Kobe Bryant’s State of the Game at the UC


Jan 20

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C’mon, let ‘em hoop!

Or something like that was the message Monday from Kobe Bryant before the Bulls played the Lakers in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day game at the United Center.

Bryant, the Lakers’ great legend, is traveling with the team as he recovers from a fracture in his knee. He suffered the injury a few games after returning from Achilles surgery earlier this season. Bryant hopes to return to play in February. With Bryant and Derrick Rose featured, TNT was scheduled to televise the game. But with both in suits for the game, the national broadcast moved on.

But Bryant met with reporters before the game and addressed a number of topics, including the growing emphasis in the NBA on curtailing rough play. Bryant’s message is to relax a little. It’s basketball, not checkers.

Bryant, the Lakers’ great legend, is traveling with the team as he recovers from a fracture in his knee.

Bryant, the Lakers’ great legend, is traveling with the team as he recovers from a fracture in his knee.

“It’s more of a finesse game,” said Bryant. “It’s more small ball, which personally I don’t really care much for. I like kind of the smash mouth, old school basketball because that’s what I grew up watching. I also think it’s much, much less physical. Some of the flagrant fouls I see called nowadays makes me nauseous. You can’t touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul.

“I like the contact,” Bryant continued. “As a defensive player, if you enjoy playing defense, that’s what you want. You want to be able to put your hands on a guy. You want to be able to hand check a little bit. The truth is, players have to be more skillful. Nowadays, literally anybody can get out there and get to the basket because you can’t touch anybody. Back then, if guys put their hands on you, you had to have the skill to be able to go both ways, change directions, post up. You had to have midrange game because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked ass over teakettle. Playing the game back then required much more skill.”

Truly, a player Tom Thibodeau would love.

Bryant is a Laker for life with a two-year contract extension that begins next season. It seems unlikely the Lakers will be serious contenders in that time, though Bryant seems now to have settled into an elder statesman role in his NBA life and looked at some of the changes he’s seen in a career that many believe will have him regarded as one of the top 10 players in league history.

“It’s become so much more of a global game.” said Bryant, who is perhaps the world’s most famous current NBA player and travels overseas often. “When I came in, it was just starting to become that. Then you had the Yao phenomenon and Dirk’s emergence and some of these other players, Pau. And I think the sport has really grown to be a global force. That’s really been the big difference since I came into the league.”

Bryant was one of the pioneers of the direct high school to the pros jump and he says he’d like to see it return to that.

“I don’t really look at it from that perspective of if it was good or bad for the game,” said Bryant. “The reality is a lot of players who have come out of (high) school and if you do the numbers and look at the count, you’ll probably see players who came out of high school who were much more successful on average than players who went to college for a year or two years and left early. It seems like the system isn’t really teaching players anything when you go to college. You go to college, you play, you showcase and you come to the pros. That’s always been the big argument. As a player, you have to go to college, develop your skills, so forth and so on, and then come to the league. We kind of got sold on that dream a little bit. Fortunately, I didn’t really listen much to it. Neither did KG. Neither did LeBron. I think that worked out pretty well for all three of us.

“I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decisions, especially as it pertains to going out and working and having a job,” said Bryant. “They should be able to go out there and make your own choices.”

Bryant said he hasn’t spoken yet with Derrick Rose but hoped to see him at the game.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk,” Bryant said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be here tonight or not. If he is, I’m sure I’ll catch up. There’s really nothing much you can do about it. It is what it is. It’s unfortunate, but you have two options. One is to lay down and not do anything about it. The second is to get up and get to work. I think the second one is more appealing to him for sure.”

And Bryant, who says he has no doubt he’ll be a high level player again.

“Zero. Zero,” Bryant repeated. “There was before I came back the first time because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing and changing directions. The game in Memphis (when he was injured again) I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to being able to do what I normally could do. So I feel pretty confident about it. I did play that second half on a fractured leg and torn Achilles and I played pretty well. So I feel pretty good about my chances.”

But not to play for a third Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. Bryant has two with USA Basketball and earlier in the evening Thibodeau, a USA assistant coach, joked he might try to persuade Bryant to try again.

“I’ll go and spectate,” then adding with a pause and smile, “Maybe I’ll go watch Pau win another silver.”

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