This is not a new story, but it’s always a fun one to revisit.
Former USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski — you might also know him from his work at Duke — went on “The Old Man and the Three” podcast with his former player J.J. Redick and retold the story of Kobe Bryant asking to be the defensive stopper for the 2008 Olympic team (hat tip Clutch Points).
“When we were starting to build a culture at USA basketball, and [Bryant], Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd were added. … We’re getting ready for Beijing, I’m with my staff in Vegas…and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door, two days early, and it’s Kobe. He said, ‘I want to guard the best perimeter player on every team that we play.’ Now, he’s the NBA scoring champ, he’s the best player in the league at that time. … And he knew that he would have to change a little bit and be a leader.
“And then he pauses — and, you know him and Jordan had the same eyes, they killed you with their eyes — and he leans forward and he said, ‘Coach, I promise you I’ll destroy ’em.’…
“He had this vision of moments. He knew that for us to win the gold medal we would have to beat Argentina … and he wanted to guard Ginobili. Believe me, he already had that figured out. It wasn’t just to set an example for the team. … So, we do play Argentina in the semis, and we’re beating them by 20 points and Ginobili gets hurt … and it becomes a six-point game, because now [Kobe’s] not interested anymore. That’s who he was.”
Team USA went on to beat Argentina in the semi’s and a Pau Gasol-led Spanish team in the gold medal game to put USA Basketball back on top. Besides his defense, Kobe Bryant averaged 15 points a game that Olympics (third on the team behind Dwyane Wade and LeBron James).
That story from Coach K and Bryant’s focus on defense in the 2008 Beijing Olympics are just part of the legend that is Kobe Bryant.