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Kobe Bryant, retired NBA superstar, talks with Long Island kids

Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant with Kidsday reporters

Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant with Kidsday reporters Humberto Guevara, left, Ian Codio, Alan Turcios and Jose Munguia, of The De La Salle School in Freeport, at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We met retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant when he appeared at the Barnes & Noble store in Union Square in Manhattan recently. Kobe is the creator of the book “The Wizenard Series: Training Camp,” which is written by Wesley King.

What made you decide to create a young adult book, “The Wizenard Series: Training Camp”?

I have kids at home. I wanted to teach them very important life lessons … Kids, you try to tell them certain life lessons today, after a while they start tuning you out. So I decided to write a story to try to teach them in a very entertaining way. So that’s how I got started.

What did you find most challenging part in your novel?

Writing the bad story of all the characters. If you see the characters, you have to understand why they are the way they are. You have to understand their parents' background. So you have to write that history.

What message do you want your readers to take away from this story?

True powers come from vulnerability. And it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to have those fears and nervousness. It’s not a bad thing. And you have to be able to embrace it, accept it, and then you can move on from there.

Is being an author a career you considered before being in basketball?

No way. I had no idea that this is what I’d be doing. If you told me this is what I was going to do when I first started basketball, I would have thought you were crazy. Life has a way of bringing your passions to you.

Which had more meaning: winning all those championships or winning the gold medal in the Olympics?

Olympic medals because you are playing for your country. And that holds a lot more significance than when you are playing for Los Angeles Lakers, or New York Knicks. You’re playing for the United States of America. That’s truly, truly an honor.

With the game on the line, do you want the ball?

Every time. That’s the part that’s fun, right. Those are the moments we write: Can I do it? Can I not do it? Can I make the right play? Will I not make the right play? Those are the pressured moments that I enjoy.

Are there times when you wish you could suit up and play again?

No. Again, if you told me I would have felt that way 10, 15 years ago ... [I would have said] no way. That’s the beautiful thing about life is that it takes you different roads. And now writing, I love it every bit as much as I love playing basketball.

Past and present, who did you like to play one-on-one with?

Michael Jordan! Let’s go! Oh, yeah.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I’ve got a lot of them. I find different inspirations from different people and different walks of life. Specifically to basketball, Michael Jordan, great inspiration. Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell. There’s a player by the name of Bill Russell, he played for the Celtics back in the '80s. He won 11 championships. And his personality, his look, his presence.

Out of all the countries in the world where you have traveled, what is your favorite one?

All of the places I’ve traveled, as a country, Italy is my favorite country. I’ve spent a lot of time growing up there. So that’s my favorite place to go. And in terms of my favorite city, Florence is my favorite city.

When was the last time you were able to go out with people recognizing you and you could just be yourself?

Well, I’m myself all the time. I think that’s really important. When we go out of the country we’ll take family vacations to places where they just don’t watch basketball. And then I get looked at as being extremely calm.

What is your favorite sport other than basketball?

Soccer. I actually love it. I enjoy watching soccer more than I like watching basketball on television. That’s a beautiful, beautiful game. So if you watch, the way I teach the game of basketball. You can learn a lot by watching soccer. I try to spotlight the ball moves, and that’s how I teach my girls how to play. I put together the videos and I have my girls who play basketball watch how soccer players move the ball. Soccer is my favorite by far.

When you played, did you hear like the crowds?

I hear them. I hear them, boos and chants. You can yell all you want. It’s all about you and the ball!

What was your greatest challenge from an injury? 

I tore my Achilles a few years back. And that was like an injury that supposedly ends your career. People were already saying I was too old. I’m losing it. Now you have an Achilles injury that will kill your game. That was the biggest challenge coming back from.

If you could switch places with another famous person, who would you switch with?

Oprah Winfrey has it pretty good. Recently spent some time with her. She seems like she’s got life pretty figured out. Very calm and tranquil.

Did the numbers on your uniform have any special meaning?

The first one, I wouldn’t say was a special meaning, but when I was in high school I wore No. 33. When I came to the Los Angeles Lakers, I couldn’t wear No. 33, because there was an all-time great player named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who wore No. 33. It was like, OK, that’s out. So I had to find another number. And I played at a high school All-American camp. And these camps were like 500 kids. The numbers could run from 2 to 251. And my number for that camp was 143. And after that league is when I became the No. 1 player in the country. So when I came to the Lakers I just combined the 1, the 4 and the 3, and that’s how I became 8. And as far as 24, that symbolizes every single day. Can’t waste a single day. Get better every day. And that was like a reminder for me.

Christina Buttigieg's sixth-grade class, The De La Salle School, Freeport.

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