LAS VEGAS -- The game is the same, as is the goal: win it all and bring home a gold medal from the Beijing Summer Games. Kobe Bryant sat down with The Times on Sunday to talk about Team USA before departing for New York, where he and his U.S. teammates -- including Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- will be formally introduced during a promotional tour.
Question: On a team full of stars on their respective teams, how does each find his individual role?
Answer: It's actually pretty easy. It's not necessarily about roles or what have you. It's just playing basketball. A lot of philosophies that we play with on the Lakers is the same thing we do here. Just hit the open man when you have the opportunity, make it quick. If not, you just move the ball and try to get an open shot.
Q: Is it up to each player to find his own role?
A: Everybody's offensively talented, so whatever situation you find yourself in, you can make something out of it. So it's just about, if you're open and you have the opportunity, you take advantage of it. We all have well-rounded offensive games where we can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
Q: What did it mean to you when Coach Mike Krzyzewski at the start of Saturday's practice played the video of Marvin Gaye performing the national anthem?
A: I had seen it many times before, being in L.A., because that's where it took place. I had seen it time and time before, but to see it in that context, as far as us using it as our song, it put it in a little bit of a different light because you have more of an appreciation and it hit home a little bit more.
Q: Is there any concern that Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic is the only true center on the team?
A: The European game is a little different. What we're trying to do here is use our strengths to our advantage, which are size, speed. We're one of those teams, when you look at Dwight and Chris Bosh, even though they're big, they have the mobility of a guard at 6-2. So, we're trying to use that to our advantage as much as we can.
Q: How does international play differ from that in the NBA?
A: I think the NBA is actually a little less physical than international basketball. I think the international basketball rules and what they have, it's what the NBA used to be in the '80s, in terms of being able to hand-check and set screens and roll with the guard under, real physical in the paint. It's a much more physical game.
Q: Did you watch the Athens Games in 2004?
A: I didn't watch all of them, but I watched a couple of them.
Q: What was going through your mind when you saw the USA walk away with only bronze?
A: I saw it coming, to be honest with you. Teams internationally have just been getting better. Since '92 and '96, after that, teams have been getting better. They've had a chance to play against us and see what we do and how we train and how we work. They go home and work on that stuff and come back and they're better ballplayers. So now you have an even playing field where those players over there aren't looking at us and being intimidated by us. They feel like they can compete with us and should beat us.
Q: After watching what happened in Athens, did it motivate you to play this year?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. You're dealing with national pride. You never want to see the United States lose at anything. Water polo, soccer, whatever it is. You don't want the United States to lose ever. And in this case, even more so, because it's basketball and it's what I do.
Q: If they had won gold four years ago, would you still have been so eager to play this year?
A: I've been itching to play for our country for quite some time. Because like I said, this is what I do. I play basketball. And this is an opportunity for me to represent my country and show the appreciation that I have for everything this country is.
Q: What does it mean for you to actually play in these Olympics?
A: It's beyond words because whether it's playing for the Lakers or Carmelo [Anthony] playing for the Denver Nuggets, you're representing your market. When you put on the USA uniform, you're representing the country and it's more special. It's something I take a great deal of pride in.
Q: Who brings the most fun to this team?
A: All the guys are pretty funny. We've got a pretty funny squad. From LeBron to [Dwyane Wade] to [Carmelo Anthony] to myself to Jason [Kidd]. We've got a group of personalities that are pretty entertaining.
Q: Is the exhibition season, which starts in Macao, too lengthy? [The team has four exhibitions in China beginning July 31. Its first Olympic game is Aug. 10.]
A: It gives us a chance to get some rhythm, before the actual competition starts. It gives us a chance to get out there and compete, deal with teams throwing their best at us. It's bit of a dress rehearsal.
Q: You are the only player on this team who made it to this year's NBA Finals. Any worries of fatigue?
A: No, no, no, no. I've been around for 12 years. They should know that my training regimen is something that I take very seriously. I know when to push it, I know how to maintain it and I have great therapists that work with me around the clock so I know, come October I'll be ready.