Kobe Bryant is currently occupied with the serious challenge of balancing his work to keep the Los Angeles Lakers relevant with his desire to rattle off more all-time NBA records. Yet Kobe also faces another big question — what will he do when he retires? The 36-year-old is under contract through 2015-16 and may opt to continue his career past that season, but it is likely that Bryant will have a long life in the public eye past that date. He has already formed a company in his name and started the work of forming and investing in new projects.
There's another option for Kobe, though, that would keep him in the spotlight and around the NBA. Charles Barkley's contract with Turner Sports ends in 2016, and the Chuckster has not committed to staying in broadcasting past that date. Could Kobe be his replacement? Richard Deitsch of SI.com says that they would pursue him:
There are certain traits shared by the best sports broadcasters: intelligence, passion, credibility and honesty. Personally, I like a bit of edge and distance from the establishment, too. Bryant possesses all of these. If you talk to NBA beat and national writers, Bryant has become one of the best interview subjects in the game. That he’s also an all-time great is a huge marketing bonus.
"If he chose to do it he'd be incredible," said ESPN Los Angeles senior writer Ramona Shelburne, who has covered the Lakers since 2003. "He's sarcastic, smart, insightful, fearless. Think the player version of Jeff Van Gundy. I'm not sure he's fun enough for the typical NBA pre and postgame show. The guys that thrive there are the ones who always sat around in a locker room after a game, BS-ing with other players and reporters or coaches. I've seen Kobe do that from time to time, but only when he's soaking his feet in an ice bucket. The rest of the time, he's all business … He is singularly focused on basketball. That level of focus has keeps him at a distance from a lot of people. Yes, he forms friendships with players around the league, but they are the 'mutual admiration' kind of friendships. I think that distance is actually what would make him a great broadcaster. If he's able to call Pau Gasol his 'brother' in one moment and then tell him he needs to put his 'big boy pants on' in another moment, just think about what he might say with a player he didn't like and admire.”
If Bryant indicates he is serious about a broadcasting career after his NBA career ends, industry sources say he’d command $4 million to $5 million annually, if not more, because there would be a heavy competition for his services. ESPN (whose studio show is based in L.A.) and Turner are guaranteed to be interested.
"He’s obviously smart and articulate and he would be a great candidate," said Turner Sports senior vice president and executive creative director Craig Barry. "But like any job there is a certain amount of passion that the person needs to have for the day to day. That element of passion and wanting to share the game is a huge part of being able to connect with the viewer. That’s a huge part of being a successful broadcaster and I think Kobe would be great at it. But he would have to want to do it."
Deitsch notes that those familiar with Kobe's thinking believe he is much more interested in business than broadcasting, although he also makes the reasonable point that former players like Magic Johnson have succeeded in using broadcasting as a platform to advance many business concerns. That's an approach that has also been favored by current TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe's former teammate and rival.
A potential partnership with Shaq also happens to be the elephant 300-pound Hall of Fame center in the room. Kobe and Shaq have made up in public following disagreements during their time with the Lakers and subsequent years of sniping, but it's not clear if they could coexist on the same set. For that matter, what would initially be good for ratings wouldn't necessarily be good for television. Kobe and Shaq are very, very different personalities, and it's hard to imagine the former thriving in a goof-heavy atmosphere like that of the current "Inside the NBA." A Kobe-centric show would need to be much more focused on analysis, though not necessarily more sober.
Perhaps this discussion is a little silly when Kobe hasn't even announced retirement plans, but it's still notable if only because he would hold so much potential as a commentator. Bryant has impressed while sitting in with the TNT studio crew in the past and could round into special form with more practice. Here's hoping the stars align to get him into the role full-time.