Kobe Bryant had entertained four questions, including two in Italian, from the mass of about 150 media members crammed around him inside a hotel ballroom when a reporter from a Toronto radio station placed a shiny red bag on the table in front of the Lakers star and slid it toward him.
Inside was a bottle of Brio, an Italian soda made in Canada.
It was one of three gifts the media presented to Bryant on Friday in advance of his final All-Star game on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. The others were a picture of different Nikes that Bryant had worn in his career and artwork of Bryant as a sword-wielding samurai dressed in a deep purple kimono.
Bryant was receptive to the offerings as well as a host of inane questions from media members whom he had verbally sparred with for much of his 20-year career before softening considerably in recent seasons.
It might have helped that there was applause from a handful of reporters when Bryant arrived and concluded the 25-minute session. One media member even wore a Bryant Lakers shirt as a tribute to the 18-time All-Star.
Bryant was asked which version of Michael Jordan was better, the one with the Chicago Bulls when Bryant was a rookie with the Lakers or the one who retired with the Washington Wizards.
“Oh, in Chicago, absolutely,” Bryant said without a hint of sarcasm.
He was asked to name three Canadian things without mentioning famed rapper Drake.
“[Wayne] Gretzky and [Steve] Nash and [Andrew] Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I’ll throw Rachel McAdams in there, how about that?”
He was also asked how he felt to be playing in Toronto, where the forecast high on Saturday is one degree Fahrenheit.
“It’s cold,” Bryant said. “It’s really, really cold.”
Bryant answered questions in English, Italian and Spanish while giving courtesy shout-outs to fans from Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Greece and India. One reporter even taught Bryant how to say “thank you” in Arabic.
Bryant said he would be happy to play only 10 minutes in the All-Star game and reiterated he didn’t have aspirations of winning a fifth most valuable player award.
“No, man, zero,” Bryant said. “I mean, I’d tell you if I [did]. I’ve never really been one to pull punches. But no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing and being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment, so the competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”
Bryant seemed upbeat when asked about it being his final All-Star game.
“This is pretty cool,” he said. “I mean, I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like 4 my first All-Star game. How many players can say they played 20 years and actually have seen the game through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”
Bryant was jovial, thoughtful and humorous, saying he would “probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep” on his first day of retirement after this season.
But there was a hint of the old Bryant in his answer to one of the last questions, about whether he would miss talking to the media.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Bryant said, “and say yes.”