Kobe Bryant calls Michael Jackson his mentor

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Kobe Bryant is a complex man.

We like to paint our athletes into easy to define boxes — Kobe learned his drive by watching Michael Jordan — that are not always accurate fit. They often are not with Kobe.

For example, he told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo he learned his drive by his friendship with late pop star Michael Jackson. It was Jackson who reached out to Kobe when he first came to Los Angeles.

“It sounds weird, I guess, but it’s true: I was really mentored by the preparation of Michael Jackson,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports.

“We would always talk about how he prepared to make his music, how he prepared for concerts,” Bryant said. “He would teach me what he did: How to make a ‘Thriller’ album, a ‘Bad’ album, all the details that went into it. It was all the validation that I needed – to know that I had to focus on my craft and never waver. Because what he did – and how he did it – was psychotic. He helped me get to a level where I was able to win three titles playing with Shaq because of my preparation, my study. And it’s only all grown.

“That’s the mentality that I have – it’s not an athletic one. It’s not from [Michael] Jordan. It’s not from other athletes.

“It’s from Michael Jackson.”

This is a must read because Wojnarowski got Kobe to open up in a way he rarely does. Kobe was honest, not there to protect his image. Some other highlights of the article:

• He gets why other players have twitter and work to create a brand for themselves, but says that’s not for him (at least in the new social media model). He just doesn’t identify with it, it’s not him. He just wants the rings.

• That it took him a long time to learn that leading a team was not just setting guys up with assists but pushing them to reach their peaks.

• That he doesn’t want to play forever because he doesn’t want the guys that he can take advantage of now being able to take advantage of him.

• That he talks with Celtics legend Bill Russell about ways to grow and ways to grown and improve a team. That Russell helped him see what leading team really was and really involved.

• That he wears a Lakers varsity letter jacket to dinner that has several trophies stitched onto the back.

• That his favorite places to play are on the East Coast — Boston, New York, Philadelphia — where the fans genuinely “hate your [expletive] guts.”

• That he plans to go to London in 2012 and win another gold medal. LeBron James may think that is his team, his time, but Kobe doesn’t care. He is going to do his thing, to push and prod. To dominate. And James and the rest of them can treat it how they want. Kobe is there to work.