‘I wanted to change my name to Joseph’
It's just a few hours before the start of the All-Star NBA Game at the Dallas Cowboys stadium. Kobe Bryant is out due to injury, but he's still making the trip. After all, for the NBA, an injured Kobe on the sidelines is still better than no Kobe at all.other Updated: Feb 17, 2010 00:52 IST
It's just a few hours before the start of the All-Star NBA Game at the Dallas Cowboys stadium. Kobe Bryant is out due to injury, but he's still making the trip. After all, for the NBA, an injured Kobe on the sidelines is still better than no Kobe at all.
From an unpopular shy rookie and an Italian-speaking misfit, Bryant has become the global face of the NBA and an American icon.
The 32-year-old Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard walks in a few minutes after the scheduled time. And once the dark glasses are off, he turns on the charm. From amused, to amusing, to candid, to plain diplomatic, Bryant holds court for the Indian media. Excerpts:
You are named after a famous beef of Kobe, Japan. How did you react when you came to know about it?
Very shocked actually. When I was growing up, I had such a different name than everybody else. I asked my parents where they got it from and was pretty shocked to know about it.
Did you ever want to change your name?
I did. I always wanted to be just like my father, so I wanted to change my name to Joseph, but my father said no.
Can you tell a bit about growing up in Italy and how was it coming back to America?
We moved to Italy when I was six years old. It wasn't too difficult for us because we were all so young; it was very easy to adjust. Then we moved back when I was about 13 years old. And that was an adjustment. We were teenagers, not able to understand the American culture. It was different.
How tough was it to decide to get into basketball at 17?
Lot of things went into that decision. But my parents wanted me to make the decision. They said if you want to go to college you are on your own but if you go to the NBA, then also you are on your own, so you have to make these tough decisions for yourself.
Has ‘being focused’ always been your strength?
I had to be focused. In high school I wasn't the best player growing up. I wasn't the tallest, not the fastest, not the strongest. So the only way I was going to get by was by working hard everyday.
When you first entered the NBA, people said you were aloof…
When I first came to the NBA, I was 18 years old. Everybody inon my team was 30 or thereabouts. I was 18, how could I hang around with thirty-year-olds? So I would bring around a lot of my friends from high school. But to my teammates it was like, oh, he's aloof.
Nowadays, in professional sport, we see players switching loyalties all the time. What has kept you at Lakers since 1996?
I was like a fan growing up. As a kid, I had the Magic (Johnson) jersey and was a huge Lakers fan. If I had to pick a team to play, it would have been them. Truthfully, I have been very fortunate (to remain with the Lakers). I was with an organization that was passionate about winning, passionate about building great teams.