My professor, Jim Romeo, and Jon Spaventa, director of the Rec Department, have known Bryant from his past events here on campus, so they were able to set up this last minute "interview" upon his arrival from labor meetings in New York with the help of his PR guy Jerry, a Santa Barbara native. Spaventa asked Kobe a variety of questions during the period before a student Q and A session, and I took as many notes as possible along with a picture of Bryant with UCSB's own, Big West Player of the Year Orlando Johnson after the class.
Overall, he was pretty entertaining with his genuineness, jokes, and willingness to discuss a variety of topics. This is my second time seeing him here in person in the past 3 months, and he seems like a cool guy (although he hasn't stuck around long enough for many autograph or picture opportunities either time). I saw Orlando Johnson by the bike racks afterwards, and he told me that he had met Bryant once before over the summer playing for Team USA. Orlando said that Kobe even joked about talking to Coach Mike Brown to get him a roster spot next year on the Lakers. Here are some other highlights from Bryant's responses:
- After praising Coach K when fondly talking about his Team USA experiences, Kobe was asked who his favorite coach was, and he responded that "without question it's Phil [Jackson], even though he's the biggest asshole. He's so incredibly sharp in every aspect of the game." However, with a laugh, Kobe went on to say that he's never read any of the books that Phil gave to him.
- He said he'll have to call Ron Artest "Metta" now, since that's his name ("of all names..."), and that he's a wacky weirdo but is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. He is glad he doesn't have to watch him on Dancing With The Stars anymore.
- When asked who the toughest cover in the league was, he responded almost immediately that it was Carmelo Anthony due to his size, strength, and multiple options that he can go to (driving right, driving left, pulling up left, pulling up right, the 3-ball, posting up, etc.). When later asked what player he would like to have on his team that he hasn't played with before, he again named Melo. However, a trade for him this past season was never really close to happening.
- He has a great relationship with Jerry Buss, who is the "coolest guy, real laid back." However, he doesn't give his opinions on personnel moves because he can't have teammates being afraid of losing their jobs if they have any problems.
- During a summer league in Philadelphia when he was 10, he went scoreless in every game, so he took a lot of flack from his cousins for it and was motivated to come back better.
- Tony Allen was a player he pointed out who plays him well with his scrappy play, body positioning at certain angles, and the fact that he just won't quit, unlike some others in the league.
For a player with such experience, Bryant had amazing recall of certain moments and told some great stories. Probably greatest of all, he spoke about the 81-point game like it was just last month.
- He said the reason he was in "the zone" for that game and entire season was because of all the work he had put in that previous off-season. He knew from his first basket ("driving right baseline and laying it off the glass") that he was in for a big night because they weren't doubling him.
- During a game in Detroit, right before the Pau Gasol trade, the Pistons were resorting to a Box-and-1 defense against him in the fourth quarter. With under a minute to go, he passed to a wide open Kwame Brown right under the basket who fumbled the ball out of bounds. During an ensuing timeout, Kwame told Bryant that he's wide open but don't pass him the ball because he's afraid of missing free throws. Of course, Phil Jackson denied Kobe's request to sub Kwame out, and they ended up losing the game. (EDIT: A video was leaked over the weekend of this part of the the interview and has been made available at the Washington Post and TBJ)
- Shortly after this game, Kobe got the phone call about the Gasol trade and was so emphatically happy about it; he even hugged Gasol during their first game together for catching a simple pass in the pick-and-roll.
- Kobe mentioned some classic moments involving him and Lamar Odom showing off their Team USA Gold Medals to Gasol. When Spain won the Eurobasket this summer, Kobe texted Pau to congratulate him...and then said to enjoy it since it's the only Gold Medals he'll be winning anytime soon. Winning for Team USA is a different feeling from winning a title, but it means just as much.
- During the 2010 playoffs, the Lakers had lost two games in the first round to the Thunder, and Bryant struggled in each of them because of a swollen knee. However, he said that once he got his knee drained, he felt so good he smoked a cigar and told Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that he was celebrating the end of their season (or something along those lines).
- He mentioned that the Kings used to scare the crap out of the Lakers during their playoff battles in Sacramento, and that the Kings should have beaten them if it wasn't for so many missed free throws in Game 7.
- Madison Square Garden is of course one of his favorite places to play because it gets him so focused every time he's there. He did mention Oracle Arena as a place that's always rocking, and those games with the Warriors always have the same rhythm in how they develop.
- The Lakers are going to win the NBA title this year according to Kobe because he's fully rested and won't be missing practices like last year. He felt that when he had to sit out practices this past year, they lost their competitiveness, which caused their late season struggles. He loves practices more than games, so he hated having to watch and being relegated to an extra coach (he would never coach or be involved in management due to a lack of patience).
- That's assuming there is a season, which he thinks there will be. He couldn't go too much into the specifics of the 50/50 split of BRI, just that although it seems fair, it really isn't (Which is true; one of the questions I wanted to ask was how much profit do owners make outside of the BRI split). He said that decertification isn't a good idea at this point, and that that ship has sailed.
- When asked about his relationship with Michael Jordan, he said that MJ hates when he talks about it, but they have a great connection and can always talk whenever they want (with the exception of during this Lockout, of course).
Lastly, he joked about being allergic to just being inside a classroom. (This picture of our class was later put up on his facebook page...and you can spot me in the white shirt in the middle.)
Similarly, he said he would always try to finish his high school homework during class so that he only had to worry about practicing in the afternoons. He never considered going to college because he knew what he wanted to do, so he never visited anywhere because he didn't want to waste anyone's time. However, Lakers training camp was at UCSB during some of his early years in the league, so he made some friends here and went to a frat party one time to see what he missed out on. Therefore, March Madness is always a time when he thinks back on his choice.
In the end, though, his proudest accomplishment is that he got the most out of his career.