Kobe Bryant might be retired but he hasn’t stopped watching game film. He tells ESPN.com he keeps his personal laptop handy at the offices of Kobe Inc. and continues to make it readily available when he arrives home in the evening.
“You never know who might call,” Bryant chuckles.
Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas revealed last week that Bryant has been texting him before and after each playoff game and has engaged in a film session with him. Bryant took to Twitter to declare IT had a “Mamba mentality” and nicknamed him “Mighty IT.”
Bryant confirms he has had “many conversations” during the playoffs with Thomas, but says the Celtics star is just one of many current NBA stars who have reached out to him for advice.
Bryant says he also talks regularly with Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and Utah Jazz star Gordon Hayward, whom Bryant spent three days training with in Orange County last summer.
“I’m around for all the guys,” Bryant tells ESPN.com. “Anybody can reach out. It’s an open book.”
Bryant says he didn’t know Thomas well before he shared a cordial conversation with him during his final appearance as a Laker in Boston on Dec. 30, 2015. Thomas congratulated him on his decorated career and Bryant encouraged Thomas to keep expanding his game.
When Bryant learned of the death of Thomas’ sister Chyna in a car accident just before Game 1 of Boston’s opening-round playoff series against Chicago, he called to offer his condolences.
Thomas, overcome with emotion during the call, shared with Bryant his struggles over whether he should play or be with his family.
“I told him, ‘Listen, I don’t know whether you should decide to play or not play. Obviously none of us can begin to fathom what you are going through right now,'” Bryant said. “But then I told him, ‘The one bit of advice I would give you is, if you are going to play, then you gotta play. Maybe you can find some peace in moments out there.'”
Bryant says he ended the conversation by telling Thomas, “If you ever need anything, just reach out. I’m here for you.”
When the Celtics fell behind to the Bulls 2-0, Thomas took him up on the offer. He asked Bryant if he’d mind looking over some of the game film to help him figure out how he could shake free of Chicago’s defenders.
The two players set up their laptops and did a video tour of the game action together.
“I’d see something and I’d tell him, ‘OK, go to 12:01,'” Bryant said. “It was more a conceptual lesson how to watch film. What should you look for? You have so many eyes on you defensively, what should you do here, when they trap? And what should you do there?
“I was happy to help him. He had the courage to ask. I did the same thing with Michael Jordan when I was a young player.”
Bryant says pop star Michael Jackson gave him some treasured advice in his rookie season during a visit to Neverland Ranch: Reach out to all the greats in your profession and learn from them.
So Bryant did, tapping everyone from resident Lakers legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and Magic Johnson to Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird and his childhood idol Jordan.
When Bryant retired, he vowed he would pay it forward to help mentor the young players who succeeded him. So, when Hayward called him last summer and said he would be in the area, Bryant arranged for them to train together.
“I really love Gordon’s game,” Bryant says. “He’s got versatility and size. He plays with great pace. You can’t rush him into making a poor decision.
“He can shoot the long ball, he can hit midrange, he can take you in the post. I think he has a tremendous amount of potential.”
Bryant said he and Hayward focused mostly on footwork and positioning during their three days together.
“We talked a lot about how to get to certain spots on the floor,” Braynt says. “How you can get to that place that makes you comfortable. I told him, ‘You know what you like to do. Figure that out first, then figure out where you can do it best.'”
Bryant says he hasn’t had any pangs of withdrawal since his playing days ended, mostly because he’s so busy with his studio company.
“I don’t miss it — not even a little,” Bryant says. “It’s crazy, right? I love what I’m doing right now. I’m all in on my studio projects.”
Kobe’s longtime agent and friend Rob Pelinka was recently named general manager of the Lakers. The team’s new president, Magic Johnson, has made no secret of his desire to bring Bryant into the fold of the front office in some capacity.
“RP is my neighbor,” Bryant says. “He’s a godfather to my kids. If he needs me, I’m around. But as far as a job on an official level [with the Lakers], I’m not sure what that means. I’m not sure how that would work.”
In the meantime, he plans to continue in his role as sage (retired) NBA mentor, a job, he says, he is enjoying immensely. Bryant is amused that some believe an ex-Laker should not be helping a current Celtic like Thomas.
“Well that’s complete nonsense,” he says. “I love watching IT play. Is he a superstar? I don’t even know what that means. All I know is he goes out and competes every single night. He’s been playing at a level rarely seen.
“And he’s been doing it all year. If Russell and James hadn’t put in the outrageous seasons they had, you’d all be talking about Isaiah.”
Bryant says he will watch the NBA postseason when time allows. He can’t understand why some believe a potential Warriors versus Cavaliers Finals matchup for the third time is a negative.
“Why is that bad for basketball? That makes no sense,” Bryant says. “Just because it’s preordained that’s a bad thing?
“I know I’m going to wake up in the morning. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think it is.”