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Kobe writing next great chapter

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-19 07:46
Chinese tennis legend Li Na and retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant met in Beijing on Thursday to discuss the inner strength needed to prevail in an individual sport-a theme Bryant explores in his new book Legacy and the Queen, published by his California-based Granity Studios. ZHANG WEI/CHINA DAILY
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New career as media mogul a logical fit for Lakers legend

Three years into his retirement, Kobe Bryant is still a diligent man of action.

Once known for his insane workout routine, which involved hitting the gym as early as 4 am, Bryant, visiting Beijing to promote the FIBA World Cup, is no less enthused about his latest project, a tennis-themed fantasy novel released by his Granity Studios earlier this month.

Just hours after his early-morning flight arrived on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers legend and 18-time NBA All-Star sat down with Chinese tennis great Li Na to discuss the inner strength needed to prevail in an individual sport-a quality Bryant hopes young readers will learn from reading his book Legacy and the Queen, which was co-authored by Annie Matthew.

"In this book I deal with the internal struggles in sport that everybody needs to learn how to cope with," Bryant told China Daily in an exclusive interview after meeting Li.

"What happens when it's only you out there challenging the inside of yourself, when you don't have teammates or coaches to lean on? What sport creates that environment? It's tennis. I wanted the book to focus on tennis to try to inspire the next generation with a story developed around the sport."

Having collected five NBA championship rings, Bryant, who retired in 2016 after spending his entire 20-year playing career with the Lakers, is now channeling his enthusiasm to storytelling. Writing and producing cartoons and podcasts and publishing books are the primary enterprises of Granity Studios, the company he founded in Newport Beach, California, in 2016.

Li, winner of the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open, is just the latest on a long list of sports icons Bryant is interviewing for future projects.

To come up with ideas for Legacy and the Queen, Bryant talked to fellow American Serena Williams, a 23-time major singles winner, and Japan's 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka. He also started to learn how to play tennis just two weeks after his final NBA game, practicing with his former agent and current Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.

After releasing the tennis book and introducing the Chinese version of his first novel, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, Bryant revealed that a new story inspired by 23-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps is in the works.

"I started writing at the beginning of my last season with the Lakers," said the 41-year-old father of four daughters. "Having four children at home, I felt compelled to create content for them. I wanted to take something that had a fantasy appeal to it and connect it to sports."

While writing keeps him focused at the office, Bryant stays active in basketball by shouting from the sideline as coach of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna's AAU team. Making them run the notoriously complicated triangle offense en route to a recent 115-27 blowout victory showed his competitive fire still burns.

Bryant said Team USA's premature exit from contention at the FIBA World Cup, formerly the world championships, was indicative of the closing gap between his country and the world.

Following its 89-70 loss to France in the quarterfinals and a 94-89 setback to Serbia in a 5-8 classification game on Thursday, Team USA can finish no better than seventh at the Cup-its worst result in the history of the tournament.

Bryant, who warned the Americans not to get too complacent in a promo video ahead of the tournament, said the result is a tough lesson for the US national program.

"Basketball has become a global sport so it's not a surprise for Team USA to be knocked out by some great teams out there," he said.

"The world is definitely catching up. But I think it's great for the sport, and it's challenging for us as Americans because we want to win.

"International play has become much more physical. Other than that, many teams are now able to spread the floor, deploy shooters, screen and rolls. The international game is becoming more similar to the NBA."

Last Wednesday's loss to a French squad featuring four current NBA players snapped Team USA's 13-year streak of 58 consecutive international victories. Before that, the Americans' last loss was to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 world championship.

A series of last-minute withdrawals of NBA stars, due to injuries or commitment to preparations for the new NBA season, took a heavy toll on Team USA, helmed by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich

Bryant, a formidable leader on Team USA's gold medal squads at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, said a healthier and hungrier American entry will be on hand for next year's Tokyo Olympic Games.

"Health plays a big factor. We have a lot of guys who are not healthy enough to play this year. Hopefully next summer guys will be healthy and we could go out there and perform to our best ability," he said.

Having visited China frequently since 1998, Bryant said he can relate to Chinese fans' disappointment watching their team's dismal performance at the World Cup and missing out on Asia's only direct berth to the Tokyo Games.

"The international game will be hurt by not having China in the Olympic tournament, but that's a challenge," he said. "Now it's about China making that concerted effort to invest in their youth program very early on."

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