It’s true about Kobe Bryant and any superstar of the game: Show them a soft spot in your game and they’ll attack it relentlessly. Bryant has proved it not only during NBA play, but in the Olympics, as well. According to a story in Monday’s Los Angeles Times from Mark Medina, the Lakers’ star has constantly needled Spanish centerpiece Pau Gasol about the U.S. victory over Spain to win the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I’m guessing it’s in a good natured but seriously, remember when we beat you for gold? kind of way. Gasol can’t even get in a word with a Spanish teammate without Bryant dropping the hint that you know, they lost.
In the locker room, Bryant constantly reminded Gasol of Team USA’s 118-107 gold-medal win over Spain in the 2008 Olympics. Bryant brought up his four-point play with 3:10 remaining, which prompted him to hold his finger to his lips. Any time Gasol interacted with his Spanish teammates after a Lakers’ game, Bryant interrupted the conversation to remind them that Team USA would defend its gold medal.
Those conversations have continued since then. They likely won’t stop leading into the tournament’s beginning (July 29) or when the two teams could meet again in the gold medal game (Aug. 11).
“A little but nothing unexpected,” Gasol wrote in an email to The Times in regards to how much Bryant has talked trash with him. “We all know how competitive Kobe is and how bad he likes to win. But let’s see if our teams get to play each other during the tournament.”
It’s really not surprising to hear Kobe has as much pride from an international game as he apparently does. Of the five U.S. teams he had the chance to play on from 2000-06 before finally showing up in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, all but one had a legitimate reason for missing. He stayed out because of getting married (2000 Olympics), his legal case in Colorado (2004 Olympics), or surgeries (2003 and 2006 FIBA tournaments). Only in 2002 did he outright stay home from a championship, and that year so did Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan and Kevin Garnett, among others. Missing a chance to win gold, especially in an Olympic setting, just doesn’t mesh with Bryant’s legendary competitive nature so I doubt he was dodging USA Basketball’s calls all those years.
And when he did get on the teams, combined with how poorly the U.S. played in the mid-2000s, you could tell Bryant’s play wasn’t just a courtesy service to Jerry Colangelo; the dude needed to win gold or he was going to hear about it (just like how he’s needled Gasol) from the ’92 Dream Team as the one piece he missed. Against Spain in the gold medal game, Bryant dropped 13 points in the fourth quarter of the Americans’ win. He averaged 15 points per game in 2008 — third-highest on the team — which isn’t shabby considering the team played with almost too much deference and resembled a game of hot potato at times.
No one else on the Lakers’ roster is on a team Bryant will face in London. Who knows how much longer Gasol will be? Until he’s traded away, he’ll continue to hear about the Olympics if the U.S. wins again.
Can Spain beat the U.S.?
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