Kobe Bryant is one of the most polarizing figures in sports. He’s part Michael Jordan, part Alex Rodriguez. No player in the NBA fills both ends of the spectrum like Kobe Bean Bryant. He plays the hero and the villain better than anyone.
When Kobe finally decides to hang up his Nikes, it’ll be a somber day in the basketball universe. That time seems to be nearing.
If you watched Bryant’s interview with Ahmad Rashad on NBA TV you get the sense that the five-time NBA champion and 2008 MVP seems at peace with himself. He sounded like a man who is ready to embrace his post-basketball journey.
Bryant said when he tore his Achilles’ tendon in 2013 he started thinking about his future. Prior to the injury, all Bryant could think about was winning a sixth NBA title. That relentless pursuit may be what caused his tendon to snap in the first place. We don’t know that for sure. What we do know is that Bryant’s NBA career is down to its final moments. A championship is no longer within his sight, and Kobe is beginning to realize that.
For much of his career, Kobe was always in control. His magnificent skills allowed him to manipulate basketball games like the greats before him. But now, Kobe is facing an undefeated champion of sports: Father Time.
The best question of the interview came toward the end when Rashad asked Bryant, “Who is Kobe Bryant?”
Kobe answered the simple question with a surprising answer.
“I’m just like everybody else,” Bryant said. “I’m outgoing, sometimes. I’m private in others. Talkative in some situations. Quiet in some situations. I’m arrogant sometimes. I’m an outgoing person with people that I know. I’m just like everybody else, man.”
Just like everybody else? Outgoing? Talkative? These are not necessary words or phrases associated with Bryant. We’ve always known him to be this maniacal competitor who would box out his own mom to grab a rebound.
But this is the new Kobe. A more reflective Kobe. A Kobe who seems to be embracing his basketball mortality and looking more, well, human.
A portion of the interview also focuses on Kobe’s relationship with Jordan, the man he idolized and patterned his game after.
“I grew up having that same kind of competitiveness,” Kobe said of Michael. “His technique was flawless. I wanted to make sure my technique was just as flawless.”
And what would a Kobe interview be without being asked about his greatest rival and greatest teammate: Shaquille O’Neal.
Bryant points to a photo of he and Shaq and offers his analysis.
“This is a great snapshot of the difference in personalities between the two of us,” Bryant said of the image that shows Kobe looking real serious before a game while Shaq appears to be looking around the arena.
Even though Bryant and O’Neal were not friends they pushed each other to be the best they can be. They are the only superstar duo to score a three-peat, other than Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Shaq was the most dominant physical force inside and Kobe was the most dynamic scorer outside. It was like akin to having Jordan and Wilt on the same squad.
When Rashad asked Kobe why it didn’t last with Shaq, he gave some thoughtful responses but one really stood out. Basically, Kobe said, “I was no sidekick.”
Now that’s the old Kobe talking.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.