Now that he’s retired from the NBA, Kobe Bryant is making the big jump from an athlete with five championship rings and a pair of Olympic gold medals to a businessman who cold-calls potential partners. While he continues flexing his influence in the sports world with a Nike endorsement, he’s building a media company called Kobe Inc. to create books, TV shows and films that will inspire kids. Certainly, he has two trusted advisers: his 10- and 13-year-old daughters. Before his dinner with Hublot on Wednesday to celebrate the launch of a limited-edition watch named after his HeroVillain philosophy, which embraces both the positive and the negative in life, he talked to WWD about having an editor’s eye and finding “casual tailored” looks for his new career.
WWD: Have you always been a big accessories fan or watch fan?
Kobe Bryant: I wouldn’t classify myself as a huge watch fan. When the opportunity came around to work with Hublot, the thing that really drew me was how different they were approaching the business. They came at it from a different angle. I appreciate that sort of courage to be able to do those sorts of things. That’s where the bonding came in. I, too, was trying to approach my industry from a different lens. So that’s where the connection came.
WWD: When did you first become interested in watches?
K.B.: The first time I ever bought a watch was a Rolex watch. When I first moved out to L.A., it was the big thing. It was my first year. I was 17 years old. I bought myself my first Rolex. Now, it’s kind of crazy to think that a basketball has given me the opportunity to actually be able to have my own watch. Those are things you don’t think about as a kid. You just think about playing the game. And here we are.
WWD: Now that you’ve retired, how are you going to build your personal brand?
K.B.: I’m moving away from building my personal brand. I’m not focused on that. My personal brand is the relationship I have with Nike and what we’ve been able to build, which is based on innovation. And that’s never going to change. We’re going to continue to create innovative products for athletes. In terms of where I go, it’s time for me to transition. What comes next must be able to stand on its own two feet. I’m the one that’s pushing it. It’s going to be my standards. I’m going to be building a team, having a creative vision, but it’s on me to go and find the right people in this world and give them the ability to create timeless stories and to be able to share them with the world.
WWD: What’s your company?
K.B.: We are absolutely obsessive about publishing and producing. We have one clear focus. It’s the focus of storytelling in a world that I’ve built. All those stories emanate from that.
WWD: Is it a media company then?
K.B.: I guess you could say everything is a media company nowadays, you know what I mean? It’s very tough to separate the publishing industry from the film industry in terms of where it’s going. It’s all essentially one house, which is why we put it under one roof, which is Kobe Inc. We don’t separate publishing, film or TV. It’s all mixed media now.
WWD: Is there a role for fashion or beauty in Kobe Inc.?
K.B.: Not really. It’s more of a focus on sports and the world of sports and how to infuse that with fantasy and mythology for children really to digest and learn from.
WWD: In terms of your own style, how would you say your personal and professional growth has affected your style? Are you going to wear more suits now that you’re a businessman?
K.B.: That’s where the fashion piece comes in because I’m not really big on wearing suits all the time. Now the challenge is for me to find a happy medium between the comfort I was used to and the business attire that the industry I’m going into is used to. It has to be some gray area in the middle that I’m comfortable wearing and showing up in meetings and speaking at conferences. (Laughs)
WWD: Casual tailored, they call it.
K.B.: Casual tailored. I’m moving there.
WWD: Are you going to be designing and making your own line?
K.B.: I don’t have that talent. I don’t have that eye. My wife [Vanessa Bryant] has a much better eye for fashion and design than I do. I know generally what I want to feel like or look like. Then it’s on somebody to actually put it together.
WWD: Do your daughters give you style tips?
K.B.: They have a really arty brain. They’re great painters, they can draw, they’re brilliant writers. They can see things. They can understand how one piece goes with that or they can put those puzzles together. They definitely get that from their mother. So, yeah, I get style tips from them all the time.
WWD: What do they tell you to do or not to do?
K.B.: Ties, jeans, cuts. How to accessorize.
WWD: Do you think they’ll work with you at Kobe Inc., since they’re artistic?
K.B.: They do now. They’ll draw. They’ll sit in meetings with me. They’ll ask questions: “What about this? Maybe this story should do that.” Children have such a beautiful imagination that hasn’t been beaten down by society and the realities of the world. Their mind can just go. The imagination is endless. For us, as adults, hopefully we never lose that. They’ll sit in those meetings and they’ll come up with beautiful stories.
WWD: The NBA draft lottery is coming up. Do you have any tips for rookies in the NBA?
K.B.: What I always tell them is, “Put the game first always. Always.” Because when you come into the NBA, you have different responsibilities and events. People pulling you in different directions. They have to understand that the game is first. You can not compromise that ever. If you stay true to that, you will be just fine.
WWD: Is that advice you can apply to real life, too, for people who aren’t pro athletes?
K.B.: Well, yes, because life is about editing.
K.B.: For me it is. Because you have to be able to know what your goal is. For a young kid coming up who says, “OK. I want to be a great basketball player.” That is your goal. Now it makes it very easy to edit out all the other noise. If it’s not helping you get in that direction, cut it out. It’s the same thing for you. It’s the same thing for me. If I want to be a great storyteller and build this business, I know exactly which direction I want to go into. Everything else, I just tune out. Edit.
WWD: How has the transition been to the business world?
K.B.: I love cold-calling people and picking their brain and asking questions.
WWD: Do they think it’s a joke when you cold-call them?
K.B.: Not anymore. I think they all kind of know now. I’ve established relationships with some really, really brilliant minds. To have the opportunity to pick up the phone and send them a story and say, “Tell me what you think about this. What would you add? Don’t tell me anything good. Nothing good. You’re not allowed. If you think it’s good and you can’t say anything bad, don’t say anything at all.” I only want to hear the bad stuff.