My First Interview with Kobe Bryant

Main Line Times interview ~ Kobe Bryant

By: David Block, Sportswriter           August 17, 2000

Former Ace says he still misses Lower Merion, Main Line

(Editor’s note: The following is a verbatim account of Main Line Times sportswriter David Block’s interview with former Lower Merion basketball star Kobe Bryant last week.)

Main Line Times: How old were you when you when you developed your passion for basketball?

Kobe: Three years old.

MLT: To what degree did your father inspire you to develop this passion?

Kobe: He didn’t at all. He just gave me the option to play all kinds of sports. But I enjoyed basketball the most.

MLT: I remember once hearing you say that you always used to play many people one-on-one. Did playing one-one-one enhance your competitiveness?

Kobe: I think so. Because it was mano a mano. It definitely helped enhance it.

MLT: What happened at age 13, that made you realize that you could hold your own against anybody? Did you realize this after you beat your sisters and father?

Kobe: Around the same time. It was more the attitude. It just felt like I was the best player, it felt like I had the most moves.

MLT: Was it in your senior year you began working out with the 76ers?

Kobe: In the summer of ’95 (going into my senior year).

MLT: How did it feel being in high school and to have such an honor?

Kobe: It was cool. I didn’t look at it as an honor. I just looked at it as basketball, really. I really didn’t think about who I was playing against.  I knew they were NBA basketball players but that was it, it was just a chance to prove to them that I was a good basketball player.

MLT: How did you get the chance to practice with the 76ers?

Kobe: The (76ers) coach, John Lucas, had a daughter who went to Lower Merion and she told her father about me. Her father was curious, he knew my father (NBA veteran Joe Bryant), so he invited me to come down and play with them.

MLT: What did Joey Carbone (then assistant trainer for the 76ers) do to help you improve?

Kobe: He improved my game tremendously…high jump rebounds, weights, everything physical about my game.

MLT: What was a practice with the 76ers like compared to high school practices?

Kobe: Working with the 76ers was a lot easier because all we did was scrimmage, playing five on five, but in high school, we ran these suicide drills.

MLT: Did you learn anything from the 76ers that you brought back to Lower Merion?

Kobe: Some skills Lucas taught me, I still keep with me today.

MLT: Gregg Downer (Kobe’s coach at Lower Merion) said that each high school year, you got better and better. What did you do to improve?

Kobe: High school was about improving my (all-around) game. The more you play, the better you get.

MLT: Gregg Downer was saying that you still carry your high school state championship medal, that he saw it at the foot of your bed. Why is it still meaningful to you?

Kobe: That was a major part of my life. People said `you’re not going to be able to win.’ You know about Lower Merion. The odds were against us. It was like us against the world. We were able to do it. We conquered a huge challenge that year.

MLT: What was your proudest moment playing for Lower Merion?

Kobe: Winning the state championship.

MLT: Downer was saying that you set the initial spark for Lower Merion to win the state championship at the end of your junior year when your team lost in the playoffs. Can you elaborate?

Kobe: I made up my mind we were going to win the state championship the next year and there was nothing anybody could say or do about it.

MLT: How did it feel that hundreds of people made your decision of going to the NBA instead of college as a big topic of conversation?

Kobe: I didn’t care, it didn’t matter, the doubters bothered me a little but, but I figured in the long run, I’d prove them wrong anyway.

MLT: How did you deal with the criticism the talk shows gave you after you made your decision to go to the NBA instead of college?

Kobe: Same way, they’d shut up in the long run.

MLT: Describe how you felt playing your first NBA game.

Kobe: I felt very calm. I was anxious to go out and play because I broke my hand before the season. I couldn’t play for a period of time.

MLT: Did you score in that first game? (Jan. 28, 1997, against Dallas)

Kobe: I had 13 points and five assists. I felt relaxed.

MLT: Does your hand ever bother you now and then?

Kobe: Absolutely not.

MLT: Describe your working relationship with Shaquille O’Neal when you first joined the Lakers, and what did (current coach) Phil Jackson do to change it?

Kobe: He (Jackson) brought it to the level; He was a sharp coach, much sharper coach. Everyone knew we (Shaq and Kobe) could work well together.  It was just a matter of time. People need to realize that Shaq and I never really played together before. My first year, we didn’t play that much; the second year, I was still coming off the bench; third year was the half-season (due to the NBA strike), so this season was the first time we played together.

MLT: And you two just had a connection and picked up on each other’s moves?

Kobe: That was it.

MLT: Who started calling you the “little big brother?”

Kobe: Shaq did. That’s because I took big shots. It was after game four (of the NBA finals, after Bryant scored 28 points in a 120 118 overtime win against the Indiana Pacers).

MLT: How did you like being called that?

Kobe: It was cool.

MLT: When you got injured in game two of the finals, were you worried you’d miss the rest of the finals?

Kobe: Oh, no. I was going to play anyway. Even with the ankle problem. I’ve had other injuries, but nothing was as bad as the ankle sprain.

MLT: Were you able to walk on it before getting back into action?

Kobe: A little bit, gingerly.

MLT: How did it feel, winning an NBA title at so young an age?

Kobe: It feels good, like I can now go get some more.

MLT: So, this is only the beginning for you?

Kobe: Absolutely.

MLT: What was your reason for getting involved with the launch of a recording company?

Kobe: There’s a lot of young talent out there that needs to be discovered, that needs to be heard. It was an opportunity for me to help them so they can do something well for themselves. (The label is called Heads High.)

MLT: Will you have a CD under your name?

Kobe: Maybe.

MLT: What is your involvement with this basketball league in Italy?

Kobe: I’m involved with a part-time owner of a basketball league.

MLT: Is it because you spent time in Italy when you were younger? (Kobe lived in Italy when his father played in a league over there.)

Kobe: Yeah, that had something to do with it.

MLT: How fluent is your Italian?

Kobe: It’s still pretty sharp.

MLT: Do you see yourself as a role model for younger kids?

Kobe: Some regards, yes.

MLT: How does it feel?

Kobe: It feels great. I think a lot of people have the idea confused and mixed up believing role models have to be perfect all the time. That’s not the case. The idea of a role model is if you do make a mistake people can look at you as an example and not make the same mistake.

MLT: While playing for the Lakers, are there times you think of the Main Line?

Kobe: Oh, sure. I miss the high school, a lot of my high school buddies went to college. We still have a lot of memories.

MLT: Do you still keep up with them?

Kobe: Absolutely.

MLT: When was the last time you were on the Main Line?

Kobe: A couple (of) summers ago.

MLT: When you came back, was it easy for you to be left alone?

Kobe: Yeah, it was cool, it was pretty good. I was able to ride around peacefully, go out to eat peacefully. I still go back to the high school sometimes.

MLT: Were you able to be left in peace after winning the championships?

Kobe: (laughs) No, out here it’s crazy. You can’t go anywhere.

MLT: How do you handle it?

Kobe: You take it in stride. It comes with the territory.