Given the state of the Lakers (not good) and Boston Celtics (improving but not championship-caliber), everybody wanted to talk to Kobe Bryant about the past.
Before his final game in Boston, a 112-104 Lakers victory, he spent considerable time dwelling on the embarrassing loss to the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals.
“For the second half of my career, it’s been the most important piece. When we lost in 2008, that turned [everything],” he said Wednesday, adding he kept telling himself, “I can’t go through this [again].”
The Lakers beat Boston two years later in the Finals but Bryant would primarily remember 2008.
“Because the loss led to the win,” he said. “And I say that in the most beautiful way possible. It helped me find the best version of myself.
“It was like, do you want to be the player years from now where it’s like, the Lakers lost twice to the Celtics? I don’t want to be that guy. It was a lot of pressure to be able to not have that happen.”
There was some talk of the Lakers’ 2010 run, to be sure. Bryant has called it the best championship of the five he won, revenge playing a big factor.
But he revealed a different angle Wednesday, what he claimed was a lighter side after the Lakers lost Game 5 in Boston, 92-86.
“The most beautiful memory I have actually took place in this locker room right back here, when we went down, 3-2,” Bryant said. “We came in the locker room and we sat there and we were all just kind of like, ‘What the hell just happened? This can’t be happening again.’
“And then I found the humor in it and I just started laughing. Then [Derek Fisher] looked at me and D-Fish started laughing. The guys, Shannon [Brown], they were kind of looking at us like, ‘What the hell is wrong here? It’s one game from losing [the Finals].’
“I said, ‘Guys, listen man, first of all, they kicked our butt and that’s pretty funny. And secondly, if we started the season and they told us that all we had to do was go home and win two games to be NBA champions, would you take that deal? All we have to do is go home and win two games.’”
They did, thumping the Celtics in Game 6, 89-67, and outlasting them in Game 7, 83-79.
The playoff series that motivated Bryant the first part of his career was getting swept by San Antonio in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals.
“I remember having to make a decision,” he said. “The Spurs were such a fundamentally sound team and we had a reputation for being more flashy. I had to look at the Spurs and understand why they were so efficient. I had to step back and look at my game and figure out how to edit my game, so I simplified it.”
Bryant relied less on dribbling and learned to work more efficiently off the ball, he said.