BEIJING // Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers guard, is finding it hard to take it easy in the NBA off-season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee recently. The two-time NBA Finals MVP made a fourth trip to China in as many years this week to meet fans in the basketball-crazy nation, where he sells more shirts than Yao Ming, the country's own basketball sensation who plies his trade in the NBA for the Houston Rockets.
"The hardest thing for me to do is to do nothing," he told the China Daily newspaper in an interview published on Monday. "I have always got to be working and pushing myself. This summer the best training for me is really to do nothing. "The body needs rest and the injury has to heal. You have to recharge your body and get ready for next season. So in lots of ways, this is the hardest training for me."
Bryant started his five-city tour of China with an audience with 1,600 basketball fans in Beijing late on Monday. A thousand more waited outside the theatre in sweltering heat just hoping for a glimpse of their hero. Despite having surgery on the same knee for the third time after operations in 2003 and 2006, he assured the raucous audience he would be fit for his bid for a sixth NBA title with the Lakers this coming season.
"Another NBA championship ring next season is the biggest motivation for me," he said. "It's the same for us every year. We will not change much. We have the unity and the majority of the team is the same. So, it's the same goal for us every year." Although retirement is still a long way away for the 31-year-old guard, Bryant has clearly given thought as to what he does not want to do when his playing days are over: coach.
"No. Absolutely not. No, no, no," he said. "Being a coach is too frustrating for me. I like coaching kids and holding training clinics for the kids. But to be a coach from the regular season to the play-offs ... I have no interest at all." Also in China, Ming, the Houston Rockets centre, is pondering quitting the sport if he does not fully recover from his lingering foot injury next season. In wide-ranging comments to Chinese state media, Ming sounded far from optimistic about his future and also made a rare criticism of China's national basketball programme.
"If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits," Yao said. Ming who turns 30 in September, missed last season following foot surgery, but is set to return to the Rockets after deciding not to opt out of the final year of his contract. Though he has said his recovery was going well, the Rockets have signed Brad Miller, a seven-foot veteran, to share the work at centre with the 7ft 6ins Ming, who was in his native China for a series of charity events.
Meanwhile, the post-Lebron James era is underway in Cleveland as the Cavaliers landed Ramon Sessions, the point guard, and Ryan Hollins, the forward, in a four-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Cavaliers, who also get Minnesota's second round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, traded point guards Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair to the Timberwolves. "In Ramon, we're excited to add a young, multi-dimensional guard, and with Ryan, we're adding a young, athletic centre," said Chris Grant, the Cavaliers' general manager, in a statement.
James, the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, is joining fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat next season. * Reuters