Why Kobe Bryant?
He was a player I first became interested in years ago, in 1996 while writing about Jordan. I decided to take a look at the new generation of players coming into the league to see which ones might inherit the mantle. He wasn’t a prime player as a rookie, but he stood out because of his immense work ethic. After I finished Michael Jordan, The Life, I began looking for another subject to write about. Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball kingmaker, suggested Bryant. “He’s the most complicated guy in the NBA,” Vaccaro said. He was right.
How long did the book take to write?
The publisher wanted me to write it in 10 months. I finished it in 14, writing seven days a week, 10-14 hours a day. It was quite a grind, but his story was fascinating to me.
Bryant transcends his sport yet he seems an introvert personality. Was it hard to get people to talk about him?
Yes, some people were fearful of upsetting him, just as some media personalities have admitted being fearful of having me on their shows because they don’t want to anger him. It’s an independent look, a biography, which can be difficult for huge stars. They all like to control their narrative, but Kobe really wants to control his narrative.
Did your opinion of Bryant change as you wrote the book and got to the end?
It varied depending on what part of the book I was writing. I wrote a book about his adjustment to the NBA in 1999, called Mad Game, The NBA Education of Kobe Bryant, when he was 19 to 21. I thought I understood him. I had no idea.
Do you feel the criticism that Bryant did not play well with others (O'Neal in particular) ring true?
In the book, I lay out the criticisms over that. Jordan caught the same flak. It’s a function of their skill, their talent, their personalities, their alpha competitive natures.
Where does he sit in your list of all-time great NBA players?
I don’t make lists of all time greats. I’m just a writer. I let those guys settle it on the court. Kobe is 3 on the all-time scoring list. As he says, that puts him in the conversation. It’s hard to claim superiority over guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson (in no certain order).
What is the most impressive feat of his career? - 5 titles, the 81 game, the longevity of his career?
Well, you’re supposed to play the game to win. I’ll take championships every time, especially five of them.
Will he succeed if he ran a team? Will he be better than Jordan did?
I admire Jordan as an owner. He took Charlotte, the Chernobyl of the NBA, and has revitalized that miserable franchise. Kobe’s a bright man, so he could certainly be an owner. He’s a bit aloof at times, but the people who work for his media companies seem to enjoy him. It would be a new gig, so I think we have to withhold judgment and see if that’s where he goes.
What is the state of the NBA right now?
The NBA is a young league, and the game has gone to a new style. Some of it, the Warriors, is beautiful. But the pace and space style of today’s game also makes for some ugly teams. You just have to wait and see if post play makes a recovery in the game. Whatever happens, it’s going to take time.
Will we ever see another Kobe Bean Bryant?
Not in today’s game. It has changed. Kobe and Michael were very effective post players as guards. But the game is a jump-shooting game these days, make or miss. And fans deride the triangle offense as something from the past. One of the earliest offenses was screen and roll but people act like it’s a new invention.