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Usain Bolt on Kobe Bryant, fatherhood and Tyreek Hill’s Olympic outlook

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MIAMI — The world’s fastest man sauntered into the back room of a Miami art studio that had been converted into a Gatorade pop-up for Super Bowl weekend.

He opened a bottle of Bolt24, Gatorade’s new off-the-field drink for the 24/7 athlete, an endorsement Usain Bolt takes literally.

“Last night I went to bed at, maybe, like 5 [a.m.],” he said the Saturday morning before Super Bowl Sunday, adding that outside of his native Jamaica, he believes the party scene in Miami is second only to London.

Bolt fully reclined and rested his legs in a NormaTec compression therapy device while spending the next 20 minutes discussing a wide range of topics with NBC Sports.

The retired sprinter recently announced he is going to be a father in a social post.

He does not know the gender of his child yet and declined to reveal the due date.

“I’m excited, but I’m nervous,” said the 33-year-old. “I’ve always been a fun guy, I’ve always been that person. But should I be that person and make my girlfriend [Kasi Bennett] be the bad guy? Those are the questions I’m asking, so we’ll see what happens.”

Bolt, who has two siblings and eventually wants three children, will not encourage his offspring to pursue sprinting.

“That’s going to be hard for my kid,” he said. “If they want to do it, I’m fine with it. But initially I’m going to say don’t do it, ’cause I know the pressure that will come along with it.”

Bolt has always wanted to have a son to follow in his footsteps. But after watching ESPN anchor Elle Duncan deliver an emotional tribute about Kobe Bryant’s pride in being a #GirlDad, Bolt is now hoping for a daughter.

“I could see in his eyes how much he loved his girls,” Bolt said. “I would love to have that feeling.”

Bryant’s untimely death hit Bolt hard. Bolt was driving when he heard the news and immediately pulled over. He completely stopped checking social media. He tried to watch the Lakers’ tribute, but changed the channel after five minutes because he teared up.

Bolt had at least three significant interactions with Bryant. During an NBA All-Star Weekend, Bryant paused a conversation with Bolt to fetch his daughters for sprinting advice and a photo.

Bolt believed he competed with Kobe’s Mamba Mentality.

“I wouldn’t say I was dedicated as Kobe,” Bolt said, “but when I competed, I went out there no matter what was going on and was focused.”

Being in Miami, the conversation eventually turned to football.

Bolt laughed when asked about Tyreek Hill, the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver who said he is serious about trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic track and field team. Hill, who reached the top in-game speed of any NFL player in 2019, was a world-class sprinter in high school but is seven years removed from his track days.

“No, there’s no chance,” Bolt said, pointing out that Hill would have to run the 200m three times over three days at June’s U.S. Olympic Trials. “A lot of people think it’s about one-off runs, but it’s rounds that really show who you are and the amount of work you do. So I think no, he wouldn’t make the team.”

Bolt, a longtime Packers fan, reiterated he would try out for the team as a wide receiver if Aaron Rodgers called.

“I think my hands are good,” he said, “and I know I’ve got the speed.”

But Bolt, who had a brief professional soccer career, would not listen if the MLS or another soccer league called.

“I think I’m past the soccer stage,” he said. “I tried it, and it was OK, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”

Bolt still follows track closely.

He said it was “nerve-racking” watching the 2019 World Championships as the Jamaican men failed to earn a 100m or 200m medal for the first time since 2003.

“I actually missed it,” he admitted. “I was like, ‘Aw crap, did I do the right thing? Did I retire too soon?’”

But he has no regrets about retiring in 2017.

“You question yourself,” he said, “but I know I made the right decision.”

Bolt wonders why the Jamaican men stopped dominating the sprints since he retired.

“Hey, if you know, tell me,” he said. “But the girls are doing awesome, so that’s a good thing.”

Bolt will be in Tokyo during the Olympics. He has had conversations with television networks, but has not committed. He is excited to go to an Olympics as a fan, and hopes to experience swimming and an Argentina soccer match, in addition to track.

Bolt predicted a U.S. sprinter will win the Olympic men’s 100m title for the first time since 2004.

“From my standpoint right now, Christian Coleman has got the Olympics won already,” Bolt said. “He’s fearless. He’s really fearless.”

Yet Bolt has learned to never overlook Justin Gatlin, who finished second to Coleman at the 2019 World Championships but will be 38 in Tokyo.

“My greatest competitor was Justin Gatlin,” Bolt said. “For the last five years of my career, he kept me on my toes, and I will always respect him for that.”

Bolt was less confident predicting the Olympic 200m champion.

“I think [reigning 200m world champion Noah Lyles] could be beaten,” Bolt said. “In a one-off run, no. But through the rounds, he kind of didn’t impress me as much.”

Since he will be in Tokyo, Bolt was asked whether he could — hypothetically — lace up racing spikes and advance out of a heat to an Olympic semifinal in the 100m or 200m.

“For sure, no problem,” he said without hesitation. “In both.”

Does he still have enough speed to advance from an Olympic semifinal to a final?

“I think over 200m, I could make it to the final as the last, last guy,” Bolt predicted. “But in the 100m, I don’t think so.”

Both scenarios are purely hypothetical, since the deadline to unretire for a 2020 Olympic bid has passed. Retired stars like Bolt must re-enter the drug-testing pool six months before they are allowed to compete. Track’s international governing body confirmed that Bolt has not done so.

Since Bolt is happily retired from Olympic competition, how does he want to be remembered?

“I want to be remembered as one of the greats,” he said. “My only goal in track and field was to be among the greatest in the world. The Kobe Bryants, the Muhammad Alis, the Peles, the Maradonas. That’s how I want to be remembered. That’s the work I put in. I want to be remembered as one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live.”

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MORE: Bolt, Phelps lead dominant Summer Olympians of 2010s

 

Kobe Bryant embraced the Olympics, on and off the court

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Kobe Bryant developed a special relationship with Team USA, international basketball and the Olympic Games themselves.

Bryant was among those who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. Grief spread worldwide, showing the impact he had across international sport. Images of Bryant meeting Olympians from gymnastics, swimming, track and field, even Alpine skiing, some from him attending their competitions, dotted social media.

Bryant earned gold medals as a leader of the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball teams. He said before debuting at the Games that he valued a gold medal above an NBA championship.

In 2008, he helped spur the Redeem Team to gold in Beijing. He sat down with NBC Sports’ Cris Collinsworth for an interview, describing what it meant to him to receive the USA jersey for the first time.

“I had goosebumps, and I actually just looked at it for a while,” said Bryant, who put off surgery on a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger to play in 2008. “I just held it there, and I laid it across my bed. I just stared at it for a few minutes. Just because, as a kid growing up, this is the ultimate, ultimate in basketball.”

Bryant’s first Olympic game came in a special environment — in Beijing against China.

“When I look up in the crowd, and I see all the USA flags waving and people chanting USA, it gives you goosebumps,” he said. “When I heard the national anthem, I teared up a little bit, and I had to gather myself.”

Bryant stayed close to the Olympic Movement in retirement.

He attended the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for women’s gymnastics, meeting the team members. He appeared at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle Awards, helping raise money for the national governing body’s foundation. He was the final voice in the Los Angeles Olympic bid presentation to the IOC two years ago.

Bryant’s last words in that video, before the IOC later awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles: “To have the Olympics here, and to have so many different cultures represented, would be a beautiful story to tell.”

Kobe Bryant: The 1992 Dream Team days are over

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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.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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