In May 2001, Kobe Bryant had not yet been named an NBA Finals MVP. He hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal, or an Academy Award, or ever been named the All-Star Game MVP. He was simply a 22-year-old shooting guard in his fifth professional basketball season.
He was also the subject of a 60 Minutes profile.
In never-before-aired footage from that interview, Bryant talked about his life to that point, his upcoming marriage, and his dedication to the game that bordered on obsession.
“I think I realized that I was a little different my first year in the league when, you know, I was very serious about the game at all times,” he said in 2001.
At the time, Bryant’s focus was making it to his second NBA Finals. His Lakers were the defending league champions, and not only did they go on to win the championship again that June, but they would also take home the title the following year. It was the last time an NBA team has accomplished the coveted “three-peat.”
Just 17 years old when he signed with the Lakers, Bryant had continued living with his parents for the first few seasons he played in the NBA. He told 60 Minutes that, because he felt he had to mature in the public eye, he wanted to avoid youthful distractions. On plane rides to away games, during shootarounds with his teammates, in hotel rooms while on the road—no matter where he was, he said, he kept his head firmly on the court.
Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ head coach at the time, saw Bryant’s effort firsthand. He also spoke with 60 Minutes in 2001.
Jackson confirmed that, when the team was on the road, Bryant stayed in his hotel room, where he would set up a VCR player and watch videotape of his last game or the team he was about to face. Alone in front of the TV, Bryant analyzed each play. Early in the morning, Jackson said, Bryant was working out in the gym, getting his mind and body ready to play basketball.
“He’s very, very dedicated to this, to becoming the best player he can be,” Jackson said.
Publicity followed Bryant’s persistence. So, too, did the kids who looked up to him, seeking to emulate his example.
Bryant spoke with 60 Minutes about what he felt he owed his young fans. He said he wanted to set a good example—but not necessarily a perfect one.
“What I think of a role model is a person who’s in the limelight and a person who might make a mistake… People are able to learn from that mistake,” he said. “Not to criticize the individual or tear them down or whatever, but you know, I’m going to make mistakes and I would like the kids to learn from them.”