Despite difficult season with LA Lakers, basketball superstar still hopes to win third consecutive gold medal before retiring
He announced his retirement from basketball last month with a poem expressing his love of the sport. But although he is one of the greatest players of all time, it appears Kobe Bryant’s star is waning in his 20th and final season, all spent with the LA Lakers. However, the two-time Olympic champion is not letting go of one final dream: to end his career at the Rio 2016 Games
Bryant, who will turn 38 two days after the gold medal match on 21 August at Carioca Arena 1, first confirmed he wanted to play in Rio – where he would be among a select group of USA players (along with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony) going for a third consecutive gold medal – in November.
But his Lakers team is suffering this season; their win-loss record of 4-23 is the second-worst in the NBA. Although this could be advantageous for Bryant’s chances of being selected for the Olympic team (as the Lakers are unlikely to feature in the end-of-season play-offs), the five-time NBA champion is also having a hard time.
Inhibited by injuries in recent seasons, Bryant is currently suffering with a sore right shoulder, and his performances have not been up the standard his fans have grown accustomed to during his stellar career. The forward-guard, the league’s third-highest scorer of all time, is averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game this season, compared with career averages of 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
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Perhaps mindful of this fact, he was not initially keen to talk up his chances of being selected for the Olympic team during an international teleconference with reporters, from New York on Monday (21 December) night. However, he did admit that it would be a magical ending to his playing days. “Being a part of the Olympics is such a beautiful experience,” Bryant said. “I grew up overseas, I grew up in Italy (where his father played professionally), and to be able to see how basketball became such an international sport first-hand… it would be a beautiful thing for me personally to be able to finish my career on the international stage. But we’ll see how everything goes.”
There had been speculation that Bryant would seek to continue his career in Europe, with an offer from Italian club Viola Reggio Calabria, where his father Joe played, have reportedly been made. But Bryant junior quashed that idea, saying: “I would have loved to have played overseas but it’s not going to happen. My body won't let me.”
During Monday’s interview, Bryant also revealed the top five players he has competed against: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Clyde Drexler.
The USA became the first team to qualify for Rio 2016 when they won last year’s FIBA World Cup. They have since been joined by Australia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Argentina, Spain, Lithuania and China on the list of qualified teams, while Brazil has its place guaranteed as host nation.