Kobe: 'It's going to be a fun year'
OCT 03, 2012 1:06p ET
Kobe Bryant worked out for another hour.
As he sat for an interview, his purple practice top was drenched with sweat, and he was visibly tired. But he had enough energy left to drop the gauntlet on the rest of the National Basketball Association.
"I think I'll be better this year than I was last year," Bryant predicted with a typical Kobe grin.
And he wasn't too bad last year, averaging 27.9 points per game to finish behind Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant for the scoring title – a title he could have won with 38 points in the season finale against Sacramento. Instead, he chose to sit out the game to protect a bruised left shin and get ready for the playoffs. Nonetheless, it was a remarkable season for the sixteen-year veteran, who was thought to be on a major decline physically. His knees were thrashed after 40,000 regular season minutes and more in the playoffs. But he traveled to Germany prior to the labor-shortened season for an Orthokine treatment in which platelet-rich plasma was injected into his left knee and ankle.
While the Lakers were unable to win what would have been Bryant's sixth NBA title, Kobe gained a much more important victory – his health. And he says that despite the toll the massive amount of miles and minutes have taken on his body, that in his case it is possible to turn back the clock.
"Physically I'm better, I'm in better shape and my game is just better," he said confidently. "And then you mix in Steve (Nash), Dwight (Howard), Antawn (Jamison), and I'm not being triple-teamed every night and I don't have to have the ball. I don't have to bring it up, facilitate; I can let Steve dictate the tempo. It's going to be a fun year."
Yet, the critics have already begun their debate as to whether Kobe will actually be willing to give up the ball to Nash, Howard, etc. He bristles when the question is brought up, saying that line of thought is silly.
"People always try to create controversy with all the comments," Bryant said. "Whatever. I'm fine with it. But the important thing for me is to be honest and straightforward.
"I know something about winning championships and what it takes to do it. I've been mentored by Phil (Jackson) and the likes of Magic (Johnson) and Michael (Jordan) and I've been fortunate enough to win several. I think I know what I'm doing around here."
He went on to say that his success is due to God-given talent and maniacal work ethic.
"It's an on-going process," he said. "It just doesn't stop. When I work out, I'm still consumed with doing things the right way. It just eats at me if I can't get it right, so I just keep doing it over and over and over until I do.
"You can go to a lot of parks and a lot of playgrounds across America, and you can find plenty of players who have my size and have my athletic ability – if not more – but just didn't have the work ethic to get to that next level. It takes a great deal of work and dedication."
Which is something he didn't always find once he got to the league.
"Once I got to the NBA, I realized that a lot of the players here at the professional level didn't work as hard as I thought they did," he said. "That's when I realized that my determination and hunger for my profession, my craft, is more than these other guys."
Which is a major factor in him being able to continuously play through age, injury – and do it at a level very few athletes have ever reached.
With the key additions to the roster and the implementation of the "Princeton Offense"– which Bryant says is remarkably similar to the legendary Triangle Offense – have the Lakers in an excellent position to recapture glory.
"We've got a lot of talent here," Kobe said, "maybe the most we've ever had. And I feel really good about our chances for another championship. Steve wants to complete the picture of his career with a ring or two; same with Dwight. And guys like Antawn sacrificed a lot for a chance to win. Like I said before, this is going to be a fun year."
And Bryant already seems to be embracing his role at the Lakers' elder statesman.
"I kind of feel like I'm playing for all the middle-aged men out there," Bryant said with a laugh. "Seriously, they think we're over-the-hill and can't play a young man's game. Well, I'm here to show that yes we can still take the league by storm. We still can be active, be young, and still do all the things that we want to do. Just because I'm 34 doesn't mean it's over. No."
Kobe Bryant arrived in Los Angeles as a wide-eyed 17-year-old acquired from the Charlotte Hornets after being taken straight out of high school with the 13th overall pick in the 1996 draft. He's had amazing individual accomplishments and he's helped the Lakers add five more banners to their collection of sixteen. He's also had his share of legal problems and life's controversies, all of which have been played out on the grandest of stages known as Los Angeles.
Now, as his career winds down, he says that, despite growing up in the public eye, he's more at peace than he's ever been.
"When you get older, things tend to settle down," he said with a lowered voice. "You start to see the picture clearly and your life becomes more introspective. You become more appreciative of things.
"Life is a beautiful thing."
On and off the court.
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