For nearly two decades, Kobe Bryant has created headlines as the star of the Los Angeles Lakers, and even a season on the sidelines has not dulled the spotlight on the five-time NBA champion.
Whether watching the World Cup in Brazil, spending a vacation in France, touring China with Nike or simply working out in Orange County, a global following desperately yearns for news, any news, related to 36-year-old entering his 19th season in the NBA.
Recently, Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated spent time with Bryant on a trip to China and wrote a detailed piece describing Byrant’s global popularity and reverence. Ballard’s glimpse behind the curtain revealed interesting surprises like Bryant's appreciation for Katy Perry as a businesswoman, Wesley Johnson being a consistent workout partner in Orange County and Bryant’s competitive spirit showing in the form of cheating in a meaningless one-on-one competition with Chinese game show contestants.
Add in an ice bucket challenge that featured Bryant going head deep in an ice bath, and the Lakers’ summer headliner is the same guy who has demanded the spotlight since 1996--way back when Bryant entered the NBA.
Following his lengthy account, Ballard took a moment to share further notes he gathered hanging around the global sports icon. Particularly of note, Bryant was learning to adjust his game in order to be more effective. Inglewood-native and long-time Boston Celtic Paul Pierce, in particular, had become a point of focus for the shooting guard. Seeing as Bryant seemed to have perfected Michael Jordan’s style of play early in his career, the Lakers’ legend had now moved on to studying the “efficient” movements of the similarly aged Pierce, who was never known as a high-fly act or a particularly speedy player.
On the topic of efficiency, Bryant again offered high praise for fellow teammate Steve Nash, calling Nash's play “cunning” and referring to Nash’s play in Phoenix as “outrageous.”
With only two years remaining on his contract and, conceivably, in his career, Bryant still managed to qualify his plans for retirement from the NBA.
“If something inside of me changes and I want to play some more, and go after it some more…,” Bryant trailed off when responding to a question asking if two years would mark the end of his historic career. “Yeah. But where I sit right now, I don’t know if I want to do that.”
Whether analyzing his ice bucket challenge or his personal challenge against a kid in China, Bryant’s actions and quotes point to the famous flame of fight and competition burning bright. Whether his body can match his will, however, remains to be seen.
Considering the subject, every move, minute and matchup of Bryant's final two seasons with the Lakers will be magnified and studied to no end. After nearly 18 years in the spotlight, though, what's another two years?