Bryant, 36, told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview on Tuesday during a business trip to China that he won’t decide whether he will retire until after the upcoming NBA season.
Coming off another season cut short because of injury – a torn rotator cuff – the 17-time All-Star covered a variety of topics in a Q&A with Yahoo Sports.
Q: Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has hinted that next season can be your last. Could it be?
Kobe: “We haven’t set anything in stone and I’ve talked about it before. But could this be the last [season]? Absolutely. It’s tough to decide. It’s really tough to make those types of decisions. Players I have spoken to say, ‘Kobe you will know.’
“I’m making this very simple. Either I like playing the game and going through this process or I don’t. I try to strip it down to the simplest form. Either I like playing some more or I don’t. But I think that decision needs to be made after the season. It’s hard to make a decision like that before the season.”
Q: Would you want a farewell tour?
Kobe: “It’s hard to do that type of stuff because I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not. It’s not a swan song when it all has not been written.”
Q: How does your body feel now and what is the difference between now and entering training camp last season?
Kobe: “The body is good. I feel good. … My lower body is solid. There are no question marks on what I can do. My body and my legs feel extremely strong and healthy. That’s the big difference. My upper body, I’ve been doing the weights and stuff like that. I’ve been kind of building up the upper body strength. The biggest change is I feel very, very solid in my legs.”
Q: Why do you still put your body through this after all the years and injuries?
Kobe: “I’m crazy. Ha, ha, ha. I love playing. I enjoy it. It’s weird. You go from as a kid loving the game, thinking you will be able to play forever to being where I am now and understanding there is some finality to it.
“It’s amazing to take a step back and look at that art. You’re kind of the opposite of starting out as a kid. You’re sitting here at 36 and soon to be 37 years old, it’s amazing.”
Q: How do you fight the pain and do the needed rehabilitation?
Kobe: “I just go. Once I make the decision I am going to take this challenge on, I never waver and I never question the investment. I already made the decision. You have those painful moments, but you just keep on moving.”
Q: When you see the mammoth money that could be available to you as a free agent next summer, does that make it more attractive to continue playing?
Kobe: “Zero. Zero. I’ve never played for the money. It’s never moved me. Money can come and go. I have a perspective about finances. The family is fine. What is more money going to bring other than more money? I have my family, I have my health and we’re comfortable financially and that is a massive blessing.
“I don’t want to undervalue the importance of generating any type of whatever. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m underappreciative of that or not thankful for that. But at the same, what is really important? What is the important thing? I never played for money. When I laced my sneakers up when I was a kid in Italy I wasn’t thinking about money. I had no idea how much Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird got paid. I played it because I loved it.”
Q: What do you think about the state of the Lakers right now?
Kobe: “They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.
“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”
Q: Can this Lakers team make the playoffs?
Kobe: “Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”
Q: What do you think about playing small forward?
Kobe: “I don’t see what the big deal is about it, honestly. What does that even mean anyway? Everyone plays [expletive] small ball anyway. You got forwards that play like [guards]. [Centers] that play like [small forwards]. What’s the difference? Find me some actual [small forwards] and [power forwards] that actually post up now and then. …
“What difference does it make? Everyone is spreading the floor anyways unless you’re the Memphis Grizzlies.”
Q: After growing up in Italy and spending time in China, could you see yourself ending your career playing at either place?
Kobe: “I can see myself doing that. I can see myself doing a lot of stuff. That’s a whole other question. I will make some decisions when I decide to hang it up.”
Q: Will there be a minute restriction for you during games next season?
Kobe: “Maybe. I don’t know. It will be a game-by-game basis. I’m comfortable with whatever, flexible with whatever. We will make that decision game-to-game. We’ll listen to the training staff. I’ve been really good about listening to my body.”
Q: What are your two daughters saying about you continuing to play now?
Kobe: “They want me home more. I love being around them. But they understand the sadness about it, too. They understand that you’ve been playing this since you were a kid and it could all be over. It’s like, ‘Whoa, that’s crazy.’ To them, they know me as ‘Dad.’ They see me workout. They see me train. They see the effort I put in. But I’m always Dad to them. If I try to show them how to make a move, they are like, ‘Dad, seriously?’ [Like] I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just Dad. It’s awesome.”
Q: Alibaba Group, a Chinese company, will release your documentary, “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” on Saturday. Alibaba Pictures will also work with Kobe, Inc. to create a series of Kobe-branded products that will be accessed by more than 350 million people across China. What are you hoping to do with this venture?
Kobe: “I want to create compelling stories that inspire people. It’s pretty straightforward. The first action is inspiration and then from the inspiration you create services and products that enable people to reach what they are passionate about. It’s about passion. But the root of what it’s about is an idea, a journey. That’s what we are about at Kobe, Inc.”
Q: What will your first project with Alibaba be?
Kobe: “Well, the Muse film was the first product. We are in China right now and we just had a private screening with select film students, athletes and other influentials. We have a partnership with Sina, where we are starting a new streaming service called the TMall Magic Box. The ‘Muse’ film launches across mainland China on the 8th [of August].”
Q: What was the inspiration for you to be involved with a possibly next-level venture in China?
Kobe: “Particularly when the Achilles’ injury happened [in April 2013] I was thinking, ‘My career can be over like now.’ You know as a young player that you can’t play basketball forever. So I was constantly thinking and reading and learning, thinking about business, so forth and so on, but never really actually letting the rubber hit the road. You’re like, ‘I’ll get to it. I’ll get to it.’ But when the Achilles’ happened, I was like, ‘I need to do something.’ Then you start thinking, ‘Exactly what are you going to do? Exactly what is it?’
“I didn’t allow myself to fall into the trap of ‘what industry is the most lucrative?’ What industry can I create the most revenue from?’ And that’s completely the wrong way to look at it. I took a step back and said, ‘What do you love to do? I love inspiring. I love telling stories. Let’s do that.’ How do you build a business off of that? I don’t know, but we will figure it out. We have a focused plan, and we are off and running now.”
Q: Is there anything else you think you would like to get involved in when your career is over?
Kobe: “No. No. We’re very, very focused [on our current venture]. That is the hard thing. There are so many things you can do, so many different ideas. You can go a billion different ways with partners and all kinds of stuff. I believe in having a focus, having a purpose and we have that focus and now it’s time to execute. This week is a big launcher of Kobe, Inc. We are in business here.”
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