I don’t have to convince you that Kobe Bryant is a basketball legend. But in case anyone needs a refresher on his successful career, here’s a quick rundown: He is a five-time NBA champion, an 18-time NBA all-star, the 2008 NBA MVP, and has two Olympic Gold Medals. But that’s just a snippet of what he’s accomplished.
When I learned that I would have the opportunity to interview the Los Angeles Lakers guard right before he retired, I was beyond ecstatic. Then, I jumped onto the computer and started to research more about him. I watched countless video clips of past games, past interviews, and, my favorite, the 1997 Slam Dunk contest, which Kobe won when he was just an 18-year-old rookie.
After watching the clips, I dove head first into articles about him, reading about his storied career as both a hero for Lakers and the feared opponent who put teams away with his sharp shooting (hello, 81 points!). After my research was finished, I started crafting questions about his life and career because this interview — coming at the end of his final season — was framed around Kobe’s career and legacy. My goal for the interview was to get him to reflect on the many monumental moments that shaped his career.
On the day of the interview, I felt excited and prepared and very eager. As I walked into his office, my adrenaline was pumping. I was ready.
When Kobe walked into the room, we shook hands. He welcomed me to his new office for the company he created for his post-NBA career, Kobe Inc. Then we jumped right into our conversation. Kobe, who was wearing a sleek black sweatsuit — with hints of purple — of his own design, shared great insights.
My favorite moment of the interview is when he talked about Michael Jordan, who was a mentor and a great influence. “Still is to this day, we are still extremely close,” Kobe said. He [told me], ‘If you ever need anything, just call me,’ And we’ve been close ever since.”
He also talked about what it was like to play in the league straight out of high school, against much stronger grown men. “I wanted to talk about Star Wars and stuff while they wanted to talk about other grown folk stuff that I really had no interest in,” Kobe recalled.
I learned so much during the interview, including that Kobe didn’t practice for his 1997 Slam Dunk Contest victory. “I knew the dunks that I had. I knew what I could do,” Kobe said. “Some of the dunks I was doing in high school, so I felt confident going in.”
After we finished the interview, Kobe showed me his personal office, which was very different from his old office on the floor at the Staples Center! There was really nothing in the office that would indicate that he is one of the biggest and most important athletes in the history of sports. No accolades or basketball shoes lying around. Instead, he had a lot of books on his desk and big black and white portraits of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
It’d be an understatement to say it was a cool experience. I was interviewed a real-life legend — a sports icon who created some of the best basketball moments the NBA has ever seen.
I’d say it was the experience of a lifetime.
Photos: Robert Beck for Sports Illustrated