By Mike Bresnahan
January 5, 2013, 1:45 p.m.
The message popped up on Twitter near midnight, not long after the Lakers lost to the Clippers.
"Thoughts of self doubt...Am I done? Is this how my career will end?? I REFUSE to give in to these thoughts. #strongwill #countonchallenges"
It was from Kobe Bryant. He didn't step back from it 12 hours later while talking to reporters after the Lakers' practice Saturday.
"Everybody has it. I'm human just like everybody else," he said. "I think the way I react to it is probably a little different than anybody else. I don't feed into it. I'm able to face it. I'm able to deal with it. I'm able to roll through it."
Bryant added that he wouldn't "capitulate" to it. Nor was he worried that teammates would see his vulnerable side.
"I think it's good for them, especially for them to know I have those moments as well," said Bryant, who is under contract for one more season (and $30.5 million). "I'm sure they've had them. I don't know how they respond to them. In certain instances, maybe they let the self-doubt get the best of them. I refuse to let that happen."
The Lakers have been beyond vulnerable this season, falling to 15-17 after their 107-102 loss Friday to the Clippers.
Bryant was surprisingly calm afterward and again a day later. He even took a trip down memory lane, painful as it might have been.
It went all the way back to the breakup with Shaquille O'Neal after the 2003-04 season.
"You’re not going to find another duo like that ever," he said. "There are other duos that are better than us. [Scottie] Pippen and [Michael] Jordan. But you'll never find a duo with two dominant personalities. Myself and Shaquille, that was kind of once in a lifetime."
Why couldn't it last a lifetime? Why did it end amid discord and chaos after the Lakers lost to Detroit in five games in the 2004 NBA Finals?
"I'm amazed it went as long as it did. That just wasn’t going to last," Bryant said. "We’re both alpha males. It just wasn’t going to happen. What do you think would happen if you put Jordan with Wilt [Chamberlain]? Not going to happen."
Bryant admitted the Lakers left championships on the table after O'Neal was traded to Miami. But the breakup with O'Neal was inevitable, he said.
"The big thing for me was when he did an interview in ESPN magazine and he said that he felt like I couldn't win without him. I was fine up until that point," Bryant said. "I'd be damned if I retired and you [reporters] said I couldn't win without this guy. After that, the line was drawn in the sand."
Bryant said he deferred to O'Neal plenty of times while the Lakers won consecutive championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
"I sacrificed quite a bit in individual numbers and MVPs and NBA Finals [MVPs] and all this other stuff," Bryant said. "Phil [Jackson] used to come to us as a team and let me take over during the march to the Finals. Then in the Finals, which was mostly Eastern Conference teams that didn't have any centers, we went through Shaq. Those are things I was willing to sacrifice. And you have to have that sacrifice if that dynamic’s going to work."
Bryant wasn't willing to compare his time with O'Neal to his time so far with Dwight Howard.
"It’s not the same thing," he said. "That team it was me and Shaq and a bunch of role players who were excellent role players. Here it’s me, Dwight, Steve [Nash], Pau [Gasol]."
Meanwhile, Bryant continued to defend Gasol, who had two points and four rebounds in 27 minutes against the Clippers. Gasol would have sat out the entire fourth quarter again Friday if Howard hadn't fouled out with 1:07 to play.
"The ball should be in Steve's hands and should be in Pau's hands," Bryant said. "The ball used to be in my hands and we got Steve Nash, who's better at it than I am. He's an incredible facilitator. So is Pau. So we have the two best passers at their respective positions and they need to be the guys that have the ball the majority of the time. Myself and Dwight, we're finishers. I think that's how it should operate.
"I won two championships with [Gasol]. We won two championships playing through him, really. I know what he's capable of doing."