Kobe ruminates as he plays in Chicago for the last time


Feb 22

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The Bulls 126-115 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers was the undercard of the main event, the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour marking Bryant’s final game in Chicago.

With a Bulls victory and Bryant playing as well as he has this season with a team best 22 points and a third quarter sequence of four straight basket on baseline fadeaway moves like Michael Jordan toward the end of his career, the enthusiastic United Center audience was well rewarded.

And the fans saturated Bryant with affection that was rare and perhaps unprecedented for an opposing player with numerous ovations and continuing chants to return to the game. When Bryant finally exited to a massive standing ovation with 45.3 seconds remaining, even Bulls players on the court were applauding.

Bryant then received an ovation from some media after his postgame remarks to an overflow gathering. Here’s a sampling of Bryant’s comments during two earnest media sessions Sunday night:

On Derrick Rose: “I know it was tough (for Derrick) at first because when you have an injury like that it kind of comes out of nowhere; it can mess with you mentally. Something that comes with no warning you have no idea if it’s going to happen again. He’s battled through it and tonight he looked like the same old Derrick Rose. It’s key for him to stick with it and control what he can control.

On the Bulls: “I think it’s important to remain patient and I think what you’re seeing with this team is an adjustment period. I think Derrick’s at a position in his career where he’ll have to adjust his game. What I mean by that is start using his size a lot more instead of his speed and quickness. Start going to the post a little bit more. They have three tremendous players with Rose and Butler and Pau. If they can figure out to defend, I think this team can go very, very deep in the playoffs.”

On why he needed to play without Shaquille O’Neal: “It was always the challenge of Kobe can’t win without Shaq, right? If I went my whole career and we had won championships, god bless you (media) guys, but guys would be saying at the Hall of Fame, ‘He won with Shaq.’ I didn’t want to hear that. Because I knew I had the determination to do it and it was either sink or swim. At some point I was going to take that challenge and it was either you guys are right or I’m right. I had to take that challenge.”
On his motivational methods: “After we beat (Spain) in the Olympics we had just lost to the Celtics (in the Finals). We beat Spain in the finals and the first day of training camp (Pau Gasol) shows up to media day and I had my gold medal hanging in his locker. Rubbing it in. I said, ‘Dude, you finished second in the Finals; you finished second in the summer Olympics. You can’t finish second in June this year. So you better get your (stuff) together.’ That was the message.”

On the aging Kobe: “Some nights I show up and my legs are not there. I hear it courtside, ‘Hey, give me one dunk.’ ‘Dude, I would if I could.’ Not saying no. I can’t, I physically can’t. My legs aren’t there to get up and dunk. It’s a lot of work.”

On goal still to accomplish: “If there is something I wanted to accomplish, that window is gone. I’ve been very, very fortunate to say when I was a kid I always wanted to win multiple championships. It’s the one thing I wanted to do is win as many championships as Magic had won, Bird had one and then Michael wound up winning. Everything else kind of came with that. I feel like I’ve left a couple of championships on the table, so that will be something that always will be there. But all in all I’ve been very, very blessed.”

On the United Center: “You can feel the electricity in the building; you can feel the championships and the history. This place always has been different.”

What he’ll miss: “The competition, staying up late trying to solve the Derrick Rose/Pau Gasol screen roll problems. How to handle the Kevin Durants, the D-Wades, how to deal with them. That preparation is the stuff I’ll always miss. I’ll be up to three, four in the morning trying to figure this stuff out. The preparation for the competition; that’s what I’ll miss, the studying for the test. You find something you love to do and it’s the process that keeps you going, keeps you interested.”

On he and Jordan: “For (Michael) it was much, much different. What motivates each of us is different. Michael is really driven by things you guys may say or challenges that are right in front of him. I’m really not. I’m more process driven. We talked about it; what makes us tick internally is different. Where I’m at now is different than what Michael went through. We’re pretty obsessive about how to get an edge and how to compete with people to the point where, if I said ‘Hi’ to a player, they’re looking at me sideways like, ‘What is he up to?’ That attention to detail and competitive spirit really makes that connection. Not too many players are as maniacal as we’ve been.”

On his Michael memory: “Getting schooled for a baseline dunk the first time I matched up with him. That was like the coolest thing. I had seen that spin move so many times. I knew he was going to do it. But the timing on TV and in person are two completely different things. So he spun right before I thought he was going to spin. And I was like, ‘That was pretty cool.’ That’s my first memory of it. And then coming to watch the game here with Jermaine O’Neal in the (1996) Finals and sitting all the way up in the nosebleeds where Toni and Michael looked about that big. Enjoying the Finals experience.”

On Jordan’s influence: “No words can really do it justice. As a kid growing up in Italy, all I had was video. So I studied everything. I studied every player. When I came back to the States and realized I wasn’t going to be 6-9, I started studying Michael exclusively. And then when I came to the league and matched up against him, what I found was he was extremely open to having a mentor relationship. Giving me a great amount of advice and amazing amount of detail, strategies, workout regimens, things like that. Seriously, I don’t think people understand the amount of impact he had on me as a player and as a leader. So if I was fortunate enough to come here, if that trade had happened, it’s not a pressure situation to live up to what he’s done. It’s more like, ‘OK, I’m carrying on this man’s legacy. Can I do it justice? Can I represent Chicago the way it should be represented in his honor?’”

On whether he seriously wanted to be a Bull: “I did. Very much so. My wife and I were actually planning travel arrangements to come out to Chicago to look at some homes and schools and things like that. And then Shaq demanded a trade. And it was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to trade me anywhere.’ So the sign-and-trade option just pretty much went off the table.”

On Pressure about following Jordan: “You’ve known me for how long? Really? Do I seem like the type to cower to something like that? C’mon.”

On biggest Bulls memory: “The ’98 game was pretty fun. My first time where I really got a chance to play against MJ. That was pretty cool. The biggest learning experience, though, was the first time we came out here and I think we had like a 17-point lead and then you just saw Scottie and Michael said, ‘That’s enough.’ I remember sitting on the bench, like, ‘Man, they are covering so much ground. I don’t even understand how this is possible, how Pippen can trap in the backcourt and all of a sudden he’s at half court and all of a sudden he’s getting a rebound at the rim.’ Like, I don’t know how this is physically possible. That was probably the biggest lesson I learned. Their defensive pressure, you couldn’t even get the ball past half court. It was pretty phenomenal.”

On leaving and the fans’ support: “It was a little strange to me at first because you are used to being booed so many times, people actually cheering you is kind of weird; you are not sure how to respond to it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m at peace now; extremely at peace. I keep waiting for the hammer to drop. At some point it really has to hit, but it hasn’t hit me yet because I am really at peace with this. I feel it’s the right thing and I’m ready to move on.”

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