Since Kobe Bryant announced last Sunday that the 2015-16 season would be his last in the NBA, his off the floor time has been filled with a whirlwind of media appearances, his every quote has been individually parsed while writers, bloggers, and everyone else analyze his place in NBA histroy. In Bryant's latest interview, he sat down with Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America" and (given Bryant's reputation for having a high opinion of himself) made a surprising admission.
"I would never put myself in the [all-time] starting five ever," Bryant said. "I would put the people that I've actually learned the most from being [Michael] Jordan, Magic [Johnson], [Larry] Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Jerry West."
Bryant was acquired by the Lakers in a draft day trade with the Charlotte Hornets, and was taken under West's wing in his early years with the purple and gold. Jordan is the player Bryant most tried to emulate throughout his career and has also served as a mentor for Bryant, recently giving him advice on how to handle his last season. Bryant grew up a Lakers fan and watched Magic lead the team to numerous titles, and he was one of the first modern day players to seek out Olajuwon's post-move tutelage. Bryant and Bird have long had a public admiration for one another, with Bryant claiming the legendary Celtics power forwards as one of his inspirations as a child, and Bird even saying he would rather team up with Bryant over LeBron James if he wanted to win a title.
Bryant has an obvious respect for all of those players, but it doesn't mean he has a problem with fans having the conversation. In fact,, he encourages it.
"I think it's fantastic, I think it's great, to be mentioned in the same breath as those players, honestly to me that's everything," said Bryant. "I mean we'll sit and debate endlessly who would win in a one on one matchup between myself and MJ, and we can debate that until the cows come home."
When pressed by Roberts on who would win that theoretical matchup, Bryant demurred. "He would win some. I would win some. But those are debates that will go on forever."
Throughout his career, the thing Bryant has been criticized for as much as his shot selection is his reputation as a "selfish" or "egotistical" player. Kobe certainly has a (somewhat justifiably) big ego, and so it is surprising to hear him be so complimentary of his competition for the title of "greatest basketball player of all-time" However, it is also nice to see that in the home stretch towards retirement, Bryant has found peace above the fray.
All quotes transcribed via "Good Morning America"