VIDEO: Will this be Kobe Bryant’s final year in the league?
Back in January 2014, Kobe Bryant said he had no interest in participating in the 2016 Olympics, teasing that he might head to Rio de Janeiro as a spectator to see then-teammate “Pau [Gasol] win another silver medal.”
Fast-forward 22 months, though, and Bryant’s tune has changed. Reflecting perhaps a newfound sense of basketball mortality, the Los Angeles Lakers star told the Associated Press in Miami Monday that he very much would welcome a roster spot on Team USA. It would, in theory, give Bryant a chance to end his playing career on a high note that, after five NBA championships and two previous Olympic gold medals, he isn’t likely to get with the Lakers anymore.
The idea of Bryant adding Rio to his Olympic tours in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 was revived over the summer in a conversation he had with Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball. Bryant, so limited the past couple seasons by injuries, was given a pass from Team USA’s Las Vegas mini-camp in August.
Still, Colangelo indicated he would keep a spot warm for Bryant and told reporters: “He also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.’ ”
The idea of Kobe getting not just a gold watch on his way out the door but a gold medal with a heavily favored Team USA generated strong opinions, pro and con, in August. But seeing and listening to Bryant in the early days of a 2015-16 NBA season that might wind up being his last may have softened some of the critics. Based on his comments about joining the league’s other stars for a final go-around, it sounds like this all has softened him as well:
”It would mean the world to me to be around those guys,” Bryant said in an interview with The Associated Press. ”I think to be able to have a chance to continue the relationship that I already have with most of those guys, talking and just kind of being around each other and understanding that this is it, it’s just us being together, that would be fun.”
Bryant is in his 20th season with the Lakers, and questions have been rampant for some time whether this NBA year will be his last. Bryant has suggested that he’s leaning in that direction, though has stopped short of making a true retirement announcement.
The 12 players on the list for Rio is expected to be revealed in June.
”How I feel now is that I feel like I can add value from a leadership perspective and a defensive perspective,” Bryant said. ”I can still move extremely well defensively.”
Bryant will turn 38 two days after the gold-medal game in Rio. He has been on five different USA Basketball national teams, with those teams combining to go 36-0 in international competition. If he is picked for Rio, he and other veterans like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony would have a chance at becoming the first U.S. men to win Olympic basketball gold three times.
”I would like to play,” Bryant said. ”I think it’d be awesome. A beautiful experience. I’m a global kid. I grew up in Italy, I know a lot of athletes from different parts of the world, from different sports. It’d be great to play in that environment.”