WASHINGTON: Kobe Bryant says he’s not pushing to play on the US Olympic team in Rio, but the retiring Los Angeles Lakers guard said Monday it would make a “beautiful” ending to his 20-year career.
The 37-year-old American guard, a five-time NBA champion and gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, announced last month this would be his final NBA campaign after a historic career.
After battling nagging injuries for years, Bryant is fit but the Lakers are in a rebuilding mode and at 4-23 have the second-worst record in the NBA.
Missing the playoffs could leave Bryant rested and in form to become the first man in Olympic history to win three basketball gold medals, should he earn a spot on the two-time defending champion American squad.
“It’s not something I’m absolutely pressing for but being part of the Olympic experience is a beautiful thing,” Bryant said.
“It would be a beautiful thing to finish my career playing internationally. But that being said we will see how it goes.”
LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams would also have the chance for an unprecedented men’s Olympic hat-trick at Rio, but for Bryant it would be a golden farewell.
“I try to look at my legacy as much as how do I impact the future, not where do I rank among the best players all time,” Bryant said when asked where he fell among NBA icons.
“It’s a moot point and for me it’s pretty much of a shallow argument. It’s how do I impact the generation of players coming in by what I have done. I think it has impacted the generation coiming in a big way and they will pass that along to the next generation to come.”
Bryant, a 17-time NBA All-Star, was speaking ahead of his record-setting 16th career appearance in a Christmas NBA matchup, his Lakers hosting the rival Los Angeles Clippers on December 25. He is the all-time leader in scoring for games on the holiday.
Bryant has been nagged by injuries in recent seasons and is struggling with a sore right shoulder. He is averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game this season for the Lakers, with career averages of 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals a game.
“I would have loved to have played overseas but it’s not going to happen. Body won’t let me,” Bryant admitted.
“My body has been through a lot. And it’s very easy to forget I haven’t played because of it. My timing is off, my rhythm is off. It was about me continuing my training and believing my timing will come back and that’s what happened.”
Bryant said he expects the megastar trend of the NBA to continue in the wake of Michael Jordan, LeBron James and himself, saying, “I think there’s going to be a player in the next 10 years that’s going to rise above it all.”
Rising Australian star
As bad as this season is going, the Lakers could be in position for the top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, and that could be Australian forward Ben Simmons, who is averaging 18.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game this season as a freshman at Louisiana State University.
“He’s a tremendous player. He has got a lot of potential,” Bryant said of Simmons.
But Bryant warned that the Lakers carry a history of success that must be respected by those who would join them.
“It’s not about handing over the keys,” Bryant said. “For the players that are here, winning championships is the only goal. That’s the attitude.”
Bryant, who spent some of his youth in Italy, said he plans to be a global ambassador for the sport, naming Singapore and Africa as two of his planned destinations.
“I definitely plan on helping the game spread and helping kids all around the world understand all that surrounds the game and its potential,” Bryant said. “I look forward to visiting places like Africa and teaching the game.”