Kobe Bryant’s last gold medal will be his last gold medal. His Olympic career is done. Before a road games against the Utah Jazz, Bryant said he wouldn’t play in Rio this summer as part of USA Basketball. He wouldn’t try for his third gold medal. He wouldn’t walk off the world’s stage for the last time as an Olympian.
“I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game, I’m going to retire, then that’s it. I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game be in a Lakers uniform and support the players from afar.”
That last game of Kobe Bryant’s career will be April 13th, against the Utah Jazz. They are the team that Bryant acknowledges was the most physical of all the teams he played against in his career. They are also the team that changed how he approached the game.
In 1997, the Lakers played the Jazz in an overtime playoff game. It was an elimination game for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant tossed up an airball as the last second shot. The Lakers walked off the court, defeated.
No one was more dejected than 18 year old Bryant. When the plane landed, he didn’t go home. He went straight to Palisades High School and stayed there until the next morning, working, practiing, shooting. It was the type of adversity ethic that defined his career and, also, for better or worse, defined how he judged his peers and teammates. What mattered more to him than shooting and defense was how hard his teammates were willing to work when faced with adversity. How much film did they watch? How many hours were they in the gym? How committed where they to the principle of sacrifice?
On the face of it, the only way the Olympics made sense was as a Jason Kidd figurehead type, someone playing 6-8 minutes a game. Perhaps if the injuries hadn’t cropped up this year, Kobe may have considered it. To stop playing in April and then to start all over again in July is too much for an almost 38 year old’s body that is already in revolt. Bryant has two Olympic medals. His 2008 medal was a personal triumph. The U.S. won that gold medal game because of his fourth quarter excellence. They redeemed themselves.
And so this summer, there he will be. After traveling throughout the world, Kobe Bryant and his daughters will be watching like the rest of us. His basketball life, a part of his past. His Olympics glory, a part of his past. His Lakers brilliance, a part of his past.
He gave a shout out to the younger players who will compete in Brazil.
“I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals so I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch them from afar, support from afar.”
photo via llananba