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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kobe says Manny's the man

MANILA, Philippines - In a revealing one-on-one interview, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant yesterday bared his thoughts on how he hopes to be remembered after retiring as a player, Phil Jackson’s chances of collecting a fourth three-peat, the special quality of young Filipino ballers, the significance of the night he scored 81 points, why Asia – particularly, Manila – is his offseason destination of choice the last four years and his impressions on Manny Pacquiao.

Bryant, 30, spoke freely in the STAR interview arranged by Nike Philippines at the Recto Room of the Manila Peninsula Hotel yesterday morning before he was introduced in a by-invitation-only press conference at the Rigodon Ballroom.

Wearing his new Dream Season shoes and looking comfortable fielding questions of all sorts, Bryant was uninhibited in praising his co-Nike endorser Pacquiao.

“Manny’s the man,” he said. “He’s got talent and his work ethic is incredible. The first time I met him (during a recent Nike photo shoot in Los Angeles), I saw in his eyes he’s special. He has the look of a man who’s driven to excellence. It’s his aura. I’ve watched his fights but never live. I hope in his next fight, if I don’t have a game, I’ll be at the stadium.”

Bryant said he knows Pacquiao used to root for the Boston Celtics.

“I forgive him but he’s seen the light,” chuckled Bryant. “He’s a Laker fan now. And that makes sense because he trains in L.A., has a place in L.A. and the L.A. fans love him. That’s where his home base is in the US.”

Bryant said Asia is his home away home and that’s why he keeps coming back.

“It’s not like the Asian and Filipino fans are just fans, they’re like family to me,” he went on. “Whenever I visit, their welcome has been awesome – they embrace me with open arms. I love coming back to Asia because I feel right at home.”

Two years ago, Bryant recalled he conducted a clinic for young Filipino cagers and pushed them hard.

“The one thing I noticed among the kids was their willingness to work hard which is a special trait,” he observed. “Two years ago, I made them really work, doing drills. This year, my focus will be on conditioning which is an essential ingredient in working hard to prepare for a game. In my book, hard work pays off. I think our team proved that this season. Last year, we fell short of winning the title and we were all disappointed. But we worked hard to get better. It wasn’t easy. But we got it done.”

Bryant said while the Lakers victory in the recent NBA Finals is a testament to their dedication to excellence, there’s no assurance they’ll do a second take this coming season. Jackson has won 10 NBA titles as a coach so far, in streaks of three (two with Chicago and one with Los Angeles) and one last June.

Does Bryant see the Lakers winning two in a row to fashion another Jackson three-peat with Ron Artest and possibly, without Lamar Odom?

“It’s going to be tough but I hope we do it,” he said. “The other teams have gotten better and stronger. We’re a different team now. But if we work even harder than we did last season, we can do it. It’s all about dedication to succeed. You can accomplish anything you want to if you work hard to do it. That’s the same principle in aspiring to play in the NBA.”

Bryant said although he did some sporadic coaching in the last playoffs, he’s sticking it out as a player – not even as a playing coach like Bill Russell when Red Auerbach handed over the Boston reins to the prized center.

“No way I’ll ever be a playing coach,” said Bryant. “It’s hard enough to be a player. I still need to work 10 times harder as a player. If I take on the added responsibility of coaching, I just won’t have time to do other things. I certainly wouldn’t have time left for my family. Will I coach after playing? No, no. That’s not for me.”

Bryant said scoring 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006, was memorable not for the explosion but for family reasons. “It was the first time my grandmother came to watch me play,” he recalled. “My grandfather died a few years before and it was his birthday that day. So the day was very special and memorable to me.”

It was the most points scored in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain hit 100 in 1962. To commemorate Bryant’s feat, there are small “81s” etched in the outsoles of his Dream Season shoe, a newly designed model for the outdoor game.

Bryant said off the court, he’s a regular guy who enjoys a good time with his family and likes to relax. But on the court, he said with his trademark scowl, “that’s where the mamba comes in.” Bryant referred to his moniker the “Black Mamba.”

Asked what he would prefer to be in another life, Bryant said he couldn’t imagine a life without basketball. “I’ve been playing since I was three,” he continued. “What I’ve achieved came from hard work and it was through basketball. Playing is what I do. The challenge is the fun part of it. It’s a great feeling when you accomplish what you’ve set out to do, when you pull it off.”

Bryant had sound advice for the undersized Philippine hoping to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012.

“Don’t think about your handicap,” he said. “Take your strengths and capitalize on your good points. You work around your weak points and do what you do best. It’s like the Lakers. A lot of people doubted our ability to play physical. Maybe, we’re not as physical as other teams. But we developed a style that made us competitive despite our weakness, whatever it was. That’s how you overachieve. It’s important that you keep your dream alive and you work hard to live that dream.”

How does he want to be remembered when his playing days are over?

“As a player who was able to win, a player with a huge heart, a player who went out a champion, a player who was dedicated, worked hard and gave it his all,” he replied.

Source: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=489018&publicationSubCategoryId=69

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