EL SEGUNDO, CA — A smiling Kobe Bryant stepped outside the Laker locker room in their practice facility, looked at a pair of reporters and said, “Alright, let’s get this done.” As the writers readied their digital audio recorders, others covering the team saw Bryant ready to talk and ran over to join the scrum.
Leaving Dwight Howard sitting on a purple bench with no one left to talk to.
“So that’s how it is?” the Lakers’ center yelled at the deserters. He was laughing, of course, but that is how it is: When Kobe Bryant wants to talk, people are always ready to listen.
Bryant has become someone few ever expected to see — team spokesperson. And he actually seems to be embracing the role, which is somewhat surprising, considering that he has made it clear many times in the past that he’d rather not talk as much as he’s expected to.
Now, 17 years into his brilliant Hall of Fame career, he seems to like the banter with media members, and much of the time has a mischievous look in his eye when responding to a question.
For example, a national magazine reported that Bryant is considering playing for at least three more years, making him 40 years old when he hangs ’em up. In the not-so-distant past, questioning him about the story would have brought a roll of the eyes and short answers, possible even a response of “Next?” On Tuesday, he smiled and proceeded to answer the questions directly — and pleasantly.
“Well,” he started, “playing until I’m 40 is not beyond the realm of possibility. There’s always YMCA games, there’s always kids on the playgrounds, so I’ll probably be playing as long as I’m living.
“We’ll have to see how things work out, but I’m fortunate that my body is in the type of shape that could allow me to do that. Having guys like Steve (Nash) and Dwight around will probably make that more likely than not.”
There has been a lot of talk from head coach Mike Brown about trying to limit Kobe’s minutes to preserve his health, but it really hasn’t happened. He’s averaging 37 minutes per game, and was on the court for 43 against the Clippers last Friday. He heard the talk and is paying absolutely no attention to it.
“I do whatever’s necessary,” he said. “Whatever needs to get done, gets done. It’s all on a game-by-game basis. It’s tough to say there’s a set amount of minutes I should play every night. I’ll do whatever I have to. My body’s in shape to let me do that.
“As a professional athlete, you have to train yourself to be able to play 48 minutes a game if you have to. I’m ready to do that, but if I don’t have to, all the better.”
The 14-time All Star said he’s made changes in the way he prepares as he gets deeper into his career. He changed his diet, eating healthier meals and dropped 16 pounds in the process. He also spends more time dealing with the aftermath of intense workouts and Brown’s long practices.
“It’s (more about) recovery now,” he said, “icing, stretching and doing things to activate different muscles to make sure you’re recovering from the workout. It’s really boring stuff, but it has to be done now.”
Not boring is talk around Los Angeles about the 1-3 start the Lakers put together, including losses in the first three games. The media has been in a frenzy with some calling for Brown’s ouster and others pushing to have Brown dump the Princeton offense, and their thumping of the Detroit Pistons had to relieve some of the pressure.
“(Sunday) did feel good because we could see some of the hard work from practice paying off,” said Bryant. “Talking about executing, then actually going out and executing for long stretches and getting us a win. Now we just have to keep moving forward.”
Which won’t be easy when you’re constantly dealing with injuries; the latest being Nash’s fractured left leg.
“Steve being out is naturally going to slow down our (progress),” Bryant said. “But we just have to adjust to it.”
Bryant later walked backed toward the locker room, stopped, turned around and told a reporter “It’s just four games. We’re going to be fine. I never want to lose and I don’t like it. But really, we’re going to be fine. We have to go to Utah and play with the same effort and intensity that we did against the Pistons.