Kobe Bryant said the U.S. men’s basketball team faces a huge challenge and dismissed any excuse of the top NBA superstars passing on the World Cup, noting that the 2008 Redeem Team had a tough final against Spain.
“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S.,” Bryant said between semifinals at the FIBA World Cup, where the U.S. lost in the quarterfinals and in the consolation round for its worst-ever tournament result. “The rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time. It’s to the point where us in the U.S. are going to win some, going to lose some. There’s just great basketball being played. Whether it’s Redeem [team] two, no matter what team it is, it’s not going to be easy.”
As for just two 2019 NBA All-Stars and one player with Olympic experience suiting up for Team USA this summer?
“I hear that a lot – did we send the best possible team that could come out here?” Bryant said. “The Redeem Team, we needed a hell of a fourth quarter to beat Spain. … Put the best players that you think are going to make the best U.S. team out on the floor – it’s still not going to be a cake walk. The days of 1992 are over.”
Bryant and the Redeem Team beat Spain 118-107 in the Beijing Olympic final, though the lead was as small as two in the fourth quarter.
The Redeem Team was a product of a USA Basketball overhaul following defeats at the 2002 World Championship and 2004 Olympics. With Mike Krzyzewski at the helm, the U.S. lost at the 2006 World Championship, taking bronze, before reeling off five straight titles between the Olympics and worlds from 2008 through 2016.
A key for the Redeem Team was the braintrust of USA Basketball making it a three-year commitment to be a member of that Beijing 2008 team (though Bryant missed 2006 Worlds due to knee surgery). By 2008, Bryant said he valued Olympic gold more than an NBA title.
Krzyzewski stepped down after Rio, where the U.S. had a pair of three-point wins after some NBA superstars decided not to play. Gregg Popovich, an assistant on those 2002 and 2004 teams that lost, succeeded him for this Olympic cycle.
Of this year’s dropouts, Bryant said, “Some of those guys haven’t had the opportunity to play for the United States, so I’m sure if their health allowed them to, they certainly would’ve been over here playing,” according to ESPN. “But a lot of those guys are coming off of serious injuries and trying to figure out how to navigate through that to get healthy again and back to 100 percent. Other guys are moving, moving to different cities and getting their families to settle in. It’s a big adjustment for families, so I certainly understand it.”
NBC Olympics senior researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report from China.
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