TORONTO » Kobe Bryant had taken four questions, including two in Italian, from media members crammed around him inside a hotel ballroom when a reporter from a Toronto radio station placed a shiny red bag on the table in front of the Los Angeles Lakers star and slid it toward him.
Inside was a bottle of Brio, an Italian soda made in Canada.
Two days before fans could shower Bryant with adoration in his final All-Star game appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, it was the media’s turn.
There was applause Friday when Bryant took his seat on the dais and when he rose after the 25-minute session had concluded. One reporter wearing a Bryant shirt presented his idol with a picture of different Nikes he had worn in his career and a Japanese reporter handed Bryant artwork of the basketball icon as a sword-wielding samurai dressed in a deep purple kimono.
Just getting within earshot of the 18-time All-Star was a coup. Reporters lined up about 10 deep in a semicircle around Bryant, jostling for position as cameramen continually nudged reporters aside and asked those holding up phones to record video to put them down.
Bryant was warmly receptive to the gifts, the latest thawing from his once-icy relationship with the media. He continues to patiently and thoughtfully answer even the most inane questions as the end of his 20-year career approaches.
Bryant was asked which version of Michael Jordan was better, the one who was a Chicago Bull when Bryant was a rookie with the Lakers or the one who retired with the Washington Wizards.
“Oh, in Chicago, absolutely,” Bryant said without a hint of sarcasm.
He was asked to name three Canadian things without mentioning famed rapper Drake.
“(Wayne) Gretzky and (Steve) Nash and (Andrew) Wiggins,” Bryant said. “I’ll throw Rachel McAdams in there, how about that?”
He was also asked how he felt to be playing in Toronto, where the forecast high for Saturday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.
“It’s cold,” Bryant said. “It’s really, really cold.”
Bryant answered questions in English, Italian and Spanish while giving courtesy shout-outs to fans from Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Greece and India. One reporter even taught Bryant how to say “thank you” in Arabic.
Thankfully, a few reporters lobbed Bryant questions about the actual All-Star game.
Bryant said he would be happy to play only 10 minutes and reiterated he didn’t have aspirations of winning a record fifth most-valuable-player award in the midseason showcase.
“No, man, zero,” Bryant said. “I mean, I’d tell you if I (did). I’ve never really been one to pull punches. But no, I’m really just enjoying this whole thing and being around these players and talking to them one more time, going out and practicing and enjoying that moment, so the competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something or prove something, that’s gone.”
Bryant seemed upbeat when asked about it being his final All-Star game.
“This is pretty cool,” he said, scanning his surroundings. “I mean, I’m looking around the room and seeing guys that I’m playing with that are tearing the league up that were like 4 my first All-Star game. How many players can say they played 20 years and actually have seen the game through three, four generations, you know what I mean? It’s not sad at all. I’m really happy and honored to be here and see this.”
Bryant laughed when asked what he would do on his first day of retirement, saying he would “probably wake up and have some coffee and go back to sleep.”
Before he left, Bryant offered a momentary reminder of his disdain for reporters when asked whether he would miss his interactions with the media.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Bryant said, “and say yes.”
©2016 Los Angeles Times