Kobe Bryant is Mr. MVP
By Ashley B. Howard and Sari Anne Tuschman
Photographs by Marc Baptiste
Navy peak-lapel suit ($2,795) and tie ($145), Giorgio Armani. 436 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills; giorgioarmani.com. Shirt ($425) and tie bar ($25), Anto Beverly Hills. 258 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; antoshirt.com. Diamond cuff links, Lorraine Schwartz (price upon request). 646-274-2008. Black Mamba MVP watch, Nubeo (price upon request). Westime Beverly Hills, 254 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills; westime.com
He has many names—“The Closer,” “Black Mamba,” “Lord of the Rings”—but in this City of Angels where he reigns as king, he is simply known as “Kobe.” This year Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers took home yet another NBA championship, but this one in particular—No. 5 for Kobe—may have been the sweetest. After being sent home empty-handed by the Boston Celtics two years ago, Kobe and the Purple and Gold got the revenge they had been waiting for. It’s the stuff of sports fantasy, really: the Celtics vs. the Lakers—one of sports’ greatest rivalries—in a game that came down to the final minutes, seconds even. And it was game seven, no less.
Born in Philadelphia, Kobe’s path was not the typical one for a basketball prodigy. His father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant—a former professional basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers—moved his family to Italy to play the game abroad when Kobe was just six. Kobe would learn to speak Italian fluently, develop a fondness for soccer and, of course, discover his own incomparable talent on a basketball court. Eventually Kobe would return to Pennsylvania and become a high school basketball star, leading him to forgo college and become the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. After being chosen by the Charlotte Hornets, he was traded to the Lakers—a team he loved as a child, a team he now carries on his broad shoulders. Last season, Kobe captured his second consecutive finals MVP distinction and the Lakers’ 16th title in franchise history.
We caught up with the married father of two daughters during the off-season to talk about the game, the future and his desire for a sixth championship.
LOS ANGELES CONFIDENTIAL: You used this off-season to get well in terms of a knee issue you had surgery for and a broken finger. How are you feeling now?
KOBE BRYANT: I’m feeling pretty good; I didn’t do much this summer. I just relaxed and had a little surgery, but I’m feeling really good and well rested. And a little bit of therapy got my leg strong enough to start getting in shape.
LAC: You’ve won five NBA championship titles, but this last one came down to game seven, and it was against the Celtics. The Lakers vs. the Celtics is a legendary rivalry. Where does that title—that win— rank for you in your mind?
KB: That was No. 1 for me because it was so hard. It was definitely one of those heavyweight slugfest rounds. We decided we wanted to go in for the kill, and it was tough, but it was so much fun because of it.
LAC: And fun to watch. You have a contract with the Lakers through the 2013–2014 season. How much further beyond that do you see yourself playing with the Lakers?
KB: I’m just going to wait and see I guess. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career so far that I haven’t had any major injuries, and hopefully that continues and helps me so when those four years are up, I can sit back and make the decision of my own accord and not because of a physical ailment.
LAC: Your next championship win would be your sixth and would tie Michael Jordan’s record. How hungry are you for that?
KB: I’m hungry for the next one just as I was for the last one; it doesn’t change. It doesn’t increase; it doesn’t decrease—it just stays the same for me. Every year is a new year to me; that’s how I look at it. I don’t approach the season as winning the third one in a row or anything like that, I just approach it as a new season altogether.
LAC: You just start from the beginning again, right?
KB: That’s how you got to be with it, and that keeps things fresh and chill. It’s not like you carry things over from the season before; you just leave it where it ends. At the end of the day, if we’re fortunate enough to win again, the end result is winning three in a row, but the process of it is just to win one.
LAC: So, coach Phil Jackson announced he’s returning next season. Were you at all concerned he might not?
KB: Oh yeah, extremely. There were times when I thought, This is definitely his last run. But I was very, very excited when he told me he was going to come back. He kinda touched on this being his last run, so I’m excited and honored to be able to play with his team.
Styling by Paige Geran
Grooming by Mark Graham for Hair Architects
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.