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Endurance test (cont.)

Posted: Thursday November 29, 2007 11:24AM; Updated: Thursday November 29, 2007 2:58PM
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Kobe Bryant says the league's defensive rules have prompted him to become more of a jump shooter.
Kobe Bryant says the league's defensive rules have prompted him to become more of a jump shooter.
John W. McDonough/SI

While Jordan was surrounded by positive energy, a negative -- and surely draining -- aura has enveloped Bryant in recent years.

"I just wish more people would celebrate Kobe, I really do,'' Rivers said. "Of all the guys in our league, that bugs me more than anything, that it just seems like we spend so much time trying to tear him apart and I think we're missing how great he is. And I think it's a shame.''

Bryant said he has relied more on his jumper because of the NBA's defensive rules -- and not because of his advancing age.

"The rules are completely different now,'' said Bryant, comparing his era to Jordan's. "I've always been able to shoot the ball, but the rules have changed since he played in terms of playing a zone defense. You have to be a jump shooter now because there's no way you can get to the basket -- particularly myself because they just stack guys up. I wish we had the rules they had back in the day where you could isolate guys and you could go to the basket anytime. But now you have to be able to shoot.''

The evolving science of athletic training should also enable Bryant to extend his career. Jordan took personal training to a new level by working year-round with Tim Grover. Now Bryant is raising the bar again.

"The techniques that we have available to ourselves now, the level of treatment that we have available is basically around the clock,'' Bryant said. "I have a solid team of five or six guys and women that are very capable in different areas: chiropractor, neuromuscular therapist, dietician, chef, yada, yada, yada.

"It's a lifestyle. If you want to continue to play at a high level, you have to make certain sacrifices. I mean, you can't have a burger every damn day.''

Bryant has learned to adjust his workouts over the years. "As you get older you get smarter, watch your diet, change your program a little bit. If you're willing to adapt, you can play for a long time.

"I work a lot smarter, more efficient, and it's not as taxing on your body. In the past it was just balls to the wall -- running and running and running and running, and jumping and plyometrics and all that stuff. If you're older, you don't need to do all that stuff. It's just about maintenance and injury prevention and staying in shape.''

Regarding Bryant's approach to the backstretch of his career, I don't think he's interested in winning just one more championship. I'm sure that he wants to win several of them. He wants to win more rings than Jordan's six and go down as one of the great players in the league. He was talking in those terms when I first met him a decade ago, and I would think his resolve has only strengthened since then.

So in that sense, the window is indeed shrinking. Say he is playing at as high a level as Jordan was at 35; that gives Bryant only seven seasons in which to win those four rings. If that's the way he's looking at it, then of course he's going to want the Lakers -- or another team -- to seize on his skills and exploit them to go for championships now, for their benefit as well as his. And the more talent he has around him, the longer he'll be able to extend his career at this level.

"I roll with it a little bit when they say there's a [two-to-three-year] window,'' Bryant said. "No way, no way. Barring injury or something like that, if you're willing to adapt, you can play for a long time.''

So how long can he play at his current level?

"I don't know,'' Bryant said. "We'll figure it out. I have a great staff of physical therapists and trainers, and we'll figure it out and work through it.''

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