Kobe Bryant kicks off his basketball academy at UCSB on July 9.

The Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant made an appearance at the UCSB Thunderdome on Wednesday, July 9, tipping off the beginning of the eighth annual Kobe Basketball Academy, personally designed by Bryant himself.

Bryant arrived to the press conference more than half an hour late, reportedly caught up while watching the end of the World Cup match between the Netherlands and Argentina. He denied as much upon arrival, though, claiming to the inquiring press that he was “stuck in traffic trying to rush to meet you fine people, ” then asking for the final score while boasting a playfully mischievous grin.

Before the press conference commenced, reporters were gently petitioned to only bring up questions regarding the basketball camp, but Bryant’s representative also admitted that there wasn’t really control over what would be asked. And so, during the scheduled 45-minute conference interview — which had been whittled down to 20 minutes thanks to the World Cup game going all the way to penalty kicks — only a pair of questions were asked about the camp. Instead, the frenzied yelling of questions by reporters went quickly to Bryant’s speculation on the future of the Lakers organization, the details of his career, and the status of other NBA players.

The future Hall of Famer turned his head to the side, apparently taken aback by being hit with such hot questions about himself and potential future Lakers. Then Bryant cracked an unsurprised smile and joked that he was “waiting for these ‘what if’ questions.” But Bryant’s posture became more hunched and defensive as the questions began to roll in demanding clarity in relation to rumors and opinions tied to potential moves by Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. It was apparent that he wanted to talk about the camp, if anything, not himself nor the lives of fellow NBA athletes. The press received few clear answers with understandably canned comments.

He did, however, mention that Byron Scott was his rookie mentor and that they have been close over the years. When asked if he’d like to see Scott as the next head coach of the Lakers, Bryant simply replied, “Yea.”

There were also questions about his physical condition and if he were in game shape, an apparent reference to a rumored pick-up game at UCLA involving Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I wasn’t even there,” said Bryant, denying all rumors of said game. “I was in Orange County.” He did address his recent injuries though, explaining, “I don’t think about the knee at all while I train, and I don’t think about my Achilles when I train.”

So how active is he in luring other players to be on the Lakers squad, which had one of their more dismal showings in memory last season? “Talking to the other players every now and then to see how they are doing — that’s pretty much it,” Bryant answered. “It’s important to have conversations with other players and kind of discuss things, but it’s their decision. They are going to do what’s best for them … you know?”

Awkward press conference aside, Bryant continues to make an impressive impact with his UCSB-based academy, which brings more than 500 kids from all around the world together for five days of basketball. The camp gives young athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 an opportunity to work on techniques and drills with Bryant himself. More than 50 coaches orchestrate the drills while Bryant makes his rounds to each court, interacting with the kids while advising them on their individual techniques and passing along his considerable wisdom of the game. Instructors are taught to push the triangle offense, Princeton offense, and the flex offense, even to youngest ages.

The excitement of the participants jolted the wooden rafters and golden hardwood floor of the UCSB Thunderdome. The parents seemed just as star-struck, screaming much like their kids. The Kobe show came to an end as he and the media slowly departed.

But more drama ensued in the parking lots of the media crews. Except for those who arrived in corporate television media vans, the other reporters’ cars — most of which had credentials displayed on the front dashboards — had been ticketed by the UCSB parking police, despite having been instructed to park in those spots. By then, the parking police were long gone, leaving $48 tickets to dispute through the UCSB administration. If only the World Cup game had ended earlier.


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