You’d think a fan base would welcome a three-time champion and four-time MVP with open arms, but some Lakers fans are refusing to accept LeBron James so quickly.
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant has spent most of his adult life making extremely difficult things look embarrassingly easy, but you could have been forgiven for thinking that habit would slow down when his basketball career ended last year.
Yeah, not so much.
Since walking away from the hardwood after 20 years and five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant has gotten busy racking up a list of achievements perhaps even more surprising than the exploits that turned him into one of the sport’s modern greats.
Like the small matter of an Academy Award, collected for his animated short film “Dear Basketball”. And a $200 million windfall for a shrewd investment of $6 million in sports drink BodyArmor. All since playing his final game, less than 18 months ago. Hardly seems fair, does it?
Yet the reason Bryant has managed to see such strong returns outside of the sports sphere, he says, is by using the exact same level of mental commitment to his new ventures as his did to his time in the NBA.
The same obsessive preparation habits, the same intrinsic eye for detail and willingness to push those around him to strive for greater? It’s all still there.
“We have all been there,” Bryant told USA TODAY Sports in an exclusive interview last month. “You want to do something phenomenal you have got to get up early.”
“4 a.m.,” he said, without a hint of irony. 4 a.m.!
“Business seems relatively simple to me,” he continued. “Athletes are intimidated by the business world because it seems overwhelming. People start throwing terms and figures and all that kind of stuff and terminology. Just look at the basics — if all those things check out, then go for it. Behind that, you have to have the team that you work with, that you trust, and make sure the terms are favorable to you.”
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Bryant’s latest venture is with AOS (short for Art of Sport), a new skincare range of products designed specifically with the needs of athletes in mind. He is partnered with founder Matthias Metternich and entrepreneur Brian Lee, and is hands-on enough that he personally named the products. They are action words, like you’d expect. “Rise.” “Challenge.” And, of course, “Compete.”
Sports moves on quickly and the Lakers now have a new King, with LeBron James accepting the task of trying to bring back the glory days. But even in retirement Bryant is seeking out big wins, and hitting the target.
He enjoys business, the craft and hustle of it, but admits it strains the impatient side of his personality at times. In basketball, he never shied away from the work, but similarly never had to wait too long to experience either the payoff or the failure.
Not so now.
“The drive and fire are still strong, but it is different now,” he added. “The results are clearer in sports. If you play a game Monday night you know how you played on Monday night. A championship, you win or you don’t. In business it is much more patient. You have to be able to look at the long view, understand where that finish line is. Understand that things are moving constantly. But every single day working at chipping that tree.”
Kobe Bryant (center) has several athletes as brand ambassador for his new venture, AOS skin care products. (Photo: Handout)
Bryant somehow looks rested, despite those pre-dawn starts, and appears to be in good enough shape to step right back onto an NBA court. He watched every game of soccer’s World Cup over the summer, while working out on a treadmill. He stays in regular contact with current NBA players and is keenly watching to see what happens with James’ L.A. adventure, believing that fans will fall in line behind him.
The Houston Rockets’ James Harden is a frequent partner for conversation, and also came on board as a brand ambassador for AOS.
“James is like a little brother to me,” Bryant said. “He will call me during the season about a tough matchup, or in the playoffs. Or maybe he will be calling me about this particular investment or that, and asking how I would look at it or how I would go about it.
“In business, there is the competitive aspect of it as well. It is not just about the person next to you, it is about competing with yourself and doing your personal best. Finding that connectivity and threading it through our products is very important.”
Bryant’s deepest post-retirement commitment is to his production company, specializing in documentary storytelling. If anything, he is just as passionate about the art of the narrative as he was with basketball and is constantly looking for a story, whether it relates to film, or his latest moneymaking venture.
“Sports is such a great metaphor for life,” he said. “(I love) how we connect to the athlete through our storytelling. A great story touches those emotional components.”
The message of the story is that Kobe Bryant is still competing. And as you already knew, he hates to lose.