Main Line Times Sports February 18 2009
Kobe talks about 61-point Garden performance and missing the Main Line
Kobe Bryant was named the co-MVP of last weekend’s NBA All-Star game. Main Line Media News contributor David Block caught up with Kobe Bryant earlier this month, just five days after Bryant set a Madison Square Garden record of 61 points in a victory against the New York Knicks, breaking the old mark of 60 set by Bernard King, while also breaking Michael Jordan’s opponent’s record of 55 points.
Block: Congratulations on setting that record at Madison Square Garden. How would you compare that to the game where you scored 81 points? (Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors Jan. 22, 2006.)
KB: The similarities in those games was that I was in a really, really good rhythm. I continued to stay in the rhythm for the duration of the game. It’s rare, it doesn’t really happen too often. But for that game, everything seemed to flow well for me.
BLOCK: Did Spike Lee’s presence at Madison Square Garden that game make you play better?
KB: He (Lee) and I were working on a project. After the game, we were working on a movie that we’re doing together. Having him there, knowing that I had to see him afterwards, I wanted to make sure that I had the bragging rights and not him.
BLOCK: That gave you additional momentum, Kobe ?
KB: Yes, it was more motivation.
BLOCK: It was in Madison Square Garden where you scored your 20,000th point (on Dec. 23, 2007, which made Bryant the third NBA player – Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan were the others – to score 20,000 points before turning 30). How would you compare Madison Square Garden to other arenas? It seems as though Madison Square Garden has been good to you.
KB: There’s no comparison.
BLOCK: No comparison, in what way?
KB: Madison Square Garden is such a special arena because it’s the last one left in terms of the historic venues in which NBA games are played. There was the Forum, there was the Boston Garden obviously, but they’re gone. We don’t play in those arenas no more, so Madison Square Garden is the last of the great arenas that’s left.
BLOCK: Does it feel extra special that you scored your 20,000th point being the third player under 30 to do it?
KB: It feels extremely special. It’s added to that because there’s so much history in Madison Square Garden and for me to accomplish a few things that are historical in that building itself makes it even more special.
BLOCK: Is there anything else that happened that was great for you at Madison Square Garden? You have such a rich history there.
KB: My first All Star Game (1998) was played at Madison Square Garden. It was pretty cool.
BLOCK: Now onto Beijing: How would you sum up your Beijing experience?
KB: Fun. I had so much fun playing with all the guys, competing in the Olympics, meeting all the athletes, it was so much fun.
BLOCK: Kobe, my vision is very limited, but I was able to see your face light up when you guys won the gold.
KB: It was such a great feeling.
BLOCK: How would you compare playing on the Olympic team to that of the Lakers?
KB: On the Olympic team, you’re playing for your country. It’s so special because you’re not playing for a state or a particular brand. You’re playing for the United States of America. The significance in that cannot be overstated.
BLOCK: The fact that, here in the NBA, all these cities have different fans, and because there was none of that at Beijing , did you get the feeling that people weren’t looking at you negatively like they might have in the U.S.?
KB: The game’s changed so much. There’s more support now for NBA basketball players now than maybe there was in 2000 in Sydney. There’s more support. They’re more supportive of us, they follow our progress as athletes and they support us more.
BLOCK: Did you learn anything valuable about yourself as a person playing at Beijing?
KB: The special thing about playing in the Olympics was the joy of seeing other athletes do what they do best. That to me was incredible within itself, to see Michael Phelps swim, to see so many other athletes who were competing and doing what they do. To have an opportunity to go and watch them perform and to see the joy that they got from that was special.
BLOCK: And that’s something that you don’t get to see while you’re playing in the NBA?
KB: You normally don’t see that anywhere. These are the best in the world, the best swimmers, runners, volleyball players. These are the best of the best. It’s such a special treat to be able to see that.
BLOCK How did it feel that your family (wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia Diamante and Gianna Maria-Onorel) was there, and that you turned 30 there (Aug. 23, 2008) right before you won the gold?
KB: That made it 10 times more special. To have my family in the crowd, waving the flag of the United States of America , singing the national anthem, having them there really took it over the top.
BLOCK: Do they normally get to see you play during the year in the stands?
KB: Oh, yeah.
BLOCK: Compare your three NBA championship titles to winning your Olympic gold medal.
KB: Winning an Olympic gold medal, to me, was even more special.
BLOCK: Why is that more special than your NBA titles (1999-2000, 2000-2001 and 2001-2002)?
KB: Because you’re playing for your country.
BLOCK: Did winning the gold give you additional momentum to play even better this year?
KB: No, I don’t think so. I was focused, ready to come back. It was a great experience for that moment in time. I don’t think it was something that got carried over into the season.
BLOCK: When was the last time that you came back to the Main Line, and when do you plan on coming back again?
KB: I planned on coming back last summer, but it just turned into such a busy summer, I didn’t have time to do it. I’ll definitely be back this summer.
BLOCK: What do you miss most about the Main Line?
KB: I miss everything. My old stomping grounds, I just remember walking the streets, going into different restaurants and different spots
I used to hang out, play ball, and awesome stuff. Just seeing those places again, just brings back so many memories.
BLOCK: What restaurants do you miss particularly?
KB: I won’t name them. They’re still my spots. You know, I want to keep them my spots.
BLOCK: Have you spoken to the Lower Merion basketball team this year?
KB: I have, actually.
BLOCK: And what did you tell them?
KB: The same thing that I always tell them. Continue to work hard and do the best that you can do.
BLOCK: Because your time is limited, was there anything else that you didn’t tell them that you would like to say?
KB: I try to make a great deal of time, when I visit the school or speak to the team. I carve out a pretty good amount of time.
BLOCK: Why is the Lower Merion basketball team still special to you? You’re an Olympic gold medalist, a three-time NBA champion Laker, so why would Lower Merion still be special?
KB: It’s home.
BLOCK: What happens at these basketball clinics that you run?
KB: We have a basketball camp. We teach kids different systems on how to play the game of basketball. The kids would try to learn the offense, the principles of offense, so forth and so on. It’s just a week or two weeks worth of learning the game of basketball.
BLOCK: Have you ever seen people in wheelchairs play basketball?
KB: I have.
BLOCK: What was your impression?
KB: It was pretty unbelievable. Actually, they invited me to play with them. So I tried, and I wasn’t very good at all.
BLOCK: When was this?
KB: I think it was two years ago.
BLOCK: So they sat you down in the wheelchair and had you play?
KB: Yeah. (Laughs) I tried to play, but I couldn’t keep up.
BLOCK: What did you learn from playing in a wheelchair?
KB: You get such a greater sense of appreciation for their athleticism; what it is that they do. You have to be incredibly talented and strong to be able to do that.
BLOCK: Please verify, Natalia Diamante, is six and Gianna Maria Onore is two?
BLOCK: How is Natalia Diamante’s bike riding coming along? (Note: When Block interviewed Bryant two years ago, Kobe said he was teaching her to pop a wheelie.)
KB: It’s great.
BLOCK: What other sports does she do?
KB: Soccer, softball and all that kind of stuff.
BLOCK: What’s it like for her to have a daddy whose a big famous basketball player?
KB: She doesn’t even think about it like that.
BLOCK: Doesn’t the NBA take a lot of time away from seeing your kids?
KB: It does, but I always call and I also put a lot of time into being with my family.
BLOCK: How many more years do you think you’ll play in the NBA?
KB: I don’t know. It’s tough to call. I just got to get lucky and stay healthy.
BLOCK: You turned 30 last year. Is that the age to peak in basketball?
KB: It is. That’s the age where you get it really going.
BLOCK: What do you plan to do when you retire?
KB: I don’t know. I have a couple options, but I’m not exactly sure which one I want to do.
BLOCK: Anything else I should ask you, or that you’d like to talk about?
KB: No. You did a great job.