Kobe Bryant won’t play in Rio Olympics

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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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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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