LOS ANGELES — Almost to the end, Kobe Bryant played the villain.
The day he walked away from the NBA, Nike produced a clever add of Kobe conducting the hate of fans from around the league, and that bringing a smile to his face.
He admitted that for much of his career, he wanted to be the villain, to be the guy who was hated, because that negativity fueled him.
“(The hatred) was extremely necessary, because that is what I fed off of, Bryant said after dropping 60 points in his final NBA game. “At that time, to be embraced, that would have been like kryptonite for me. The darkness, those dark emotions are what I used to drive me. That isolation, and that’s what I grew up comfortable with. So I refused to allow anything else but that. I’d even say things to create that kind of animosity, to just use that as fuel to propel me forward.”
This season, nobody can remember Kobe smiling this much. He made a point of savoring his farewell tour — the accolades and gifts he received in every city. From Boston to Sacramento, everywhere Kobe was once despised fans tipped their cap to him this season. And they came out to see him be Kobe one last time and put up some contested jumpers.
“It’s a weird year,” Bryant said. “You go from being a villain to being some type of a hero. And going from everybody saying ‘pass the ball’ to ‘shoot the ball.’ It was like, really strange.”
But he adapted and rolled with it.
So which is the real Kobe, the guy who thrives on the dark side, or the one basking in the light?
“I’m both. I’m both, just like everybody in this room,” Kobe said. “It’s a very simple concept, when you think about it, we all both. We all have a little hero and villain inside of us. It’s just depending on perspective.
“One day we’re driving back from school with my kids, we’re having a conversation about villains in movies, and we’re talking about Voldemort or something, and they ask ‘what makes a villain a villain?’ And I’m like ‘uh-oh’ this is one of those daddy moments where you can’t screw this up. Me and my kids, we’re all allergic to bees. So I asked, ‘If a bee is flying around your head, what are you going to do?’ She said, ‘I’m going to roll up a magazine and try and knock it out of the air.’ Okay, I said ‘To you, is the bee the hero or the villain?’ ‘The villain.’ ‘What about the bee that thinks it’s flying around minding it’s own business, to it are you the hero or the villain?’ ‘Well, I’m the villain.’ It’s all just a matter or perspective.
“It’s all just a matter or perspective.”
In Los Angeles, the perspective was he was almost always a hero (maybe not during the end of the Shaq/Kobe era, but he won his critics back over).
As parenthood has done to all of us, Kobe’s children have helped broaden and change his perspective. It’s helped him open up more.
His two daughters were cheering courtside as loud as anyone in Staples Center Wednesday night.
“The coolest thing is my kids actually saw me play like I used to play,” Kobe said. “It was like ‘whoa dad.’
“‘I said, ‘I used to do this pretty often.’
“And they’re like ‘really?’
“I’m like ‘Dude, YouTube it.’”