When the clock hit 0:00, and the scoreboard read United States 107 Spain 100, it marked the end of an Olympic career for a player who has had one of the greatest NBA careers ever, Kobe Bryant. Although Bryant has had an astonishing NBA career, and cemented himself as one of the top 10 players all-time, he has not exactly had a great Olympic career. Bryant has never really dominated in international play, partly because he has never needed to, and because he was never really asked to.
When you play on a team that consists of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and other NBA superstars there is no real reason for a player who, at the age of 33, is on the decline of his career, to exert energy that could be better used while chasing an elusive 6th NBA title. And for anyone that has ever watched, listened, or paid any attention to Kobe they would know that winning championships is really the only thing that matters to him. Kobe gave a great example of this last season when, in the last game of the season against the Sacramento Kings, Kobe had the chance to win the NBA scoring title, instead, though he decided to sit the game out, in favor of rest for the start of the NBA playoffs.
So how is it that a player who, throughout his great career, has been labeled as selfish, a ball-hog, egotistical, and selfish can so easily give up a huge amount of power on a team? Well the answer is simple, Kobe has changed. In 2008 Kobe was the alpha-male on the “Redeem Team” that stormed it’s way to a gold medal. But four years ago Kobe was also 29, and had a lot less mileage on his legs. Still, though Kobe did not dominate games single-handedly, like he usually does for the Los Angeles Lakers, while at the Beijing Olympics. Instead he deferred to his fellow teammates, and took over games late, particularly the gold medal game against Spain, when team USA needed him most.
This time around Kobe did, or at least tried, to do the same. He started off the Olympic games poorly and found his groove, somewhat, late in an elimination game against Australia, where he hit 6 out of 10 threes while accounting for 20 points. Kobe followed that up with an ok performance against Argentina where he went 5-10 from the field for 13 points. In the gold medal game, though, where Kobe had dominated Spain late in 2008, Kobe decided to defer late to the two best players in the world, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.
Kobe had his fair share of attempts, going 5-10 from the field for 17 points, but this time around decided to defer, knowing all too well that it is now time for LeBron and Durant to assume their roles as the future of the NBA. Kobe did not force shots late, he did not demand the ball numerous times, like has done so many times, instead he chose to take what the defense gave him, which was open three’s, and an occasional open lane for him to drive. Kobe unselfishly, yes I know those two words next to each other may look weird, decided to let two better players take over games and lead the USA to a gold medal.
US head coach Mike Krzyewski had said before the game that he would need to use Bryant in a special role this Olympics, limiting his minutes, while also using him for his still exceptional defense in key situations. Bryant would not be able to get the numerous shot attempts that he gets with the Lakers, and would be relegated to a defensive stopper. Instead of being upset, Kobe accepted this role, and played it perfectly. Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro was slicing up the US defense in the first half of the gold medal game, accounting for 17 points. At halftime, though Kobe went up to coach Krzyewski and demanded to guard Navarro in the second half. Navarro finished the game with 21 points.
The next time you want to say that Kobe is selfish, a ball-hog, a jerk, egotistical, or whatever your preferred term is, make sure to say that that was the Kobe of the early 2000’s, not the late 2000’s. And if you still don’t believe me just go back and watch the 2008, and particularly, the 2012 London Olympics. Kobe is no longer the selfish, young kid he once was. Yes he did take a few bad shots, and had a few dumb turnovers, but then again who doesn’t? Before last season that was all anyone could say about LeBron James in crunch time, that his decision making was horrid. Now, not so much.
Just this past year we have watched LeBron James grow up from that guy who can’t win an NBA title to, who always choked, and wasn’t clutch, to an NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, and the most unstoppable player in the world. The one guy who a lot of people thought would never grow up did, so ask yourself why can’t Kobe? Why is it that many people still want to talk about the fact that Kobe was a key reason Shaq had to leave theLakers? Why can’t people accept the fact that Kobe did lead the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles. Why is it that many people don’t give Kobe any credit for his three championships with Shaquille O’Neal? Is there really that much hate and animosity towards this guy?