I was very fortunate to attend a conference call with Kobe Bryant yesterday. He provided insight into the NBA Playoffs that start on Saturday and much more.
Q: I know championships have always been at the forefront in the NBA, but it seems like it’s almost at a fever pitch of people discussing players in terms of the rings they’ve won. Do you think that’s gotten overblown or are championships the name of the game and it’s an appropriate thing for people to focus on so much?
KOBE: I think it’s situational. Obviously, you have individual players who have been phenomenal, have had amazing careers, but haven’t won a championship, right? I think we all know that.
But the name of the game is to win championships, right? It’s different in most other team sports where an individual can really inspire, challenge, lead, make big plays, get big stops, to be able to lead a team to victory. You can’t do it alone, you have to have great teammates, whether it’s Magic and Kareem, James Worthy, or Pippen, or Shaquille, whatever the case may be.
Individually you have great players who haven’t had the great fortune of winning championships, but by and large I don’t think it’s unfair to put that pressure on winning championships because that is the name of the game, to win championships.
Q: How do you see the Playoffs shaking out? Who do you think is going to win the championship this year?
KOBE: I try to stay out of the business of clairvoyance-y. I kind of look at the raw picture of what I see in front of me from the execution standpoint. Obviously, a lot of it depends on the health of Golden State. Houston have put themselves in prime position with their length, versatility, their speed, their aggressiveness. They’re a very aggressive team. It’s a more aggressive team than D’Antoni has had. Phoenix, they play with a lot of speed, but none of those guys are naturally physical. Houston has some real physical players, man. I like where they’re at.
Cleveland obviously with LeBron, the shooting they have around him, some of the youth they infused that team with is obviously going to be dangerous. Curious to see what Toronto does. Kyrie going down makes a big difference in the Eastern Conference.
I like Houston and Golden State, pending their health, as being my top two favorites. Like I said, I kind of stay out of the business of predictions.
Q: I wanted your thoughts on players such as Kyrie Irving electing to have surgery, the Kawhi Leonard situation where players have seen what happened to Isaiah Thomas, are looking towards their long-term health as opposed to playing hurt. Also I wanted to get your thoughts on Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum, what you think of his game.
KOBE: Firstly, what I’ve always tried to do is get second opinions, always. I was part of an amazing franchise with the Lakers, right? But still when you’re dealing with matters of your body and your future, I think it’s important to have second opinions.
You have team doctors, which are excellent. We’re very fortunate to have some of the best in the world. But still it’s important to have second and sometimes third opinions on things so you can then make your decision as opposed to being in the dark and just trusting blindly a decision that’s being made by a doctor. That’s one.
Then two, if the injury is going to compromise your future as a basketball player, like your health, if this is something that’s going to get worse, this is something that can inhibit you long-term, you don’t play on it, you just don’t do it.
The injuries I had were injuries I could actually play through. It wasn’t going to get worse to the point where it was damaging my career long-term. It was things that were kind of short-term, I could play through it. It hurts like crazy, but it is what it is, right?
Those are the decisions I tried to make as it pertains to injuries.
As far as Jayson Tatum, his game is really well flushed out. Great midrange game, he can post up. He can finish at the rim. He handles the ball very well. He can shoot the long ball. I think there’s still little itty-bitty things that he’ll need to develop as his game progresses, defenses tend to double him more to catch up to him.
By and large, I love what I’m seeing from him, especially on the defensive end. Most young players coming nowadays just want to do the cute stuff. He seems to be the kind of player that doesn’t mind getting dirty and being physical and playing hard at both ends of the floor.
Jalen Brown is like that, too. I think very highly of Jalen Brown, too.
Q: You hear a lot about a team like the Cavaliers, LeBron James flipping a switch when the playoffs come. In your experience, how do you prepare for that? How difficult is it to go to a new level in the playoffs?
KOBE: Here is a thing about flipping the switch. Flipping the switch is just another word for you have one team that you’re focusing on, so you can really zero in on that team. That’s all that is. You’re still playing just as hard, you’re doing all the things, but playoffs means if you have one team to focus on, that means you can study all your regular season matchups against them, you can learn all the information you need to learn to prepare yourself for this playoff series. That’s flipping the switch.
Then from the Cleveland standpoint, Cleveland seems to be executing a more democratic style of offense. I did a piece last year or a couple years ago, maybe last year, about the two kings system that the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing with, LeBron and Kyrie, and contrast that with Golden State’s democracy. If you watch Cleveland play now, they’re starting to play with a more democratic system, see LeBron at the elbow at the top of the key being the Draymond Green of the Cavs, while the other players, whether it’s Jordan Clarkson or Kevin Love are running corner split games, playing a rip action, doing stuff on the weak side where they’re moving off the ball. That makes them infinitely more dangerous.
Q: It seems like the tension between the players and the referees is at an all time high this season. Do you think that’s the case? If you were the NBA dictator, what rules would you change about the game and why?
KOBE: I’d allow for more physicality in the game. I’d allow for hand checking, things like that. I feel like European basketball is more physical than the NBA is right now. I think the NBA needs to be more physical. Not to the sense of the way the Pistons were playing where guys are literally fearing for their safety when they’re up in the air, not that kind of basketball. But something where you’re not getting called for a body check or light hand check or things like that. I think just makes the game ridiculous. It trickles down to NCAA. I could barely watch some of these games in the NCAA because, like, a player touches a guy with a thumb and it’s a foul in a situation where it’s costing them the game. That type of stuff drives me crazy. That would be the first thing I’d change.
Q: You don’t think the game is physical enough, you think that’s taking away from the experience for fans?
KOBE: I think it needs to be more enjoyable. It’s more enjoyable if there’s a certain level of physicality. You get to see players go mano-a-mano a little bit instead of, Oh, my God, he put a hand on me, it’s a foul. That’s got to go, man.
It challenges players to improve their skill level, too. If you can hand check, things like that, you really must be fundamentally sound, you really must be able to handle the ball to get past defenders.
From the ref’s perspective, I think we’re looking at it the wrong way. The players having issues with referees, I get that 100%. But I think instead of us looking at the referee situation and saying they have personal vendettas, whatever the case may be, I think we also must look at the generational transition happening with officials as well.
Just like the NBA has players, one generation that comes in, next generation comes out, you have certain players feel like they show up, they play, you have old-school players that are like, You got to watch the film, prepare, study. I think the officials are going through a transition as well. Young officials come in, some want to do the work, some don’t want to do the work. Just like any other business, you have some that want to pay attention to the smallest of detail, and some that do not.
It’s more for the officials that you have to figure out, how do you train, better prepare to get better officials. I’m sure that’s something they’re focused on.
Q: Do you think it’s getting better or worse in terms of officiating, foul calls?
KOBE: Just like anything else, things got to get worse to get better, you know what I mean? Look, it’s a really, really tough job. It’s a really, really tough job, right? For officials that are doing their job to the highest, highest of levels, it means you never mention a name once in a broadcast. That should be every official’s goal.
But that is a really, really hard thing, man. There’s human error, there’s emotion, all kinds of shit going on. You can’t be distracted. You have to be in the moment every single second. It’s very hard. It’s very hard. They’ll make mistakes just like everybody else. They’ll get better at keeping to minimize those mistakes.
The 2018 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday 14th April. You can follow all the action live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUE PASS at www.nba.tv.