"It still pisses me off," Kobe Bryant said about the 2008 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics in an hour-long special on NBA TV that aired Monday night. "That damn one eats at me. I wish I had that one."
Bryant would go on to win in 2009, and 2010 would provide the Lakers another shot at the Celtics in the NBA Finals. Bryant would get revenge, but apparently, the losses leave a stronger imprint.
"The Detroit one got away. The Celtics one got away," Bryant lamented. "I should have seven (rings)."
Bryant spent significant time with Ahmad Rashad in a one-on-one interview where the LA Lakers' star took a long view of his career and focused in on details to provide candid insight.
"I grew up in Los Angeles," Bryant said at one point. "They've seen me grow up from a 17-year-old kid to be a 36-year-old man."
Asked about his goals entering the NBA as a fresh-faced teenager, Bryant didn't hesitate: "It was really simple for me at the time which was, 'win as many championships as possible.' That was it."
Bryant would finish with five titles, but teammates, fans and even Bryant had to wonder how many more he could have won had he not clashed with center Shaquille O'Neal. Bryant and O'Neal would lead the Lakers to three titles and four NBA Finals before the situation became untenable.
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"No," Bryant responded clearly when asked if O'Neal and Bryant were friends.
"I'm obsessive, and I believe we need to work night and day to figure out where we need to go. [O'Neal] wanted to do it a different way," Bryant explained why the partnership eventually failed. "I wasn't going to back down and neither was he."
For Bryant, his obsessive love for the game trumped almost everything else outside of it, and his desire to play with his foot constantly on the accelator derived from his duty to fans and the possibility to inspire the next generation.
"It doesn't matter if I'm sick. It doesn't matter if I have a sprained ankle," Bryant explained his mentality. "The kid that's sitting there might be the next me sitting up there watching, trying to get inspiration from that. I need to go out there and play."
"Basketball never felt like work to me," Bryant added.
With the 20th season of his Hall-of-Fame career looming, Bryant began to speak about his basketball mortality and acknowledge that the end was near.
"Even when you realize that you have to appreciate the time in the moment, it still goes by too fast," Bryant said. "At this age, you start having bigger perspective on things. The blinders come off a little bit. You get a chance to sit back and look beyond yourself."
Bryant spoke about the greats he played against entering the league in 1996, touched on the generation that came and went under his watch and now acknowledged an even younger generation of superstars emerging.
Asked if he saw himself in any of the young players, Bryant focused on former UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook.
"Westbrook plays mean," Bryant said. "He plays mean like I did, with an aggression--that's the way I played."
For the 19-year veteran, the end may be near, but his desire to dominate on the basketball court had not softened. Looking at the greats that came before, Bryant took confidence from the players' abilities to impact the game despite having varying levels of athleticism. Ultimately, Bryant revealed that he would adjust his game but still insisted he could dominate.
"For me to look at where I am now and say 'I don't have the physical ability that I had back then' doesn't mean I can't be a dominant or a great player," Bryant explained. "There have been plenty of players in the league who haven't had that speed or that athleticism but have still been able to dominate. So, why can't I?"
The Lakers' star joked about playing with one arm if need be before sharing that he had come to peace with the end.
"When the end comes, I'm fine with that," Bryant said. "I'm not afraid of change."
"I think it's great. I think there's beauty in that," Bryant added, specifically referring to the process of decay and decline that is part of ending his career. "It's completely fine."