the success and style of kobe bryant
The “black mamba” sits down for rare interview after the announcement of his retirement in 2015.
After an illustrious twenty-year basketball career as a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe walks away with five NBA Championship rings in tow and the knowledge that he retires of his own accord. The thirty-seven year old demonstrated his record-breaking dominance right up to his final curtain call with an astounding sixty-point game.
"I'm not dead and I'm not dying," Kobe says, referring to his retirement farewells, exasperated as he literally waves off the assumption in front of the media at Nike's European headquarters in Amsterdam. Indeed, Kobe has relished defying insinuations of his possible demise throughout his career.The Nike European youth basketball clinics he launched off the back of his farewell tour are testament to a legacy that goes well beyond his two decades of dominance on the court and take him back home to Italy where his lust for the game began.
Dressed in casual grey shorts, paired with the Kobe basic Nike white tee whilst slouched in a larger than life armchair (he somehow manages to dwarf) an air of comfortable ease emits from him. It becomes apparent that it's a less than subtle nod to his contentment at choosing to leave the NBA.
Do the Nike clinics you're setting up act as a follow up of your much-publicised work ethic to a younger generation?
100% because you can say I want to win all of these championships and I certainly did, OK that's great you have social rights issues and human rights issues that we've got to fix absolutely! We can't fix them all at once, can't win every championship all at once, we have to get up in the morning and work on the footwork, we have to hit the weights, we have to stretch, so very tangible things and it's that level of focus that's most important what are we focusing on today. When we have that level of focus, that attention to detail then I think you can't help but be successful eventually
How can a young generation of aspiring athletes that are essentially children still have the potential to strive for athletic success and whilst also have access to a childhood?
Well it starts with fun, like I used to play… Well I didn't have a basket so I just used to make up things, I'd roll up in my dads socks and shoot on the wall, so it just starts with having fun. Imagination is a big part of that you know; like when I lay down and go to sleep I can see myself doing things that I'm trying to work on. It doesn't feel like work and I never felt like I was working hard and it just so happened that I loved playing this sport, so that's what I did. The older people would be like that was training but to me it was just having fun and I just did it more than everybody else. I mean I really didn't realise it until I was maybe 17/18 years old.
Why did Black Mamba seem necessary as a persona for you to create?
Well it gave me an opportunity to isolate emotions; the stuff on the court the person that's on the court would not be a good citizen [he laughs] he would not be a good husband or father, you know what I mean because you're so focused, it helped me separate the two. I show up to the arena, I'm in the locker room I get dressed; I'm in Mamba mode.
So when you're throwing things into a waste paper basket, do you yell Kobe?
No! I don't… [There is an awkward pause] I yell Mamba [we both laugh], alter-ego mode man, MAMBA! [he feigns a shot].
Did team USA's lengthy winning streak make the feeling of winning those gold medals in 2008 and 2012 surprising, any less exhilarating or easy?
No it's just as exciting. For me, every game was new, back home I'm used to who I'm playing against, I know them I know who they are I know what to do but in the Olympics it's like I don't know these players… It's like a whole new list of players that I had to study and learn.
I hear you had Nike shave off a mm off one of your shoes for a more responsive time, what other lengths do you go to make your style aesthetically pleasing yet functional?
If I'm wearing this suit, what am I saying, what is the purpose of this suit, what is that one story that you're trying to tell that you're trying to communicate it's very important, I'm a fanatic about making sure you know crystal clearly what it is you're trying to say because if you don't know then you wind up having a bunch of stuff going on and you can't decide what story you're trying to tell about who you are. Growing up in Italy being a fan of Michel Angelo, Da Vinci and the way they went through their process of creating art is much the same.
Anything in particular in terms of trends and style that resonate with you in the span of your 20 year career, you've had lots of kits and you've seen a lot of style turns are there any particular moments that stick out or captivate you?
I think for my own style I think the moment in time is now; it's being at the ESPYs recently that think I really decided. I wore a very grown up simple suit, tailored but not too tight, comfortable. Looking around at all the young guys, they're wearing all the high pants and the socks, pretty colourful things. It gave me chance to really sit back and be like OK, this is who they are and this is who I am this is my style this is grown up.
Grown and sexy, shall I write that down?
[He laughs] Oh thank you, thank you. I mean yeah that's me, that's where I am now and I won't budge from that.
What did you think about players who were wearing your Nike shoes when they were matched up against you in a game, I can't see you wearing Lebron's to face up against him?
OK yeah but it's different though, our brands are built differently right, so Lebron's brand is built on Lebron James he chose consciously so. I chose to build my brand on innovation, so they are two completely different things. So like, other players feel comfortable wearing my shoes against me because they feel like they're not wearing 'me' you know what I'm saying? They're wearing the best basketball performance shoe on the market, it's the functionality, it supersedes the identity of the athlete, which is extremely important to me as we were building our product.
Text Bwalya Newton