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.”

MORE BASKETBALL: Nine teams already qualified for Rio Olympics

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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