In the third and final part of our 1-on-1 interview with Kobe Bryant, the 15-time All-Star discusses how long he thinks he can continue to play at an elite level, reveals his all-time starting five, explains to what degree rings tell the story for a player’s legacy, talks about how the game has developed in his 17 years in the league and more.
Bryant has gone back and forth about how many more years he wants to play in recent years, even suggesting at various times last season that he’d considered hanging it up after his contract expired at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
Apparently, Bryant has changed his mind, firmly stating that he’s thinking of playing at least three more years.
I feel pretty damn confident I can be at a high level for at least another three years. I feel like how I was playing last year – I know I’ll be healthy and I’ll be ready to go this year – I know what I can bring. And I think I can easily do that for another three years. I think the (Achilles) injury has something to do with it. It really increased the drive. And probably San Antonio getting so close to winning No. 5, probably hurt me a little bit too. I want to make sure I push the ring count out a little further. It was really, really close there. They played phenomenally well. But it’s a testament to what skill can do. To what us old guys can do if you play together, if you play with one mind and one purpose you can accomplish great things. It was inspirational for me and hopefully inspirational for the city of Los Angeles and this organization of what we can do, how this tide can change fairly quickly and we’ll be looking at a parade.
Now for the all-time team: two weeks back, I tweeted out my all-time starting five of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Lakers radio voice John Ireland countered with a team of Oscar Robertson, Bryant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Wilt Chamberlain. Kobe’s choice, to Ireland’s* chagrin and my pleasure: *In fairness, I did have the first five selections.
“Magic, Michael, Bird, Russell and Jabbar.”
Of course, Kobe wasn’t willing to just concede that Ireland’s team, with him at shooting guard, would lose a seven-game series. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Bryant broke it down even further, envisioning a show down between himself and the man he’s been chasing all these years.
“Dude, it’s going to be back and forth … you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some,” he told me. “You’re going to come down to the end, the ball is going to be in my hands, it’ll be in Mike’s hands. He’d get the best of me some games, I’d get the best of him some games. That’s just how it’s going to be. Back and forth, back and forth.”
The biggest difference between Team A and Team B in that argument is that the first group has 31 championship rings, and the second 14. How much should rings matter as we evaluate the legacies of the greatest players?
“Basketball is the one sport where one person can really alter a team,” Bryant explained. “Leadership, demeanor. If you have pieces around you that compliment each other – it has to start from the top as well (with) a great staff. But when things are equal, you have two good teams going at it, one player definitely changes the outcome of a game.
“It’s not like football where a quarterback is on the sideline (half the game), or in baseball where you can intentionally walk a batter. Basketball is one of those sports where an individual has supreme outcome on whether or not you win a championship.”
In sum, Bryant said that winning at that ultimate level demands not just a certain skill level from the Jordan’s, Magic’s and Russell’s, but an unrelenting mental fortitude.
“It’s about how you were able to drive a team,” he said. “It’s about what buttons can you push to get the team at the ultimate level.”