Before the backlash filled his inbox with hateful messages and cupcake photos, Kevin Durant became surprised with what he had just seen on his phone.
Durant had just announced his free-agency decision in a Players Tribune article that he would leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 offseason. Before he had time to absorb the eventual backlash, Durant was struck by who first reached out to him. Nearly three months after retiring from a storied 20-year NBA career, former Lakers guard Kobe Bryant contacted Durant to offer a message worth more than just his two cents.
“It’s to quiet the noise,” Bryant recalled telling Durant in an interview with Bay Area News Group. “At the end of day, what people say is inconsequential.”
Durant found Bryant’s words important. After all, Bryant’s credentials are obvious: five NBA championships and a third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. His No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys were retired at halftime when the Warriors (23-6) played the Los Angeles Lakers (10-17) on Monday at Staples Center.
“Having Kobe there to support me through that situation, it felt like him telling me, ‘All right, your skills are good enough to be among some of the best,’” Durant told the Bay Area News Group. “’You just have to keep working to stay there.’”
Bryant’s work ethic partly explains why he will represent one of several Lakers luminaries to have their jerseys retired, including Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor and Jamaal Wilkes. And it only seems fitting this will take place against the Warriors.
Bryant’s moment might temporarily move the Warriors off center stage after winning two NBA championships in the past three years. Their presence, though, provides a visible reminder of Bryant’s varying sources of influence on the Warriors’ stars players, including Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
“I’ve always had a great amount of respect for all those players,” Bryant said.
And with that respect, Bryant has offered them plenty of advice and lessons derived from his own career path. With Warriors coach Steve Kerr planning to have his players watch Bryant’s jersey retirement ceremony from the court, the former Lakers star even viewed that moment as another learning opportunity.
“If there’s something for them to pull out of it, it’s how quickly careers go by. So it makes it extremely important to seize the moment when you have it and capitalize on the opportunities when they are right there in front of you and not waste a single day,” Bryant said. “You’re blinking, and all of a sudden, you’re going to be back there at a new arena in San Francisco retiring Steph’s jersey and all the others. So hopefully they see it as that.”
Dealing with pain
Since he retired about 20 months ago, Bryant remains entrenched with his multimedia storytelling company, Kobe Inc. His short film, “Dear Basketball” has gained Oscar Buzz, and the film will be a part of Bryant’s halftime ceremony tribute. Bryant partnered with tech entrepreneur and investor Jeff Stibel to launch Bryant Stibel. Regarding the Bay Area’s tech scene, Bryant added, “There’s a lot of things out there from a technological perspective that we’re certainly interested in and want to take advantage of one way or another.”
Therefore, Bryant has not exactly spent his post-NBA career glued to the television monitoring every game on NBA League Pass. He remains a phone call or text message away, though, from talking to any NBA player about basketball.
And only two months into the 2017-18 season, Curry has already found a need to consult Bryant. After suffering a right hand contusion that significantly affected his right ring finger in late November, Curry asked for Bryant’s feedback on how to manage the injury.
Bryant was more than willing to help. He said he had developed a “healthy admiration” for Curry for reasons beyond their star status. Bryant said he felt like an underdog after overcoming some initial skepticism he could thrive coming the NBA out of high school. Curry has said he felt like an underdog after fielding doubts about his size, defense and durability when he entered the league.
So, Bryant shared his secrets on how he played through a fractured right index finger (2009-10) and torn ligaments in his right wrist (2011-12), among many other injuries.
“You just kind of shoot through it a little bit,” Bryant said, matter-of-factly. “If you can’t shoot through it, you figure out what the different release point on the ball is going to be.”
As he wore varying splints to protect his right index finger in 2009-10, Bryant shifted the ball’s release point from his right index and middle finger to his middle and ring finger. Curry said he did not make any adjustments to his mechanics. But Curry found the feedback helpful on how to play with a bandage on his ring finger, while dealing with pain. Bryant has found that challenge to be “more mental than physical.”
“If it’s an injury that can get worse and you know it can get worse, then the pain is magnified because you don’t know what structural damage you’re doing to the area,” Bryant said. “It gives you more anxiety.”
And what if playing through the injury did not make Bryant vulnerable to any further structural damage? What if he just encountered pain when he shot the ball or absorbed contact?
“I can play through that any day of the week,” Bryant said.
“If there’s something for them to pull out of it, it’s how quickly careers go by. So it makes it extremely important to seize the moment when you have it and capitalize on the opportunities when they are right there in front of you and not waste a single day.” Kobe Bryant