Kobe Bryant: NBA 2K10 is ‘like practicing without getting hurt’
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For most of his career in the NBA, there have been two Kobe Bryants, evolving in mirror universes.
One is a 6-foot-6 Lakers guard who grew up playing Double Dribble with his cousins during summer visits to his grandmother’s house. The other is also a basketball player, albeit a digital one created 10 years ago by Visual Concepts, a video game developer in Novato, Calif.
If the real Kobe built up his shoulders, so would the virtual Kobe. When he became leaner and faster, his digital doppelganger also became sleeker and more fleet-footed. And if Kobe grew more hair, digital Kobe would also have longer hair.
This year, the virtual player will acquire another habit when NBA 2K10 comes out on Oct. 6: He will sometimes jut out his chin in the heat of competition, just like the real Kobe. To find out what the flesh-and-blood Kobe thinks about the evolution of his digital twin, click on the video above.
The game’s developer, now owned by Take-Two Interactive Software, has added facial animations to its franchise, which over the years has become the best-selling basketball simulation video game on the market. Much of the franchise’s success is due to the studio’s near-fanatical devotion to replicating the details of the actual sport into their video games.
What does Bryant think about this? We spoke with him yesterday about video games in general and his role in the NBA 2K titles, which he says he likes to play because it lets him ‘practice without getting hurt.’ Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation:
Do you play video games?
Kobe Bryant: I do. I enjoy the realism of it.
What games did you play when you were a boy?
Bryant: Double Dribble was my game. I had six cousins. My father played. My uncle played. My sister played. We all got together at my grandmother’s house and had these tournaments in summertime in the back house. It was really brutal. We played for hours. Then we’d go into the swimming pool. Then go back and play again. It was good times.
Do you play now?
Bryant: During the season, [Lakers guard] Jordan Farmar brings the...
... Xbox  along. The guys hook it up to the TV and we compete. I have a lot of responsibilities making sure the team functions so most of my time is spent doing my homework. But every once in a while I get to play.
What do you think of your character in the game?
Bryant: The same way I think of all the other characters. I think the detail in them is just fascinating. You can look at the characters and tell who’s who just by their body movements, their facial expressions, their profiles before you even look at their numbers.
It’s remarkable the attention to detail. You see the ball go through the net and you see how the net reacts to it. Just little things like that. I pay attention to those things because I love the game so much. Every detail of the game to me, I love. The ball goes through and swooshes the net. I love that. You see the crowds reacting. So there’s a lot of life. There’s nothing that’s dormant.
What kind of feedback have you given the game’s developers over the years?
Bryant: For me it’s always been the same. I want to see my moves in the game. I want to see my character do what I do. Every character should have moves that are exclusive to them. Everybody’s game should speak for itself in the video game itself.
What you sometimes do is chew on your jersey. Is that in the game?
Bryant: I do?! Really? I didn’t even notice that. That’s crazy.
You also jut your jaw out when you’re really being intense. Is that in the game?
Bryant: Well, the jaw thing I know about, and that’s in the game. It’ll have facial expressions like your eyes, your mouth, your jaw moving. Yeah, all of that’s in the game. It all helps to bring people closer to the game because you can see the emotion in the players.
What do you want players to feel when they’re playing your character?
Bryant: I want them to live it. I want them to compete. Because that’s what I do when I play. That’s what’s fun to me. To be able to go through a whole season, to get better and see progression. Trying to stay injury free. I want them to experience all of that.
Who’s got the better jump shot in this game, you or Hedo Turkoglu (of the Toronto Raptors)?
Bryant: I don’t know. Probably he does. He’s a better shooter than I am.
The cover picture of you is amazing. Where was that taken?
Bryant: That was in New Orleans. It was toward the end of the season. It was a big big game for us.
What were you doing there?
Bryant: Blowing off steam. It was kind of one of those things like, ‘We’re here!’ It was like a William Wallace yell.
2K Sports is making a limited-edition version of the game, and 10 random copies will have an art print from Shepard Fairey that’s signed by you. Are you a big fan of Shepard Fairey?
Bryant: Oh yeah, he’s a phenomenal artist. He’s done some stuff for us. He’s done some stuff for our website, I believe. He’s extremely talented. If something looks simple and beautiful, to me that’s genius. A lot of times you see work out there that’s extremely complex or has a lot of stuff going on. To me, that’s not beautiful. If you can look at something and establish it for what it is without a lot of confusion in it, to me that’s genius. Because it takes a lot of effort to make things look simpler.
Do you bring that philosophy to how you play the game?
Bryant: I do, actually. My game is very simple. But it takes a lot of work to do it the way I do it. There’s a lot of thinking involved, even though it looks simple.
What do your kids think about you being the cover athlete?
Bryant: My kids think it’s cool. They’re like, ‘Daddy, that’s you!’ My older daughter thinks that’s cool. But the little one looks at me and starts giggling and she’ll get pretty excited to see me on the screen or see my picture. She’s at a stage that’s pretty great. She’s the biggest daddy’s girl in the world.
Do you play games with your kids?
Bryant: My daughter’s 6, so she likes to play princess games. I play with her, actually. She’s hard core, though. She plays the basketball games, too. But mostly, she plays all the princess games.
When you play 2K Sports’ basketball games which team to do choose?
Bryant: I play the Lakers, 100%. I’ll be damned if I let someone else win.
-- Alex Pham
Times Staff Writer Nathan Olivarez-Giles contributed to this post.
Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.