MIAMI (AP) – Kobe Bryant is passing the Olympic torch.
Bryant revealed Saturday that he is removing himself from consideration for a spot on the U.S. team that will compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this summer, meaning the five-time NBA champion’s retirement begins officially when his 20th and final season with the Los Angeles Lakers ends.
Bryant made the announcement in Salt Lake City before the Lakers’ game against the Utah Jazz. He has informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski of his decision.
He said it’s simply time to move on, and let someone else – the younger stars like Stephen Curry – enjoy their Olympic journey.
“Since my retirement announcement, I’m able to watch these guys in a different light,” said Bryant, a gold medalist in 2008 and 2012. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that they are the future of this game. These are the guys who deserve the spots in Rio. These are the guys who people need to watch and root for. These are the guys to show fans where this game is going in the future.”
He tipped his hand on the decision Thursday night, when he said it’s time for others to “see how many championships they can win, see how many gold medals they can win.”
On Saturday, he made his intentions completely clear.
“I’ve had my moment,” Bryant said in a pregame news conference.
The NBA’s No. 3 all-time scorer, Bryant worried that if he took a spot on the 12-man roster and then could not play because of injury – and he’s dealt with major ones in recent years – he could wind up hurting the U.S. chance at gold as well as take a spot from a younger player who possibly hasn’t been on the Olympic stage before.
When wearing the red, white and blue, Bryant’s record was perfect. He was on five different USA Basketball national teams over his career, with those teams combining for a 36-0 record in international competition. He has told Krzyzewski and Colangelo that he is willing to help the national team in unofficial ways going forward.
It just won’t be as a player.
Bryant revealed to AP in November that “it would mean the world” to him to have one more Olympic opportunity, both for the camaraderie that would have come from being teammates with other NBA stars one more time but also because he has long thought of himself as someone with a unique global perspective. He spent part of his youth in Italy, has business relationships now all over the globe and is still one of the most popular athletes worldwide.
His head and his heart wanted to go to Rio. The rest of his 37-year-old body doesn’t seem so willing to cooperate.
His shoulder is aching and there’s concern about his Achilles. He’s missed eight games already this season and entered Saturday shooting just under 35 percent – a career-worst.
“I already let Jerry and Coach K know that I physically can’t do it,” Bryant said.
His last season has been an emotional one. Fans have celebrated him on the road – they even cheered for him wildly in Boston, with Celtics fans giving the longtime Laker rival a long, warm salute – and he is almost certain to be the leading vote-getter for the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto next month.
“Kobe will inevitably go down as one of the greatest ever to play this game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday. “I think by his announcing that this is his last season in the league, there’s no doubt it’s created enormous interest in every one of his games for the remainder of this season.”
Still, the grind of a 20th NBA season – after his last two were basically destroyed by injuries – is taking a clear toll, and when the Lakers’ season ends in April it would obviously be difficult for Bryant to keep things going through the Olympics in August.
So he decided the best move would be let others carry the U.S. flag.
“I want to walk off the court that last time,” Bryant said, “as a Laker.”
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