Saturday afternoon on ESPNLA On Air (12-2 pm PT), Andy and I had a chance to speak with Landon Donovan, star of the L.A. Galaxy and US Soccer, and a massive Lakers fan to boot. Among other purple and gold-related topics, we spent a few minutes talking about Kobe Bryant and his well-documented history with soccer:
Q: Kobe grew up playing soccer. Do you see it in his game? His footwork is considered by many to be the best in the NBA.
Landon Donovan: "You absolutely do. The funny thing about soccer is you can't really learn soccer at an older age, and get it. It's something you have to develop when you're young. If someone who is an athlete starts playing basketball at 14 or 15, or football, they can generally do it. You hear a lot of stories about guys who didn't start until they were in high school, and things like that. But soccer, there's techniques and there's the way you move your body, and getting a comfort with your footwork that comes at a very early age, and you can see that when Kobe plays. It's pretty evident to me, at least."
Q: Is that something that gives you an appreciation of his game others might not have?
Donovan: "Sure, but for me with him his biggest strength is his competitiveness, and the way he motivates himself constantly. If you're not an athlete, it's hard to imagine what it takes to be motivated on that level every night. The guy has won everything you can win, and it would be really easy for him to show up some nights and say "I just don't care." But you can tell he has something in him that's innate, and drives him to be great all the time. I watch that a lot. I watch that with a lot of athletes and try to figure out what it is that does that for them. Where they find that inside, and I try to emulate that. Because as you get older in your career, that's maybe the hardest part."
Donovan, a well-decorated champ in his part of the athletic world, was also frank about the inherent challenges coming with a title defense:
"I've been fortunate enough to win three MLS titles, and the natural tendency for any athlete the year after winning is to kind of relax a little bit. It's just the way it is. And if you imagine you've won two in a row, there is some complacency that comes in... It's difficult for guys that are successful, because then what you want to do is be successful putting forth the least amount of effort as possible. So why would you absolutely push yourself to the limit when you know you have 25 games plus playoff games still coming, if you can kind of coast and beat the Clippers by 13 [Friday night] and be ok with it.
Any athlete is going to do the minimum amount possible to get the job done. I know that's frustrating for fans because, I hear it all the time, "I would play that game for free. I would give anything to be an NBA player, to play for the Lakers." There's certainly two sides to that. The best athletes are the ones that can find a way to bring that every night. I watch Steve Nash still, even though he's getting older, and you can tell he still has that. It's not something you teach or learn, it's something you find within yourself and keep going. Not every athlete is like that, and that's why I respect the guys that are."
For Galaxy fans, we also talked about the start of camp for the defending Western Conference champs, and Donovan had some very interesting comments about the evolving nature of his relationship with David Beckham.