LOS ANGELES — “MAM-BA! MAM-BA! MAM-BA!” The massive crowd at Nike’s Makers Headquarters — the site of the brand’s activation during 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend — willed Kobe Bryant to spend 20 minutes chatting about his 20-year NBA career, his newfound love for filmmaking, and what he means to culture as a “maker of the game.” After loud and continuous chants, the Black Mamba, aka the now-retired Kobe Bryant, emerged onto the hardwood, 673 days after his final game in the purple and gold, and 59 days after both jerseys he wore in his career, No. 8 and No. 24, rose to the rafters at the Staples Center — the host arena of this year’s All-Star Game.
Wearing all-black, and a pair of his camouflage UNDEFEATED x Nike Zoom Kobe 1 Protros, Bryant took a seat next to ESPN’s Jalen Rose, who led the Q&A. These are the best moments from Thursday’s conversation:
1. On his 2016 60-point performance in the final game of his career:
I was tired as heck. It’s one of those things. When you know it’s the last game, you have to literally leave it all out there. It’s a familiar position to be in for me, because when you’re running a track, when you’re working out and doing these things — I had like my last lap to run … You feel like you don’t have the legs anymore, like you literally can’t move anymore, but you do. You keep going. And you finish it, and you realize, you’re OK. So I drew from that. Because during that game, I couldn’t feel my legs, and it I felt like it was that last lap on the track for me. I just continued to run.
2. On his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006:
That Toronto game, there was a calmness to it. Like a stillness. Nothing mattered to me other than what was right in front of me. It wasn’t anybody in the crowd, or what an opponent may say or do. It was just about the play right in front of me, and I was able to … maintain that throughout.
3. On his who’s the greatest — him or LeBron James:
That’s a question? .. is that a question? Listen, everybody has their own way of measuring things, you know what I’m saying? My mentality is I never waste my time arguing things that I definitively cannot win. So I don’t waste my time even debating that kind of stuff. Because for every argument somebody makes for me being the best, there’s always somebody who makes an argument for LeBron being the best, or Jordan, or whoever. So I tend to focus on things that I can win definitively. If I can’t win definitively, I’m not gonna waste my energy on it.
4. On dunking on Steve Nash in
Well, I never really thought that was a big deal, because Steve’s like 5-10 … You’ve got players now who are jumping over 7-footers. I was able to catch Steve … but it meant a lot, though, because it felt good to win in Phoenix … we hated those guys. We felt like they were so arrogant. It was always like, ‘We could beat you guys any time we want.’ That sort of thing … but Steve is a nice guy. When we started playing together, I said, ‘Steve, you’re genuinely a nice guy.’
5. On his Oscar-nominated short film Dear Basketball:
Just like in sports, where you have an opportunity to play with great teammates … working with Glen Keane, working with John Williams — one of the greatest animators of all time, one of the greatest composers of all time — enhances things. It’s just all about the team, the group that you have working together. We really believed in the project. We believed in the core of the story, and wound up creating something that the academy deemed worthy for a nomination.
6. On the love and passion he has for production:
That’s the trick … finding something that you truly love … because there’s gonna be times where things are really, really hard. Physically, mentally, it takes its toll. If you don’t truly love it, you won’t get up that day and work. You’ll roll over and go back to sleep. You have to find something that you truly love, and if you find that thing, you don’t have to convince yourself to work hard. You just do it, because you’d rather be there than any place else. And I was fortunate enough to find that in basketball, and fortunate enough to find that in storytelling, and writing, and directing, and producing. That’s the key.
7. On how it feels to be a rookie in the 2018 class of Oscar nominees:
It feels wonderful. Being at the Oscar luncheon, and having a chance to sit with Steven Spielberg, and Octavia Spencer, and Meryl Streep … all those beautiful minds that I’ve admired for so many years is awesome … it’s a great experience.
8. On shaping the culture:
First is always finding things that you love to do — and focusing on that thing. When you focus on that one thing, it tends to have ripple effects outward. Whether you’re a painter, or a writer or a basketball player or a musician … having to focus on that creates ripple effects across culture. But it always starts with the craft.