VIDEO: Kobe talks extension about the process that led to his extension
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For a player whose Hall of Fame career has been defined by personal defiance, it shouldn’t shock any of us to hear Kobe Bryant talk about what motivates him now.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Los Angeles Lakers’ star at his most defiant, in the wake of the backlash from him signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension Tuesday. That signing that brought out all sorts of non-believers and folks who don’t think he can come back completely from the Achilles tendon surgery cut short his 2012-13 season.
Defiant Kobe is far more entertaining than any other incarnation of the man who has been, in my opinion, the most polarizing NBA superstar of his generation and one of the most polarizing superstars ever.
It’s music to my ears to hear Kobe laugh off his haters and remind us all that no matter how bleak the outlook, he has the utmost confidence in himself and his ability. Even at this late stage of his career, he refuses to conform to conventional wisdom, the first step in trying to do the unthinkable and become exactly what he set out be many years ago: one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
So when he explains, to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, what keeps him going now, nearly two decades in and coming off of perhaps the most challenging obstacle in a career filled with them, it’s hard to be anything but intrigued by what makes the man tick:
“The Achilles, the rehab, it relit a fire in me, that’s for sure,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “I had been going so long, so long, putting in work – 17 years – and never taking a break, never taking time off. That’s a long time to push your body, especially the way I pushed mine.
“Every time I had to find that drive, I would eventually find it … somewhere. But it took a toll. Every summer, I’d finally find that push that would get me there. But it was getting harder to do.”
This is less about Kobe adoration — his legion of fans already have well under control — and more about the appreciation I have for a guy who continually finds new ways to motivate himself.
With all of his career accolades, Bryant could have easily walked away one title short of catching Michael Jordan. He could have said enough is enough, that his body had endured more than enough punishment. He’s already among the top four scorers in the history of the game. He has the titles and the individual and team achievements that would make some of the league’s greats jealous.
But that’s not enough for Kobe. It just doesn’t quite do it for him, which speaks to a level of competitiveness and (and, some might argue, borderline-crazy) focus that elevates him into a realm that only a few players with the talent, desire, work ethic and good fortune have ever possessed.
The Lakers — from Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss to GM Mitch Kupchak to the millions of fans in and around the Southland and around the world — recognize that laser focus. They’ve witnessed it for years. They understand that the $48.5 million Kobe will earn in his extension is a relatively reasonable price tag for qualities that are priceless in most any other walk of life.
Kobe is a revenue-generator the likes of which few franchises, cities and their fan bases have ever experienced. (Lakers fans from the Showtime era, Boston Celtics fans from the Larry Bird era and Bulls fans from the Jordan era certainly know what I’m talking about.)
He toils in an environment where the folks who pay extremely large sums to watch him are the only people who can truly comprehend what it’s like to entertain the way he’s asked to. While the other non-NBA Hollywood types might be lucky to star in one or two movies a year or on a TV show that runs 10-12 episodes a season, Kobe is expected to be a star 82 nights a year.
Ultimately, it’s not about the adoring public, the haters or what either of those groups think. It’s not my money or yours. The Lakers are the ones on the hook for paying Bryant, whether he comes back as a shell of the player he was or as the “Black Mamba” we all know. They’re the ones who have to, as Rasheed Wallace infamously said, “cut the check.”
And as Woj pointed out, they didn’t flinch (publicly, at least):
The Los Angeles Lakers still believe in Kobe Bryant, and this means the world to him. Of course, the money matters, and it always will to him. He hadn’t come to Washington, D.C., to make a concession speech, only to thank the Busses for the leap of faith and declare himself closer to his return. Between a news conference and the next steps in his rehab on Tuesday night, Kobe Bryant was still raging over the response to his contract extension. This wasn’t a noble gesture to awaken his peers, but simply a visceral reaction to the way the NBA has slowly, surely eroded the superstar’s standing in the sport – and the way the players have allowed it to happen.
“Bull—-,” Kobe Bryant finally again said on his way back to the locker room. “Pure bull—-.”
Defiant Kobe at his best!