Box & One With Kobe Bryant

By Wesley Chism Jr.
Updated: April 25, 2007

EDITORS’ NOTE: This interview with Kobe Bryant was done prior to start of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Phoenix Suns. As of press time, the Suns lead the series, 2-0.

SEATTLE – I would rather bite the head off of a chicken, pimp slap Mike Tyson on the back of his head, or go to an Oakland Raiders home game with a Tom Brady jersey on then saying the following but here it goes: Kobe Bryant is awesome!

It’s been hard for me to except this guy from day one and I could blame it on his youth and immaturity but the fact is that I’m the one that needed to grow up. I’ve conveniently taken other assignments the past few years and have avoided him until now.

I have no idea what it is about the fourth quarter that drives Kobe Bryant but he often plays like a man on fire, which is literally the case. “The fourth quarter is a time when you separate the boys from men, anybody can throw up a shot in the first three quarters but what you do in the fourth quarter is how you are defined as a player and team,” stated Kobe.

“It’s very important for me to come through for my teammates and this organization and this isn’t a responsibility that I take likely” he added.

Kobe believes that the key for the Lakers to get out of during the play-offs is to maintain their focus and intensity. “Our bench is vital part of the success we’ve had the season, guys like Ronny Turiaf and Jordan Farmar have provided us with key steals, pressure defense and getting into the passing lanes,” Bryant added

“Our offense is predicated upon what we do defensively as a unit and Phil (Coach Jackson) drives that point home everyday in practice.”

I asked Kobe if it was important for him to score 50 points throughout the series for the Lakers to win. “What’s important is that we go into these playoffs with some type of energy, rhythm and a sense of urgency,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t matter if I score nine points or 99 points.

“Winning is what I’m all about.”

What I’ve been impressed with about Kobe this season is the inclusion of his teammates and that isn’t something that happens over night or can be rushed.

Now before you get your boxers all in a bunch just calm down a minute. Yes, I am aware of some of his high scoring onslaughts that he’s had this season but you’ve got to give the ball to the guy when he’s hot.

Believe me, I saw Kobe make some passes and was surprised as some of you. I also realized that there’s no easy way for a reporter to ask or say to a 6-foot-6, 220-pound man, “why don’t you pass the ball” without getting hit in the lip, accidentally of course.

�I can’t begin to stress enough on how important it is to be able to trust your teammates as well as for them to know that I trust them,” said Bryant.

“Specifically, it forces our opponents to play us heads up and allows me to be able to pass out of double teams, when they occur, giving my teammates the opportunity to take the shot or reset the offense.’

Kobe will be the first to admit that it’s been a long time coming but with the core team being there for a few years now and him getting the chance to know some of his teammates on a personal level makes a difference.

He considers Turiaf a little brother. ‘I always try to keep him motivated and engaged in the game, the energy that he brings off the bench is amazing,” Bryant said.

“Sometimes it’s hard for Ronny to separate his emotions from execution and he can easily get down on himself and I just try to be that voice of reason.”

The comparisons to Michael Jordan are starting to die down a bit but Kobe will be the first one to tell you that he still calls him all the time for advice and quickly credits various pieces of his game to Jordan.

“I’ve never put myself on a level as Michael Jordan,” Bryant added “He’s something that we’ve had the chance to witness and comes once in a lifetime and I’m lucky to have been able to speak and learn from him.”

Bryant is only 28 years old with 10 years in the league and the most seasoned veteran on the Lakers roster. He’s been through many battles on the basketball court and has a wealth of playoff experience to share with his teammates.

If No. 24 is on the floor, then the Lakers have a chance.

Most importantly, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to speak with him and apologize for being such an idiot. If you allow yourself to form a negative opinion of someone strictly but what you read then you to my friend may be an idiot as well.

It’s tough to come into the NBA, 18 years old, with a wealth of talent, all the expectations and more money than you know what to do with. I can remember some of the stupid stuff that I did when I was a kid or yesterday for that matter.

It’s all a process that each of us goes through but Kobe had to do it in front of a millions of people. Oh and yes! Kobe graciously and respectfully accepted my apology which made me feel even worst.

I guess the old saying is true, “You don’t know a baller until you played a game in their Air Jordans or dunked on Shawn Bradley.”