In a rare sit-down interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Graham Bensinger, Kobe Bryant talks about his 16-year long career with the NBA. The former Most Valuable Player opens up about his retirement plans and the 2003 rape charge debacle. The Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard also talks about his relationships with his former coach, Phil Jackson, and his former teammate, Shaquille O’Neal.
In just one week Bryant will head to London to play in the 2012 Olympic Games where he could win his second gold medal for the United States. This could be Bryant’s last Olympic game as he approaches his 17th year in the game. Bryant told Bensinger, “I’ve been playing for 17 years now, so next year will be my 17th and then, when I’m 35, it will be my 18th year in the league. I mean that’s a long time to be playing. It will be the last year in my contract, so I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll play any longer than that.”
In 2003, Bryant found himself at the center of a sexual assault investigation pertaining to an encounter he’d had with a 19-year-old female who later accused Bryant of rape. The allegations were later dropped after which she and Bryant settled out of court. Bryant admits that this situation which rocked his career and challenged his reputation “challenged who he was as a person.” When questioned about the experience nearly a decade afterward Bryant says, “It just really teaches you how to let go and how to trust and not try to control everything.”
The five-time NBA champion has not only faced challenges off the court, but he has also had to confront issues with players and coaches on the court, most notable are his relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson. Shaq and Kobe played well together, winning three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2003. Yet, personal and professional differences about their respective roles caused major challenges for the winning duo. Looking back Kobe says, “It just wasn’t going to work, so no matter what happened.”
In 2004, O’Neil was traded and was sent to play for the Miami Heat, while Bryant a free-agent was re-signed by the Lakers.
His relationship with former L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson also deteriorated during his feud with Shaq, Bryant says, “Him[Jackson] having to deal with that relationship and kind of keeping me at arm’s distance so that, in turn, it can bring him closer to Shaq.” Bryant also added that he and Jackson had communications problems.
Click here to watch the full interview.