Kobe Bryant's shot clock is winding down. His last game as a professional basketball player happens in two weeks, on April 13.
He is an oddity, someone who played for one team for his entire 20-year career, a career that brought fans many great moments, and the Los Angeles Lakers five championships.
Good thing he didn't listen to a school counselor.
"I had a counselor, a guidance counselor," Bryant told CNBC this week. "He asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I said I wanted to be an NBA player, I was probably 10 years old."
The counselor gave what might usually sound like sound advice ... to anyone but Kobe Bryant.
"He said, 'You know, that's not very realistic,' and I said, 'Well, this is what I want to be,'" Bryant said. But the counselor insisted, "'I think you should be something else.'"
Fortunately, Bryant ignored that advice and doubled down on his dream. "I thought, 'If this is so hard to accomplish, how in the world am I going to accomplish it if I don't put all my eggs in one basket? If I don't focus 100 percent on this, I'm never going to get there.'"
The Laker legend is thinking a lot about his career — or at least answering questions about it — on his farewell tour. He's also planning for a future that will employ his passion for creative storytelling, whether it's in branding or maybe even in entertainment.
"I think it's important to try to pass on whatever information, whatever knowledge I have to the next generation," Bryant said. "A lot of things that I've learned in my life I want to share, and share in a creative way." Creative storytelling creates messages that he said "stick a little more." However, Bryant also jokes that every time another player asks him what he plans to do after his last game, he says he'll take up golf "and just get fat and hang out."
But basketball or no basketball, the Kobe Bryant money-machine continues to chug along. Tuesday night in Los Angeles he teamed up with American Express in a special deal the company offered card members to meet the NBA legend. Amex vice president Deborah Curtis would not disclose what the company paid for the access, but she said they hope to do more NBA-related events like this. "When American Express card members engage in these kinds of events, it really translates to deep loyalty and a lot of longstanding loyalty to our brand."
The theme of the event was teamwork, and Bryant was joined onstage by former teammates Rick Fox and Robert Horry. Backstage, Bryant admitted he had to learn the importance of teamwork over his 20-year career. "I was always a very methodical person, I just focused on the game and the execution of the game," he said. "But being around these guys, it taught me to really look on the outside first, and to listen and understand that there's an emotion that comes with the game. It's not just a game."
Leaving the NBA is hard for the 37-year-old Bryant, though he's been humbled by each final game in a new city as he received standing ovations from fans who used to heckle him. The first such response happened right after he announced his retirement. "The reaction that I got from the Philadelphia fans was the most amazing, unbelievable thing, I mean it gave me goosebumps," Bryant said of fans in his hometown, where he was often booed. "Still gives me goosebumps to this day."
I just never understood it. They believe what they're saying is the right thing. I just disagree. I believe you have your dreams, you believe, you go for them, you go for them 100 percent.Kobe Bryant on people who discourage dreaming big.
Bryant has not always been loved. Tension on the court also included bad press and a rape trial off the court (Bryant was acquitted). His advice to surviving the bad times: "Be who you are, and I mean that in the sense of, we all go through things, and I think it's just being aware of what you're experiencing at that time, whether it's frustration, whether it's anger, whether it's joy or sadness, it's fine to experience those things because we all do," he said. "I think it's really just accepting who you are, and once you do that, then it's very easy to pivot and move on."
By the way, what about that guidance counselor who told a 10-year-old boy he should consider a career outside of basketball? Did he "pivot and move on"? Bryant doesn't know, and it doesn't really matter. The five-time NBA champion said he doesn't understand why some people discourage dreaming big.
"I just never understood it," Bryant said. "They believe what they're saying is the right thing. I just disagree. I believe you have your dreams, you believe, you go for them, you go for them 100 percent."
CORRECTION: The American Express vice president is Deborah Curtis.