— -- MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Lakers icon Kobe Bryant is nearing the end of a remarkable 20-season NBA career, but if he could go back in time and offer advice to himself as a rookie, what would he say?
"It's hard to tell somebody -- a player at that age -- to understand compassion and empathy, but that would be my advice," Bryant, 37, said after Sunday's 112-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. "It tends to come with time."
Bryant has had a notoriously contentious history with several teammates and coaches, and he has often been cited as a factor, if not the factor, for why some players leave the Lakers or why some free agents never join.
Yet, of all the things Bryant could tell his younger self, why compassion and empathy?
"Well, because that's the biggest thing about being a leader, I think, and winning a championship is understanding how to put yourself in other people's shoes," he said. "That's really the most important thing. It's not necessarily the individual skill you possess. It's about understanding others and what they may be going through.
"And then, in turn, when you understand that, you can communicate with them a little bit better and bring out the best in them. Bringing out the best in people isn't passing them the ball and giving them open shots. It's about how to connect with them, how to communicate with them so that they can navigate through whatever issues they may be facing. That's a very, very hard thing to do."
Bryant said he remembered the specific moment when he began to understand that concept. It came more than a decade ago, when forward Rick Fox was his Lakers teammate.
"It was in a meeting at Southwest College [in Los Angeles], and we were having a team meeting and Rick Fox said, 'Kobe, we just want to feel like you need us,'" Bryant said.
"I was like, 'What the hell is this grown-ass man [saying]? What are you talking [about]?' But then, it kind of caught me, because it was a very vulnerable thing for him to say, and it helped me have perspective on what he may be going through and what he's feeling. And then, from that standpoint, it really changed my mentality and how I kind of looked at it, and I've been working on it ever since."