Kobe Bryant On Parenting, Taylor Swift And Life After Basketball In Interview Months Before His Death

A lot has been said since Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on January 26. The legendary 18-time All-Star basketball player was a version of Bryant the world knew well, of course. We also knew about his Oscar, his interest in children's books and other work from his company, Granity Studios, a multimedia company focused on creating new ways to tell stories revolving around sports. We didn't know as much about how Kobe took the same passion he brought to the game of basketball and applied them to his new life as an entrepreneur and CEO.

Lucky for us, in a podcast episode that aired last September, Kobe sat down with Newsweek contributor Jordan Harbinger and talked all about Kobe 2.0—from the motivational lessons he learned from then–assistant Los Angeles Lakers coach Tex Winter to studying how another superstar, Taylor Swift, stayed at the top of the heap.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Life and Business According to Kobe Illustration by Alex Fine

Kobe on...

Basketball and Storytelling

The disciplines are completely different, but the structure is the same in terms of the process. The process of writing or crafting the story or novel or film is the same process [as] how you craft the game, how you build game from day to day. It's the same kind of blueprint, although you're building two completely different homes. I enjoy the process of creation. It's no different than basketball. I enjoyed playing. And I got very lucky that when I stepped away from the game of basketball, I found something that I love equally.

Creating Something New

I never used others for competitive fuel. I would only do that for that extra, like, 2 percent at the end; the other 98 percent came from within, just from the love of playing and the love of figuring things out. So that's what I do here, it's the love of creating something. And I'm really excited because I feel like we're creating something new. The world does not have stories like [we're creating], sports fantasy stories. So I become very excited about getting those out into the market.

The 'Flames'

I knew I wanted to win five, six, seven championships—that was my goal. No matter [what other people] threw at me, my [own] expectations were higher. You can't control that passion; you need to keep those flames burning. There's nothing you can do about it. You don't really have much of a choice: You wake up in the morning, and you go. Even if you tried to dial it back, it'll just build up and up. When you go on vacation, you say, I'm going to take my mind off of it. I'm not going to think about it. You can do that for a couple of days, maybe three. Then when you get back to it, all of a sudden, it's like things just pour out of you.

Attention to Detail

We try to handle things with great care. When you handle things with great care, you have no choice but to look at every single detail. In the books that we create, in the films that we create, we look over every scene, comb through every line. We go through everything. You don't want to break the magic. I did the same thing in basketball as we do here. You've got to obsess over every little thing. When parents pick up a book, try to decide what book they want to buy for their children, or a kid picks up a book, we want them to [know] that somebody put a lot of thought and care into it. Generally, in the children's book space, you just make books as cheaply as you can make, and then try them out.

Obsessive Hiring

I have great people that know what the hell they're doing. I didn't go to film school. You know what I mean, so there's certain things. I don't know production schedules or SAG [Screen Actors Guild] rules. I don't know that stuff. But I have people who do. You trust them to do the best that they can with lighting and things of that nature. My direction is always: Do not break the magic. We don't compromise that.

Everything comes from this world. Everything has purpose, and everything must be to the best of your ability. My job is really to make sure that, when you work here, you're tasked with challenging yourself to do the best job you can, and that means you have to be honest. Be brave. Look in the mirror and say, "I can do better." It's got to be tough working for somebody who wants every percent out of everything, but also go, "Oh, I've got to tell him that this is the wrong decision." So, you have to build trust with your team so that they can look you in the face and go, "You know what? I see where your head's at, but that is a bad idea."

The people we have here are all obsessives. I don't have to say [go] over every detail until it's right. That's already in them. So, when they come here [it's like]: Oh thank God I can work in the company that's going to obsess over every single detail.

[This approach] comes from one of our past coaches, Tex Winter. When we used to watch game film, he was pretty brutal on us as players. But he always said, "I'm not criticizing the person, I'm criticizing the act. So remove yourself from that, remove the ego from this process, just focus on the act. The goal is to help us all become better."

The challenging part is continuing to find those people.

Taylor Swift, Role Model

I think it's important to listen to people who do great things. Taylor's been at the top of the game for a very, very long time. How and why? How did she write? How did she get into that mental space to be able to create things over and over and over? I mean, it's a lot of pressure for her to follow up a number one album with a better album.

I don't care if you like her music or you don't like her music. Look at what she's doing. It's unbelievable to be able to pull that off over and over and over and over. So I'll look at things like that to try to learn from them as much as I can. She's a sweet kid. I mean she was a sweetheart to my girls before she even blew up and became Taylor Swift, so that's why I like her. If she needs anything from me, I'm always there. But you can't have that level of consistent success and not be a killer. It's impossible.

Kobe talks about lessons he learned from the his then–basketball coach Tex Winter. Ryan Hartford

Setting Examples

You can't talk your children into working hard. That's the one thing that drives me crazy, [when] parents come up to me on the street or when I'm at the sports academy [the Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant's joint-venture training facility] and say, OK, how can I get my kid to work hard, what do I need to tell them? Can you talk to my kid? I say, listen, it's not something that you can talk through. It's a behavioral thing: you have to get up every day and do the work. Consistently do the work.

My kids' volleyball, basketball, school work—they work every day, and that's how you instill it in them, where it becomes a behavioral thing and it doesn't matter what they decide to do [as adults]. Like if Gianna decides to not play basketball when she grows up, it's fine, but she understands the discipline that it takes to work at something every single day. So, whether she wants to be a writer, a director, a doctor, a lawyer, she'll have those characteristics. It's a behavior.

Also, it's [about] observing you [work hard]—and not just me, my wife too. It's her commitment to the children and making sure that they're on point, [on] schedule, [doing their] school work. Everything is sharp, everything is there, every single day, [like] seeing me get up, train and work hard.

Your Inner Voice

It's [about] how you negotiate with yourself. That's the biggest thing—the mental side of it. But what does that really mean? [I'm talking about] the thoughts that happen in your mind when you're going through a competitive situation or you're facing a tight deadline. You still don't have the idea yet. What happens inside? Do you talk yourself out of it? Do you say, "OK, it won't be a big deal [if I don't] do it"? or "I don't have to get up on a Tuesday morning and go in and hit the track. What does this day really mean in the long scheme of things anyway, just one day?"

When you have those conversations with yourself, are you able to negotiate your way out of that little voice telling you it's not that important or does that little voice get the best of you? I think that's what separates people [who are] going to do great things versus people who don't or people that do great things but in an inconsistent way.

[Take] my basketball team [Bryant coached his daughter Gianna's team]. For example, I have the girls run lines. I had a parent who's encouraging his daughter. "Come on, you can do it, you can do it, dig deep, dig deep." After practice, I go to him and say, you know when she's doing those line drills, don't say anything because there's a conversation that's happening inside of her head. She's talking to herself, trying to pump herself up. She's already having those conversations. So, for an outside voice to come in to give her guidance—and give her the push to keep going—actually interrupts her process. Just let her be, let her figure it out herself because as they go through life, we're not going to be here all the time. Kids have to be able to navigate those things themselves.

Mistakes and Letting Go

We don't want missteps, but they'll happen. It's fine. We all make the same mistakes. We're all building things. Oprah told me, specifically, that she's made a lot of the same mistakes that I've made [when she] first started her studio. Disney built Disney, and [people think] everything was perfect and [Walt Disney] made every right decision. [But actually] he signed some really bad contracts. He was financially really, really struggling, and it's OK.

There's literally nothing I can do other than look at why I made a decision and what factors fooled me into making the wrong decision. You try to process that for the next time, kind of read the tea leaves. That's it. You've got to go, you've got to move forward. All right, cool. That's done. Let's go.

Owning Your Fear

[After an injury, you're], thinking: Damn, I'm done; I don't know if I can come back from this or my career could be over. Then [I think]: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I had those [fears]. But I think what I learned at an early age [was] you accept them versus fighting them. If you're nervous or scared about a situation [don't go], "Nah, there's nothing to be scared of." [You go], "Oh shit [it's there]." That's fine. That's OK. You give [the fear] a hug, embrace it. Then you ask, what are you going to do about it?

His Kids, Aging and Mortality

When Bianca was born and Capri was born [the youngest of Bryant's four daughters], it was an odd mix of pure happiness and fulfillment, but at the same time, a little sadness because I knew that my two older girls were going to age. Of course, you know they're going to age, but [you start thinking] when Bianca and Coco are 6 and 4, Natalia is going to be 20, Gianna is going to be 17, and I'm like, Ah. It just puts things in perspective.

Time has no mercy. I wish I had a TiVo button [to] just pause it for a second.

Newsweek contributor Jordan Harbinger is the host of The Jordan Harbinger Show, where he deconstructs the playbooks of the world's most successful authors, entrepreneurs and artists.

Kobe talks all about what he learned from studying how another superstar, Taylor Swift, stayed at the top of the heap. Ryan Hartford