The Los Angeles Lakers starter isn't one to refrain from speaking his mind, especially on the cusp of a defining contest. The lead-up into the epic battle between Los Angeles and the Miami Heat proved to be no different.
In a lengthy interview with ESPN.com's Chris Palmer, Bryant touched upon a little bit of everything, including the comparisons made between him and Michael Jordan:
I appreciated them but after a while it just got old. They eventually faded away because I was putting together my own identity. But I’ll never forget how much I learned from MJ. I got so much from him. I knew what he did, I knew his moves and I used them. But for me the comparisons didn’t work because our situations were totally different. I came straight out of high school and played with a dominant big in Shaquille. Man, I was so young when I got to the NBA. What was I like 17? I mean, 17! The more you think about it, my situation was completely different than MJ’s so the comparisons were just, you know, I stopped paying attention to them.
Kobe's assertion that he was put in an entirely different situation than Jordan (he was) implies that a once frequent display of self-praise is on the way. But it isn't.
After touching upon His Airness, Palmer asked Bryant if he thought he was a top-five player, and the Mamba was nothing but humble:
I don’t know. I hope so. I’ve still got a little time left, but honestly I haven’t thought a whole bunch about legacy and that kind of stuff. I just feel like there will be plenty of time for that.
There's no question Bryant considers himself a top-five player, though. He's never shied away from dubbing himself the best, and for a guy who never yielded to Jordan himself, we should expect nothing less.
His restraint is something new, though.
As he's matured, he's refrained from bolstering his ego at the expense of those he respects, and it's clear he respects Jordan.
When asked who would win one-on-one, Bryant replied:
I’m not sure, but he would win some and I would win some in a seven-game series. It would probably come down to the last few shots.
Bryant, however, doesn't seem to share the same appreciation for LeBron James.
Kobe on LeBron saying the Heat had it harder 2 seasons ago: "What does it matter? What does he want, a cookie for that?"— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 16, 2013
While that would have been enough of a proverbial jab for anyone else, Bryant isn't anyone else.
Palmer asked him who would win one-on-one between he and LeBron, and he was definitive in his answer:
Me. No question. As far as one-on-one, I’m the best to ever do it. ...
LeBron is a terrific all-around, five-on-five basketball player who’s an all-time great. But I’d get him.
Kobe didn't hesitate to refer to James as an all-time great, but he didn't offer the same "he would win some and I would win some" sentiment either. Instead, he concluded he'd "get him."
Could this be just a mere coincidence? Maybe the Mamba is simply beyond sure that Jordan is the only one who could dethrone him?
That doesn't appear to be true. When asked who Bryant believed would "get him," he wasted no time in showering Kevin Durant with excessive praise:
Kevin Durant is the guy that would give me the most trouble. With his length and ability to use the dribble he’d be tough.
Who would be the better one-on-one player?
Make of it what you will, but Bryant is calculated. In a conversation where he referred to Carmelo Anthony as his "best friend" who's not a former teammate, there's a method to every syllable the Mamba speaks. He's not about to give James any approval. Not after his verbal shaft of the Lakers.
Again, we shouldn't expect anything less than capriciousness out of Kobe. For nearly 17 years he has remained an enigma cloaked in ambiguity.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Bryant said of Twitter at the conclusion of the interview.
Likewise, after countless interviews, endless sound bites and nearly two decades, we're all "still trying to figure" Kobe out.