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Kobe Bryant says NBA has become ticky-tack league

Updated: January 20, 2014 11:25PM

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Kobe Bryant was the teenage upstart challenging Michael Jordan and not backing down. Now he’s the sage veteran longing for the good old days.

‘‘[The NBA] is more of a finesse game [now]. It’s more small ball, which I don’t really care for,’’ the injured superstar said outside the Lakers’ locker room Monday before their game against the Bulls at the United Center. ‘‘I kind of like smash-mouth, old-school basketball because that’s what I grew up watching.’’

Bryant did not hold back in opining that the physical game he remembers was better.

‘‘It’s much, much less physical,’’ he said. ‘‘Some of the flagrant fouls I see nowadays make me nauseous. You can’t touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul. I think those are some of the negatives. But there are positives, too.’’

That Bryant still is a star at 35 is one of the bright spots in the game. A perennial All-Star, future Hall of Famer and five-time NBA champion, he exudes the ‘‘love of the game’’ that made Jordan what he was.

But like Derrick Rose, whenever Bryant returns, he’ll be coming off his second major injury in the last eight months. In April, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon two games before the end of the regular season. He returned in November and played six games before suffering a fractured knee.

Bryant has played 54,208 minutes in 18 NBA seasons.

Any doubt you’ll be the same, Kobe?

‘‘Zero. Zero,’’ he said. ‘‘There was [doubt] before I came back the first time because I didn’t know how my Achilles would respond to playing — changing directions. The game in Memphis had a pretty good feel to it. I felt like I was getting back to being able to do what I normally can do.’’

Bryant averaged 13.8 points in the six games he played but scored 21 against the Grizzlies on Dec. 17, when be suffered the fractured knee.

‘‘I feel pretty confident about it,’’ he said. ‘‘I did play the second half [against the Grizzlies] with a fractured leg and torn Achilles and played pretty well, so I feel pretty good about my chances.’’

Though he has been a prolific scorer, Bryant takes pride in being a defensive player. That’s why he liked the more physical game of his youth better.

‘‘If you enjoy playing defense, that’s what you want,’’ he said. ‘‘Nowadays, literally anybody can get to the basket because you can’t touch anybody.

‘‘Back then, you had [defenders] put their hand on you, and you had to have the skill to go both ways, change directions, post up. You had to have a mid-range game because you didn’t want to go to the basket because you’d get knocked ass over teakettle. Playing the game back then required much more skill.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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