting stories. I love writing stories. I like thinking big concepts. I think storytelling is the seed of everything, whether it’s information or inspiration.”
Bryant waxed nostalgia that he will play in the same city that hosts the franchise he scored a career-high 81 points against nearly a decade ago.
“It’s weird that sports tends to have things happen like that,” Bryant said. “It’s like the sports gods sit back and watch and make things happen. It’s like they’re laughing at us. It’s strange to have that because of the history I have with myself and the Raptors, it makes it more special.”
Bryant predicted Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry will win the 3-point shooting contest.
“That’s a smart bet,” Bryant said. “If you’re investing, some people can do unconventional things. But how do you not bet on this guy.”
Bryant expressed gratitude former Lakers and Clippers Lamar Odom has traveled to New York after being hospitalized for most of the year after falling unconscious at a Nevada brothel.
“It’s great to see him healthy,” Bryant said. “To say it was very very dark at the time would be a massive understatement. The fact he’s out and about and moving around, to call it a blessing is a huge understatement.”
Bryant shed some light on his “great relationship” with Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, whom Bryant once courted during free agency.
“‘I thought I’d shoot you a text on if you want to come to LA,'” Bryant recalled writing. “He said, ‘Dude I would love to play with you. But Dallas is my home and this is my team. I’m not leaving here.’ He and I think a lot alike in that regard.”
Bryant pleaded patience with the Lakers’ rebuilding process.
“It’s tough. You can always plan to do a certain thing and then certain things happen,” Bryant said. “So now you have to adjust. They’re still adjusting. It’s going to take time. They’ll figure it out.”
Bryant then sounded open toward helping the Lakers out in any role after his retirement.
“I’ll always be around,” Bryant said. “So to the extent the organization wants to speak to me and talk to be about players or helping players, things of that sort, I’ll always be around.”
Soon enough, an NBA official ended the press conference. After remaining engaging and pleasant as he has in recent seasons, Bryant was then asked if he will miss talking with the media.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say, ‘Yes,'” Bryant said, chuckling. But that did not stop him from concluding his chat by offering something poetic to sum up his accomplished career.
“A legend that had every passion,” Bryant said, “and poured it out into the game that he loved.”
Bryant then walked away from the stage. The cameras furiously clicked and flashed with the same intensity that greeted Bryant when he first arrived.