Kobe Bryant makes right decision in choosing to play in 2012 Olympics
It shouldn't be surprising that Kobe Bryant's "locked in," as he calls it, to playing in the 2012 London Olympics. But even some of his most ardent supporters are concerned that any extra basketball mileage will make him vulnerable to more injuries and fatigue.
Heck, part of the backdrop to the Lakers' 124-105 victory Tuesday over the Memphis Grizzlies involves the fact that he's one minute away from surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's franchise record for career minutes (37,492), meaning he'll break the record Wednesday night at Sacramento the moment he steps onto the court. Fast forward to August 2012, and this is where Bryant will stand: He will be 34 and, if all goes according to plan, will have seven championship rings. Whether everything these next two seasons plays out in Bryant's favor, it's not a stretch to say the Lakers will make deep playoff runs, only adding more mileage and wear and tear to Bryant's body.
"If anything, I'll just be Mariano Rivera -- come in in the last two minutes," Bryant said, referring to the New York Yankees closer.
But if his 2008 Olympic run indicated anything, Bryant's not going to simply accept and play a utility role. He was a key starter on that roster, finished third on the team in scoring with 15 points on 23.5 minutes per game and even set a good example for Coach Mike Krzyzewski in embracing team defense. It's hard to tell how Bryant's game will have changed by that point, but he made the right decision to pursue another Olympic gold medal.
"You get a chance to see and meet the greatest athletes in the world," Bryant said. "Aside from just the basketball part of it and being with a great group of guys, it's an opportunity to meet some of the best at what they do. It's great for me. I get a chance to talk to them and meet them and go to their events and watch new sports. It's just a blast."
That's the diplomat in Bryant. The real reasons include that it adds another talking point in the compare-Bryant-to-Michael Jordan conversation, plus winning a gold medal is the ultimate prize -- even more than an NBA championship. And you may recall that the idea behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joining forces together originated when the three played in Beijing.
I felt very differently about the 2010 FIBA World Championships, agreeing with Bryant's decision to sit out so he could have surgery done on his right knee and rest up after playing in three consecutive NBA Finals and the 2008 Olympics. Interestingly enough, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said before the Memphis game that Bryant playing in such a tournament was a "deterrent in his career" because "it's about maintaining your wheels out there as you play."
But this is different. It's the Olympics. Just remember Bryant's reaction when told that Lamar Odom had joked that he could brag about his FIBA gold medal to Bryant because he didn't have one.
"Like I couldn't get it if I wanted it," Bryant said at the beginning of training camp. "Not to mention three more rings, but who's counting. Oh and another Olympic gold medal too. But who's counting."
But for those whose main concern is the Lakers, just recall that similar questions arose about Bryant playing in the 2008 Olympics. Some said he should rest and have surgery on his right pinky finger so he'd be ready for the 2008-09 season. That didn't keep the Lakers from winning the title. If anything, it helped in the long run because Bryant relished the bond he'd made with teammates, and others around the league developed a deeper appreciation for Bryant's relentless work ethic.
That will be on display again in 2012, an experience that will serve both Bryant and all of his fans well.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: From left to right, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony join together after defeating Spain and winning the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times