A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with Lakers guard-forward Kobe Bryant appears in the Dec. 25 edition of ESPN the Magazine.
|Kobe Bryant can drive, dish and shoot the three. Oh, he can play defense too.|
Dan Patrick: How smart was The Magazine to put you on its first cover?
Kobe Bryant: It was a pretty smart move by them [laughs]. I was in some good company, though. Eric Lindros, you know.
DP: Kordell Stewart and A-Rod.
KB: I was around some pretty great players.
DP: At the time, did you think you belonged with that group?
KB: I didn't really think about it. I just thought you guys wanted me to be on the cover of ESPN The Magazine. That's cool.
DP: Has there been a moment this season when you realized that being the defending champion would make the season different?
KB: We realized it the first preseason game. We played Charlotte, and after they won the game they were jumping up and down like they won the championship -- this is the preseason. It gave us an indication of how the season is going to go.
DP: Have you asked anyone what defending the championship will be like?
KB: We're fortunate to have Phil here, to have guys like Ron Harper and Horace Grant here. Guys who have been there before. It's not completely foreign territory for us.
DP: What do they say?
KB: Phil's major concern is having the energy to be competitive every night. Teams are going to come out playing with more energy than they normally do. Obviously. We have to find a way to sustain our energy. Stay in the ball game and use our experience to win.
DP: Does Gary Payton talk to you when you face him?
KB: You mean trash talk? No.
DP: Is that the ultimate respect from him or would you like him to talk?
KB: I haven't given it that much thought. Gary and I have a relationship where he gives me advice. Often. On defense or whatever. I am very open about going to him and asking suggestions. He's been kind and open enough to help me out.
DP: Did you know he's a little upset that his son has your poster on his wall?
KB: I heard that. Somewhere. I'm sure my kid will be the same way.
DP: Someone else's poster on the wall?
KB: [laughs] Probably. I'll be in the same spot as Gary.
DP: Maybe your son should have his grandfather's poster. From the 76ers.
KB: When I was a kid, I had Magic and Michael up there. I had Doc up there.
DP: Not your Dad?
KB: No, I didn't. I just had his basketball cards.
DP: What's that worth now? Probably more with you in the league now.
KB: [laughs] I wouldn't know, man. I wouldn't know.
DP: How old were you the first time you beat your Dad at hoops?
KB: I was 14.
DP: Was it legit? He acknowledged it?
KB: It was legit. I beat him.
DP: Did he get upset?
KB: No. He knew that day was coming [laughs].
DP: How was it being on the Bette Midler show?
KB: It was fun. She is such a sweet lady. Very easy to work with. I was only there for, like, two hours. It was in and out.
DP: Do you want to be an actor?
KB: No. I just did the show because I respect Bette and all of her accomplishments. And it seemed to be a good show. I just went ahead and did it.
DP: What's the show you really want to be on?
KB: I don't want to be on any shows, to be honest with you. I hate acting.
DP: You do? You're in commercials.
KB: Yeah, but commercials are different. I just go out there and play myself. That's it. Acting is a whole other thing. You have to show up and hurry, hurry, hurry. Then slow down. Stop and wait for five hours. And all of this other stuff. I don't have the patience for it.
DP: What is the one show you watch that would surprise me?
KB: Oprah. I watch Oprah.
DP: Care to explain?
KB: Yeah, I'll explain it for you. She has a lot of interesting shows, man. She has a lot of people on there that discuss issues. I find it interesting to watch. She'll give you a lot of good information.
DP: She has her book club which fits in with Phil Jackson. Has Phil given you a book to read?
KB: No. But you never know. Phil will probably steal some of Oprah's books.
DP: Has Phil suggested a movie yet?
DP: Why isn't he treating you like the Bulls?
KB: I don't know.
DP: What do you think of Phil's haircut?
KB: I think it's alright. He's going for the young look. Trying to look younger. The whole L.A. thing going on.
DP: Plus he dresses alright. But he looks like the hanger is still in his coat when he's walking around.
DP: What is the best part of practice?
KB: Scrimmaging. That's my favorite.
DP: Worst part?
KB: Stretching before. I'd rather just go out and play.
DP: You'll get to the age when you have to stretch, though.
KB: That's what my teammates tell me. But I say, "until then..."
DP: Give me some NBA guys you'd pay to see.
KB: Past or present?
DP: Your call.
KB: Magic, Michael, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson. Tim Duncan. Vince Carter. Allen Iverson. Kevin Garnett. There's a whole bunch of others. I'm a fan of NBA basketball. There are a lot of players out there I admire and a whole lot I don't admire.
DP: Who don't you admire who plays now?
KB: [long pause]
DP: You just said there were a whole lot of them.
KB: Well, they're bums.
KB: Guys at the end of the bench. I wouldn't pay to see them.
DP: OK. The 12th guys.
KB: Certain guys are not entertaining. I wouldn't watch them.
DP: Karl Malone?
KB: I respect Karl Malone a lot. I don't know if I would pay to watch him play. He's not entertaining but he gets the job done.
DP: You don't dislike him but you respect him?
KB: I don't know him. He plays hard every night and has his whole career. And he keeps on improving his game.
DP: Does he play dirty?
KB: I don't believe in playing dirty. Just get the job done.
DP: Is there such a thing as playing dirty?
KB: By some people's standards, there is. Grabbing a guy's shorts, tripping him up, throwing elbows ... that isn't right.
DP: Toughest defender on you.
KB: I'd have to say Eric Snow.
DP: That will surprise some people.
KB: He's quick. He's intelligent. And they play good team defense in Philly.
DP: How does a defender give you trouble?
KB: It's more a team thing. Having the players to be able to play solid defense on me. Whether it's being physical or aggressive or a combination. As a team, they do a good job down in Philly.
DP: Build me the perfect shooting guard.
KB: Michael Jordan's athleticism and mentality. Jerry West's arms and shooting touch. Magic Johnson's vision. Scottie Pippen's legs.
DP: What about the handle? Magic?
KB: I'd give the handle to Michael.
DP: I'd give it to Jason Kidd.
KB: Jason Kidd just pushes the ball down your throat, man. He's fast. He might be the fastest guard in the league with the basketball.
DP: I think he's the best point guard in the game.
KB: He can push it, man.
DP: And everyone would want to play with him because he can't shoot. So he'll want to pass it.
KB: Yeah, but as far as building the perfect shooting guard, I'd have to give him Isiah's handle. You can't get the ball away from him. Can't take it away.
DP: Describe your perfect day.
KB: Get up, and instead of breakfast, lift some weights. Go to practice and not miss a shot. Come home and get a little rest. Go to the game, not miss a shot and win the game. How perfect is that?
DP: What about the offseason?
KB: Offseason, I would sleep in, get up, then eat a nice breakfast. Just relax. Maybe see a movie. Might go down to the beach for jet skiing or parasailing. Kick back with my family.
DP: Aren't some of those things prohibited by your contract? Like jet skiing?
KB: Hey, we won a championship. They're not going to tell me that.
DP: Is that stuff in your contract?
KB: Well, skiing and sky diving. I can't do that.
DP: Would you like to try it at least once?
KB: I don't know about sky diving, man. I don't know about jumping out of planes.
DP: Can you explain the triangle offense to me?
KB: It's basically about getting everybody involved. Movement with a purpose. And for every counteraction by the defense there is another counteraction to attack that. All it is is just movement. If you play me a certain way, as a team we can get around that. Teams play Shaq a certain way. So we can react to that and make the way they play Shaq become a weakness.
DP: Were you fascinated by the offense when Phil first installed it?
KB: I was intrigued. Still am.
DP: Did you listen to tapes to sound like Michael Jordan?
DP: You sound just like him.
KB: In my free time, I just sit up in a room and listen to tapes all day. That's my free time [laughs].
DP: You do sound like him.
KB: Just because I have a deep voice?
DP: You sound like Jordan. Your expressions.
KB: OK, great.
DP: Well, if you're going to pattern yourself after someone ... instead of Books on Tape, it's Jordan on Tape.
KB: Just listen to Mike. I gotta sound like this dude.
DP: What do you have to work on as a player?
KB: It's a constant thing for me to try to improve my outside shooting. To the point where players are afraid to back up off me.
DP: What about defense?
KB: To me, defense is nothing but a challenge. Some guys feel that if I score 30 and you score 30, it's fine. But I want to score 30 and you score zero. That's the way it goes.
DP: That was true of Jordan. People think of him as a great scorer but he may have been the greatest defender.
KB: Well, there's another similarity [laughs].
DP: You and Jordan. Offense and defense.
DP: Have you handed out the wedding invitations yet?
DP: When are you getting married?
DP: During the season?
KB: You know what? How I handle that is to say that it's none of your business. Even though people pry anyway. They'll find out.
DP: Well, I'm here for you. I've been married 13 years. If you need any help.
KB: Oh, really?
DP: Help you pick out some patterns. Things like that. Honeymoon destinations.
KB: I hear you.
DP: What's in your CD player right now?
KB: Jay Z. Lenny Kravitz. Wu Tang. That's about it.
DP: What is your singing style based on?
KB: I don't pattern it after anybody. I just have a good time with it.
DP: Who should not be rapping?
KB: Whoever can't rap.
DP: Describe Phil Jackson in one word.
DP: Shaq in one word.
DP: Do you shop at Staples?
KB: No, never been. I don't need to. I play at the Staples Center.
DP: I figured, since you play there...
KB: That I would get a lot of free stuff? It only makes sense.
DP: Lots of office supplies. Don't you need that?
KB: Not now. Maybe down the road.
DP: Did you see "The Grinch"?
KB: Yes. I liked it. It was cool. It was cute.
DP: Can I take my kids? They're young.
KB: I think so. As long as you trust them not to burn down any Christmas trees.
DP: Who would be the Grinch in the NBA?
KB: We did a photo shoot for Upper Deck. These cool Christmas cards. I had to wear a Santa hat and a Santa jacket. The whole thing. It's me and Kevin Garnett. I saw a picture of Garnett and he was smiling. I was thinking, "Damn, he looks like the Grinch, man." You know how Garnett is, being real silly and stuff.
DP: Would he take that as a compliment?
KB: I guess not. It isn't really a compliment.
DP: What is the one rule you would do away with in the NBA?
KB: I wish they would bring back hand-checking.
DP: But Kobe, we need scoring in the NBA. We need to open up the game.
KB: You look back in the day and scorers were incredibly hot.
DP: Then why can't you guys get over 100 points? And don't say it's because of the defense.
KB: I think because the technology is so advanced that teams know what you're going to run before you do.
DP: How would you open up the game? Hand checks won't put points on the board.
KB: Bringing back the hand check would make the game more physical and more aggressive. Right now players are tentative because they are worried about cheap fouls. Or when they are dribbling they are worried about a carrying violation. They play tentative.
DP: When I played, that was a carry.
KB: Back in the 1920s?
DP: Yeah. With my set shot. Now everybody gets to carry.
KB: They are doing away with a lot of it this year. Guys can't get away with it much.
DP: I still want to know. We gave you the 3-point shot. Took away the hand check, that forearm. And you still can't score. Is it because you guys can't shoot?
KB: You need to stop beating players, man. I think the shooting has gone down because the players are more athletic now. They want to get to the rim a lot more. In the past, players weren't as athletic and relied on the outside shot more.
DP: Most embarrassing moment recently.
KB: I missed a dunk on a fast break [laughs]. We were playing Golden State. It was 30-point game.
DP: Oh, yeah. I saw this on SportsCenter.
KB: You saw it? Well, you should be watching SportsCenter.
DP: I have to. You didn't seem too bothered by it.
KB: It was funny to me, but any time you miss a fast break dunk, it's embarrassing.
DP: How about a nice crisp layup the next time?
KB: I'll do that for you, man. I thought about that. Just mess with the crowd a bit and lay the ball up.
DP: Everybody dunks.
KB: A layup for old times' sake? For George Mikan and them?
DP: A nice crisp layup would be nice.
KB: For Mikan and Cousy and everybody?
DP: Lay it in there left-handed.
KB: I'll see what I can do for you.
DP: That'll make SportsCenter. That'll change the game. Did you see Michelle Snow's dunk?
KB: I did. It was legit.
DP: That was pretty good!
DP: Your thoughts on the girls' game.
KB: I think it's improved. What the Comets have done is unreal. It's just going to grow.
DP: Cynthia Cooper said she could play in the NBA.
KB: More power to her!
DP: Could a woman play in the NBA?
KB: People tell me that Reggie's sister was nice.
DP: Cheryl Miller was probably the best female player I've ever seen. She had a better all-around game than Reggie.
KB: I can believe it.
DP: Reggie's a shooter.
KB: But he's improved his handle a lot. He's been able to create off the dribble and get to the basket.
DP: He got that from you. That's got to be weird. Did he ask you for tips and you asked Reggie for tips?
KB: It's a mutual thing. We played one-on-one. I got some things from his game and he took some from mine.
DP: How did it happen?
KB: We made an appearance together and we had to play some basketball.
DP: So if you did an appearance with Luc Longley ?
KB: No, I wouldn't take anything from Luc. Maybe a little left-handed jump hook.
DP: When was the last time you got yelled at?
KB: Maybe eighth grade. I'm such a good kid.
DP: You never get in trouble?
KB: I never get caught.
DP: Did you vote?
KB: It was my thing to do. I felt it was my duty.
DP: Did Phil and your teammates go with you?
KB: Yeah, we all hopped on a bus [laughs] -- like a field trip.
DP: Best city to go to.
KB: New York. I like the city. There's always something going on.
DP: Can you go out and be yourself? You probably wear a Laker jacket.
KB: I wear my jersey. I walk around in my jersey.
DP: But people would say, "You look like that guy on the Lakers."
KB: If I did that people would say, "Kobe's nuts".
DP: What would you like to tell sportscasters or analysts about the game? What do we miss?
KB: You guys don't show enough of the fundamental plays.
DP: You guys don't do any fundamental plays.
KB: You guys don't show the back picks. The bounce passes. The two-handed chest passes. You guys don't show that stuff. You don't care about that stuff. Whatever happened to the game? [laughs]
DP: Your next two-handed chest pass in the NBA will be your first.
KB: That's not true. You guys just don't show it.
DP: Everything has to be flavor with you guys.
KB: You know what happened, you guys changed the game.
DP: Who did?
KB: You did. Those highlights on SportsCenter have these kids running around doing all sorts of dunks and stuff. That's your fault.
DP: Well, then take the game back, Mr. Fundamental.
KB: [laughs] I'm going to start doing layups. The George Gervin finger roll. Real basic stuff.
DP: Ice was bad.
KB: Ice was cold.
DP: He could score. But he couldn't play any defense.
KB: But I'm going back to the Stockton days. Dribble, dribble. Two-hand chest pass.