Brian McKnight talks with Jason Riley

Listen to Jason Riley’s full interview with Brian McKnight:

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Brian McKnight sits down with's Jason Riley.
Brian McKnight sits down with’s Jason Riley.

I don’t like to talk about how old (or young) I am.

For those that care (probably none of you), I’m younger than Channing Tatum, older than Ryan Gosling, but unfortunately look like neither of them.

Now that I’ve dated myself, it won’t sound so surprising that I can still remember when my buddy enthusiastically handed me a bright orange CD as I was leaving a house party back in high school.

“Just listen to it”, he commanded.

I jumped in my ’91 Mustang 5.0, slid the CD into my newly installed player, and the next 48 minutes forever shaped my musical taste. Even 15 years later, Anytime still ranks as my all-time favorite album.

For this reason alone, I jumped at the opportunity to sit down with Brian McKnight and chat about his latest album – More than Words – which hit stores a little more than a month ago.

For all of our efforts to stay on point and talk music, we couldn’t avoid the bunny trail of sports – and more specifically, the Lakers.

That may seem surprising if you don’t know Brian’s story. His life has been the perfect embodiment of the musician who wants to be an athlete – only his greatest success started on the opposite end of that statement.

What many don’t know about the 6’5” McKnight is that he almost played in the NBA. Ironically enough, it was the derailment of his professional sports dream that ultimately paved the way for Anytime, the album that launched him into mainstream stardom in the late 1990’s.

“I still think that (being) a professional athlete is the best job on earth. Do you know what I would do for a 10-day contract? I would kill myself just for a 10 day.”

Even after almost two decades of success in the highly competitive music industry, Brian still wonders about that NBA career that never materialized.

“I think if I was to go back and do it again, I would have probably gone after my hoop dreams because I would still have been writing music, which I’ve been doing since I was 15.”

McKnight spends the majority of his time on the road, playing to mostly sold-out venues, but he lives and records in Los Angeles and keeps a close eye on all the ensuing drama in Laker Nation.

“Injuries have played a huge part. I’m sure that Dwight didn’t come back at the 100% level we would have all wanted him to come back at. I don’t think anyone wants to be the kind of person that relies on an excuse. If you’re playing, you’re playing. Period.”

When Brian talks about the Lakers, he comes across as an educated fan. When he talks about Lakers star Kobe Bryant, it’s a little bit more personal.

Brian McKnight's latest album, More than Words.
Brian McKnight’s latest album, More than Words.

Back in ’98, during Kobe’s short-lived music career, Brian worked with Bryant on the song Hold Me. They have remained friends through the years, and McKnight reflected back on his observations of a pre-superstar Kobe Bryant:

“He was very interesting. I don’t even know if you could get a sense of who he was at the time. He was so young. He wasn’t starting just yet, but you already saw flashes of what he was about to become.”

And become is exactly what both Kobe Bryant and Brian McKnight have done since working together.

While Bryant’s successes have been well documented, you can make the argument that McKnight’s have been equally impressive.

Since Anytime topped the R&B charts in the late 1990’s, he has racked up 16 Grammy nominations, sold over 20 million albums, and maybe most impressively, mastered 8 instruments.

While he continues to perfect his craft on the stage and in the studio, he fully expects Kobe to do the same on the court next season.

“You know Kobe Bryant like I do. He wants to prove to everybody that he can come back and be better than ever.

I think we’re going to see that when he comes back, he’s going to be, if not exactly the same player, very, very close to the same player, just because of his sheer determination.”

I found it interesting that he spoke of sheer determination, because in my experience, that seems to be the most discernible trait in highly successful people. Whether it’s Kobe shooting jumpers in the middle of the night, or Brian mastering a new instrument in the darkness of an empty studio, success is almost always the bi-product of hard work.

“I don’t think anybody’s better than anybody at anything, it’s that some people just work harder at something than other people.”

There’s really little question that Kobe’s work ethic will have him back on the court next season, and if I had to take a guess, More than Words won’t be the last studio album we’ll see from Brian McKnight.

Unless, of course, there’s an NBA team looking for a 43-year old, 6’5” shooting guard…


Listen to Jason Riley’s full interview with Brian McKnight:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.