Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates after scoring a basket during a game… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
Even with hobbling injuries and heavy basketball mileage, Kobe Bryant's often joked he'd be happy serving no more than a utility role for the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
"I'll just be Mariano Rivera," Bryant's frequently said, referring to the New York Yankees' dependable but aging closer.
With how well Bryant has played this season, that's probably unnecessary. Bryant's maintained a league-leading average of 28.1 points, despite initially sustaining a torn ligament in his right wrist and later fighting through a sore neck stemming from a concussion sustained during the All-Star game. After having an innovative procedure in Germany on both his surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle, it no longer appears those previoiusly significant injuries limit him. Despite playing in his 16th season, Bryant has averaged 38.1 minutes a game, fourth highest in the league.
Simply put, USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo envisions Bryant maintaining his dominance in the 2012 London Olympics.
"He's not changing," Colangelo said Friday at Annenberg Community Beach in Santa Monica during a USA Basketball event hosted by Jeep. "He's one of the top two or three guys we've ever seen who loves to compete. If he's capable, he's going to be there. He's not going to change his game."
Yet, both Colangelo and U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski have touted Bryant as a model player willing to adapt to any role with the 2008 Beijing team. There, Bryant largely took ownership on defense, while still averaging 15 points on 60.8% shooting. Colangelo vividly recalled Bryant spending practices diving for loose balls while arriving early and staying late during weight-lifting and film sessions.
Bryant is in the latter part of his career and his contract will expire with the Lakers after the 2013-14 season. Yet, convincing Bryant to play in the Olympics hardly took much work from USA Basketball officials. It remains tantilizing for Bryant to add another Olympic gold medal to an already storied career that includes five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, fifth place and rising on the NBA's all-time scoring list and one Olympic gold medal.
"He made it very clear he wants to participate," Colangelo said. "If he has anything left in him, he's playing. That's how he wants to compete."
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