Kobe Bryant interview
The 2009 NBA Finals, featuring the L.A. Lakers and Orlando Magic, kick off with Game 1 Thursday night in Los Angeles. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is looking to win his first NBA championship without Shaquille O'Neal. Here's what he said to the media on Wednesday:
Question: Pau says he feels stronger and he spent more time in the weight room. Can you tell?
Bryant: Yeah, he looks stronger.
Question: How has that changed his game?
Bryant: He's able to take more contact on defense. He's able to hold his position a lot more. Offense he's able to hold his position a lot more. I think those may seem like little things, but they're big in the long run.
Question: Can you talk about obviously you and Fish have been here before, but just you guys adjusting to being in The Finals for the first time last year and also how did you feel when the Celtics got eliminated and the possible rematch died?
Bryant: I think everybody here was pretty calm, just ready to roll. We've been through this hoopla last year. I think a lot of it was obviously new to everybody, guys that haven't been there before. This time around just kind of know what to expect, just be ready to go. Didn't really think much about the Celtics being eliminated. We were dealing with our own more with the Houston Rockets. Didn't really have time to kind of sit back and see what was going on in the Eastern Conference at that time.
Question: Can you talk about the hunger? You've won three championships before. The last two times you've been in The Finals it's not been a good result for you. Can you talk about the hunger this team has, especially with what happened last year?
Bryant: No, we're determined to try to come up with a better result. The last few times we've been there, it's been the short end of the stick. Hopefully this time around will be better.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about the match-up?
Bryant: They obviously play extremely well. They've beaten us twice this season, split with them last year, so they've beaten us three out of the last four times. So we're very, very concerned.
Question: How much have you thought at all about the fact that this might be your last run with Phil, with his future unresolved, whether he's going to go on past this year, especially if you win? And how much do you think it's meant for your career playing for Phil that he had coached Michael and understood, maybe learned some things coaching Michael that's helped him coach you?
Bryant: I try not to think too much about it, just try to focus on the task at hand, which was one of the things that he's taught us all, me in particular because I played for him the longest, along with Derek.
I think him having coached Michael probably helped our situation a little bit. He's been around the block before. I'm just honored to be coached by the best coach of all time. It would be a tremendous honor to be on the team that can get him that tenth championship.
Question: Starting with the Olympics, the All-Star Game and the regular season, has this been up to this point your most rewarding season as a player?
Bryant: I'd say it's possible. It's been a hell of a year, winning a gold medal and making it to The Finals last year. We didn't win but we gained valuable experience. Being on that Olympic team, building the friendships we built there, coming back to this season and having the season that we've had up to this point, it's been very rewarding.
Question: Would all that go to waste if you don't win?
Bryant: In my eyes, yeah. This is what I play for all summer. All I thought about was the Olympics and the gold medal; we were able to accomplish that. My next goal is winning the NBA Championship, and we don't want to fall short of that.
Question: You've been with Dwight now, Team USA for three summers. How did he grow into what you know as the face of the franchise?
Bryant: I didn't think it was something he had to grow into. He did a great job of that right off the bat. He's a natural. The thing about Dwight is he continues to work on his game and you see improvement, sometimes monthly. You see him adding new things to his game, which says a lot about him.
Question: How surprised were you that this isn't a Kobe-LeBron final? And were you a little disappointed not to have that challenge?
Bryant: No, not really, not really. I'm not disappointed at all. I'm just happy to be in this situation. I'm sad for LeBron because he's a good friend of mine, but at the same time I'm happy for Dwight. You just kind of move on and do what you have to do with your ballclub and just go from there.
Question: You've talked a couple times this season, kind of joked about turning 30. How much does your age right now kind of add to the urgency to win a title?
Bryant: I'm not worried about it. The urgency is there just because it's there.
Question: It's a young 30, is that what you're saying?
Bryant: Yeah, I'm not worried about it.
Question: When Phil was in earlier, somebody said that he looked somewhat, I forget what the word was, subdued, and you're very low key today. Can you remember how you guys felt going into last year?
Bryant: I'm not sure. I can only speak for myself. As a team, the emotion that we have with this team is a little different this time around than it was last year.
Question: In what way?
Bryant: A little more calmer, more ready to go.
Question: When you look at your career up to this point, do you just kind of look back and think, I prepared myself the best I can for this moment? Do you feel totally prepared for these Finals?
Bryant: I have. I've worked extremely hard. I haven't taken any days off. Physically I feel ready to go out there and play.
Question: And mentally have you picked up anything through the journey, I guess?
Bryant: Well, yeah, the mental toughness just comes from all the battles that you've had and the obstacles that you've had to overcome to get to this point as a team and as a whole. We feel good about where we're at right now.
Question: Post-Shaq what's it mean to you to get the Lakers back to a championship level? And do you think in your own mind that you need to win a championship for your legacy without Shaq?
Bryant: Not at all. It means nothing. To me it's about winning another one, just because I want to win another one. People think Shaq would have won a championship without me on that team, they're crazy, you know what I'm saying? We needed Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Ron Harper and everybody else, as well. I'm not worried about that at all.
Question: I know it's maybe not so difficult for you anymore, but how as a player do you not treat The Finals differently given the magnitude and everything, even though that's sort of the cliché, that it's the same, you go out and play and all that?
Bryant: You prepare. I can't step up my preparation because I prepare as much as I can all the time. The focus is going to be there. At the end of the day it's just basketball. It's just adding all you guys around. It's the same ol', same ol'. If you're willing to deal with the criticism that you guys might write, it's just basketball.
Question: That's why the experience matters so much to have been there before?
Bryant: Yeah, it's just like the hoopla of this whole situation might have been a little bit different for some of the players on our team last year because it's a whole new thing, just seeing the magnitude of everything. This time around I don't think so. I think we understand that it's a game. It's a game we've been playing for many, many years, and you've got to go out there and do what you do best and leave it all out on the floor.