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Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, Zion and his new sports-fantasy series

The future Hall of Famer explains why he’s been too busy to watch the Lakers

What’s wrong with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers?

If you want Kobe Bryant’s take, well, now is not the right time to ask him. The Black Mamba is busy these days.

“I honestly cannot speak to that from a give-you-like-a-real-answer standpoint because I have not seen what the hell is going on,” Bryant told The Undefeated. “I could not tell you what spot they’re in right now [in the Western Conference]. I could not tell you who’s in front of them in the standings. I don’t even know that.”

When pressed further about today’s team, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer continued: “Look, between building an entire studio from scratch, hiring a publishing-production company, licensing, building an animation studio, writing the book, between that and coaching my daughter’s team every single day, I have no time. I mean I have no time. None.”

The main reason Bryant’s eyes aren’t on the Lakers this season is the March 19 release of his first sports-fantasy book, titled The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. Written by award-winning author Wesley King, Bryant’s Granity Studios is debuting a youth-oriented five-book series, which features characters of different races and backgrounds.

Bryant, who is African-American and whose wife is Mexican-American, says it is “extremely important” that kids of color see characters who look like them.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the characters would be children of color, mixed-race, because that’s what I have at home,” said Bryant, who has three daughters and another on the way. “And that’s what I grew up with. But in the industry itself, it is very, very hard to find that. Very, very hard to find that because we tend to … the general argument is that, ‘Well, they can’t appeal to the masses.’ …

“And so, there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind that my characters would all be children of color and mixed-race.”

Bryant talked to The Undefeated in a phone interview on Tuesday about his book project, the NBA’s one-and-done rule, and James and the Lakers in the following Q&A.

LeBron James said to the media on Monday, after a Lakers loss against a struggling Memphis team, ‘If you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise for you to be a part of.’ Do you agree with that sentiment?

What he’s saying is true. I can’t speak to what the locker room dynamics are, who he could be referring to, I don’t know anything about that. On the surface, you have to be obsessive with the game. And then understanding that, for this organization, the only thing that matters is winning championships. And there’s no in-between, right? … That’s how this market is, man. That’s what the L.A. brand stands for, man.

Do you guys talk much?

I haven’t spoken to him since he first got out here.

Why do you think they’re struggling?

I haven’t had a chance to see much of them, man. When I get home, I can watch the last maybe back half of the fourth quarter because I’m coaching my [daughter’s] team. We practice every night, so our practices cut into the game, so I don’t get a chance to see a game from start to finish, really ever. So I catch like the back half and seems like they’re just not playing good basketball right now, man. It just looks like the injuries just kind of messed up that rhythm. And now it’s a matter of if they can get it back enough to make a playoff push.

You went from high school straight to the NBA in 1996. Now, the NBA has a controversial one-and-done rule. The NBA’s top prospect, Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson, hasn’t played since injuring his knee, and there have been critics who believe he should not play in college again. What are your thoughts?

Players should be able to choose and decide what the hell they want to do, to be honest. Whether you want to go to college or not really depends on you. In terms of Zion, if he’s healthy, he should go play. He made a decision to go to college, and injuries are a part of that process, and sometimes you get hurt, sometimes you don’t, man. But you made the decision to go to college and you made your commitment to the university, then by all means finish your commitment. I expect him to get healthy, get his knee better or whatever it was, and come out and kick a–.

Looking back on your decision to go straight out of high school, what advice would you give to a kid who’s thinking about whether they’re good enough to do it or not?

Well, it’s not about whether you’re good enough to do it, it’s are you willing to get better day after day after day. So you can come out and not be ready, you can come out and be ready. If you come out and you’re ready but you don’t get better, eventually it catches up to you. The kid that comes out the same draft class and isn’t ready at that time but continues to work will eventually pass the kid that came out ready, right?

So the mentality is the same: It doesn’t matter if you’re ready or not, are you willing to put basketball as your center focus and commit to it 110 percent? To get better every single day, and if you’re willing to do that, because now basketball is your life, this is your job, this is it, this is your numero uno, right? If you’re willing to make that commitment, then you’re ready to go.

How challenging was this book project?

The hardest time for me was, like, two years ago, when I actually sat down and had all these characters come to my mind, was writing them all out. Now I got to sit here and write the characters, but you know how that goes, you got to write the character, but now you got to write like why the character is the way they are. And how is that? You know the family dynamic. How did they grow up? Well, what is the country? Who founded the country? Why is the country in the shape that it is currently? You got to come up with all of that stuff.

So for the last like two years, it’s been nonstop writing. I mean nonstop, like waking up, middle of the night, idea, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write. The story comes to a dead end, rewrite it, reformat it, re-outline, restructure. And so that period was crazy. But now that all that stuff is done, now my job is really just building the team. I found great novelists, and you turn them loose. You say, ‘OK, here’s the idea that I had, now can you make this a thousand times better?’ And then we’d just go back and forth. And so that’s been my job right now, is just making sure we uphold the highest level of quality in all things.

What was your connection to author Wesley King?

Just started looking [online] for top writers and his name came across. And I watched him, watched some interviews that he did, watched him read a story to young children, I watched how he interacted with young children. I thought he’d be interested. He played a little basketball growing up. He’s 6-foot-8, so he’s a big kid. So I brought him down, we sat, we talked about story, we talked about favorite films, we talked about kids and teaching the next generation and lots of stuff. And I just felt like he would be the writer that understands what it is that I’m trying to say. Not only understand it, but make significant contributions creatively to make it better.

The funny thing is he looked at me and was like, ‘Wait a minute, you want me to write five books? At the same time?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He goes, ‘Five books at the same time, five different players, set over the course of the same practices and the same moments, but told from different points of view?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘Dude, that’s crazy.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it is, man, you want to do it?’ He goes, ‘Absolutely.’

There are a lot of diverse young characters in The Wizenard Series: Training Camp from the inner city. What was the motivation behind that?

Personal experience, growing up in Philadelphia. The area in which I refer to being called ‘The Bottom,’ that’s in reference to one particular area in West Philadelphia where a lot of my cousins lived, which was called ‘The Bottom.’ I wound up playing a lot of my basketball there. The description of it, the old houses, all comes directly from that because I feel like I’ve learned so much as a young man and a basketball player from those times in that area. That is a big inspiration for me, so I wanted to pay that forward a little bit in the story. And then you’ll see like a lot of the characters, there’s bits and pieces from each that I relate to personally.

And while on this topic of inner-city community, looking at Twig’s character, who more so comes to the inner-city community to play basketball because he’s more in the middle class. All right, that’s something that I personally relate to, right? And then when you do that, how do you relate to those that are not from the middle class? What is that relationship like? And so I tried to put a lot of personal journey, personal growth into these characters, and also some of the story I’ve observed from kids growing up and teammates that I’ve had that dealt with some of the same fears. And creating characters from truth.

This book has been described as sports-fantasy. Is that a genre that you came up with?

Yeah, it is. And I’m kind of surprised that when I first came up with this idea that that genre had not existed yet. We all love fantasy. We all love magic. But we also love sports, right? And so, when I read stories to my daughters at nighttime to put them to sleep, and when they were younger, it was always the same kind of stories, always the same kind of fairy tales.

But, man, I got athletes that I’m reading to right now. But there’s nothing that really relates to them, that speaks to them directly about this sort of stuff in a very entertaining way. So I said, ‘Man, I just got to create it on my own.’ And so from that standpoint I figured out what the magic of sports actually looks like. What is that magic? It comes from skill. It comes from repetition. And then from that skill and repetition you can do magical things. But also your emotional growth, your emotional stability, your emotional awareness enhances the magic or defuses the magic.

In the book there’s a lot of insights on mental stamina, emotional clarity, peak performance, empathy, teamwork, mentorship. Are you honored that people want the secrets of your mental success?

I love it because it gives me an opportunity to do what I love to do, which is share knowledge with the next generation. I really enjoy taking things that I’ve learned and then sharing them with others. And I was very fortunate to have great mentors in my life. And you know them. Michael [Jordan], Bill Russell and Phil [Jackson]. I’ve had some really great mentors, so I’m just paying it forward and just thinking of different ways to do it, right? Doing it with the Muse film, with the Detail series. Doing it with The Punies podcast. Doing it with The Wizenard series. There’s a lot of different ways that I can kind of go about it, and we’re trying to do it in different mediums through mixed media.

Former Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant (center) and family pose for a photo during a halftime ceremony to retire his two uniforms at Staples Center.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly three years after retiring, you’re an Academy Award-winning creator/producer, New York Times best-selling author, book producer and owner of a company called Granity Studios. Did you envision all this happening before you retired?

I knew I wanted to build a studio, I knew I wanted to be in the storytelling business, I just got tired of telling people. My last year, everybody was like, ‘What are you gonna do?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna be a storyteller,’ and they all laugh, like, ‘OK, that’s cute.’ So when you retire, you’re going to go through depression, you’re gonna go through this, I’m like, ‘Bruh, I’m good. I’m good. I’m really going to do this.’ And I think a lot of people just didn’t see it. So when I sit down and I explain the vision of the stories, I explained some of The Wizenard series, they just kind of looked at me like I was crazy, to be honest with you.

Man, I made the whole world [of the books] in training camp my last season. So from the start of training camp was when I started writing this whole thing, The Wizenard series.

Where did this creative idea come from?

I’m not sure. I’ve always loved writing and stories. I had great teachers. But I always loved the concept of telling a great story that moves people, and so I’ve always gravitated towards that. In terms of the imagination, I don’t know. I love doing it, and I think about it all the time. And maybe that’s it. It’s having the ability to stick with an idea and rework an idea over and over and over until you feel it’s something that needs to be heard. But I don’t know, it kind of comes natural to me. It’s fun. …

The really important thing for us that I really want to throw this on as young black men is we tend to think that showing our emotions is a sign of weakness, right? Or accepting the fact that we have certain things in our lives that we are fearful of is a sign of weakness. And I wanted to have a story that comes out and says, ‘No, that is not weakness.’ Vulnerability is actually your greatest source of strength, so to be able to look at those fears that you may be having, those insecurities that you have, be able to embrace those, be able to face those, and then you can decide what to do with them. That was a very, very important message that I wanted to convey in this story.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.