Don’t count Kobe Bryant out of the game just because he’s not playing professionally anymore. His story is far from over, and the next chapter is just beginning.
Since founding Kobe Inc. in 2013, Bryant has involved himself in a series of new projects that range from directing and producing short films, like Dear Basketball—which dropped at the TriBeCa Film Festival in April—and investing in forward-thinking brands. Of course, he continues to be heavily involved with Nike, helping design the latest innovative silhouettes and colorways of his signature line.
Bryant recently stated that he has moved on from basketball. Whether you’re willing to believe that or not is up to you. And while his exact vision for the future isn’t perfectly clear, this is: His passion to teach and inspire through storytelling is the new motivating force in his life.
Kobe the teacher—who continues to pass along advice to current NBA players—was on full display in Paris where we recently sat down with the five-time NBA champion at Nike’s “Le Quartier” event. Young fans wearing Nos. 8 and 24 jerseys flanked a small basketball court Nike recently renovated. We had the chance to chop it up with him about his drive to inspire, Bryant Stibel (his venture capital fund), his potential Hall of Fame inductors, and much more. After an illustrious 20-year, award-winning career, just what is next for one of the greatest basketball players of all time?
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Today you’re thousands of miles away from home. Do you think you are mentally as well after retiring, or is there a new persona that you’ll be creating in this next chapter of your life?
I wouldn’t say it’s a new persona, but it’s the persona that’s been off the court this whole time. When I step on the court I become that “thing” but outside the court, here I am every single day now just trying to instill certain things that I’ve learned throughout my career that I’m trying to teach to the next generation. That’s become the passion.
So as you speak to that next generation, how is your involvement with Nike and youth mentorship more important now than ever before?
It’s extremely important because I think sports is really the connector. Through sports you can learn how to be a better person. I certainly did. I learned everything about how to be a great friend, to be a better husband, a better father, [all] through sport. I think my responsibility at Nike is not simply to put out great product, but it’s what we teach through that product. How can we help the next generation of athletes understand that it’s not just about the execution of what you do, it’s understanding what’s happening inside of here [your heart]. And understanding how to use those things—the doubt, the fear, the joy—how do you navigate yourself through that.
We see you post videos of your daughter playing basketball. What is one piece of advice that you would give her that you would also give to others?
Get better everyday. That’s all. You have really lofty ambitions and dreams that can materialize 15 or 20 years from now, but the only way to get there is to get better every day. A little bit every day. That’s it. Then when you fast forward years from now, and all of a sudden you look back and you have this great thing you created. The Sistine Chapel was not created in one day. It was done piece by piece. And that’s the same way we live. That’s certainly what I tell my daughters.
You’ve been pursuing creative outlets yourself. What do you want your stamp to be on storytelling?
I think it’s about the emotional arcs that the characters create. Trying to find what is the common thread that bridges generations? And a lot of it I pull from my own personal narrative. A lot of the stories deal with ambition and the sacrifice that comes with ambition. And not just the glory of it all, but also some of the distraction and how you come to terms with that. How you try to find balance in a life where you have these goals. But to get to those goals you have to sacrifice something you hold dear. How do you find balance? Can you find balance in that? A lot of the stories deal with that.
Can you talk more about those psychological influences? We see it in the colors you’ve been using in the Kobe A.D. artwork. Is that a focus for you?
The colors are a manifestation—it’s a visual explanation of what goes on in internal Kobe. So when I try to explain to my kids, if they have doubt or if they’re a little nervous about a test or something like that, it’s very hard through language to express what to do with that. But if I can do a visual representation through a color, then blending this color with that color—love with fear or doubt with hard work—what materializes or manifests itself? So if we can make that a visual manifestation, then it makes more sense to them. So that’s where the color comes in.
We’re actually creating an office where we have mapped out our own emotional alchemy [using colors]. What that looks like through the world that I’ve been working on for the last two years and I can’t wait to share it with you guys.
You first started Kobe, Inc. and then Bryant Stibel where you have endeavors in media, gaming, technology—everything but basketball. How has that been playing in what seems like a very diversified group of things now?
It’s been really difficult to be honest with you because what I struggle with is monetizing what was. The brand that I built. Versus focusing on what was off the court. What I decided to do was be brave. The things that I built with Nike, now, will continue to go forth for the next generation. But outside of that, I’m building a studio, I’m building stories. And then with Bryant Stibel, it was how about how do you manage your money smartly? How can I teach athletes how to build value? And not just simply obtain liquidity. Which we all know, if you don’t have the income coming in year over year, eventually it will run out and that’s when you hear all the horror stories. So how can I set a standard for athletes to understand real value.
So it’s a platform to be words of advice [financially], not just advice you give on the court?
Absolutely. Because I was really, really young too. And I had people trying to tell me, “You have to be careful with your money, you gotta do this…but we’re just going to make dumb decisions [on your behalf].” Because it’s just youth. We’re going to make mistakes. What we have to try and prevent are those mistakes being financially fatal. Make those mistakes. Learn from those mistakes. But you still have value to be able to move on.
And do your old teammates still come to you for said advice?
They do. They do a lot. And most of the messages I get are, “We know you’re doing the investment thing. We know how obsessive you are. So we trust the fact that we give you our money and you’ll get us a really good return [laughs]. Cause we know you’re not going to do something really foolish.
Who’s been investing with you?
Roy Hibbert’s pretty much been calling me every single day being, “Dude, let me just cut you a check. Anything. Let me just give you something because I know you’re going to take good care of it.” He’s been the one that’s been the most persistent.
It’s amazing to see this other side of you. You’ve got the left and right brains now with creative and investment.
Ha, yeah. Well the other thing is just working with good people. You can pick up on the energy of the person. You can know what that looks like and if they’ll take good care of things. It’s fun. I’m having the time of my life.
So your signature Nike line is still continuing. Are you going to be as involved as you were?
More. Because the challenge becomes, “How do you sustain a line?” So what I tried to do when we first started the line is have the line be built on innovation. Therefore it’s beyond individuality of a name. Players and customers are buying the product because they believe it’s the best product on the market, not because it’s a Kobe brand shoe. So far it’s been holding true to that. Hopefully we will continue to innovate. To continue to create things that hopefully help athletes be the best versions of themselves on the court. Which means never looking back. It’s not doing a retro line. It’s always innovating forward.
So you’re going to use your own individual innovation to apply to…
DeMar DeRozan and all the players…what do they need? What do you need? How’s the shoe feeling to you? What do you think we can enhance? Change?
I just need you to make smaller sizes so I can wear them!
[Laughs] Ah! I’m with ya! We’ve been debating that internally forever. I’ve been pushing them. We gotta do smaller sizes. My daughter Gianna tells that to me all the time ‘cause we don’t have shoes in her size and she’s not happy about it.
OK, last question. You’re going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday. What might that look like to you? Who might present you? What will you say?
Wow, that’s a great question. In terms of who might present, for me it’s two people: Michael Jordan or Phil Jackson. They’ve been the greatest mentors, not only in my career as an athlete, but also as a person. And what I might say is just a lot of thank yous. ‘Cause I’ve had a lotta help along the way. A lotta lotta help.