Team USA forward Kevin Love took this picture of Kobe Bryant and James Harden… (Kevin Love / Twitter )
This marks the time of year when Kobe Bryant fine-tunes his body and ensures it's ready for the tough road ahead.
It's impossible to discount his shooting struggles, as he's averaging 9.4 points on a 38.9% clip in the 2012 London Olympics. But his fifth-place standing on Team USA's depth chart behind Kevin Durant (18.6 points), Carmelo Anthony (17.4), Kevin Love (13), LeBron James (11.6) and Russell Westbrook (10.4) also illustrates Bryant's desire to pace himself, both for the 2012-13 NBA season and for any instances that come in crunch time in the quarterfinals Wednesday against Australia and beyond. In those moments, Bryant's presence will become more crucial.
But Bryant is also using these Olympics to keep his mind and spirit fresh in another way. He's constantly watching other sports in London, both to tap his fanhood, to support his country and to seek further knowledge on what makes other American elite athletes so great. It all derives back from a certain lesson a former Lakers coach stressed to him years ago.
"Phil Jackson once told me that he always looked for players who played a myriad of sports because they learn a multitude of skills that are necessary to understand the game of basketball at a higher level," Bryant wrote on his Facebook page. "So, I encourage everyone to not be narrow minded but to instead look at other sports thru the lens of your own and you will learn from others how to better yourself."
So for Bryant, that's meant hopping all over the Olympic village to witness clutch performances.
Before Team USA's 83-point win Aug. 2 over Nigeria, Bryant enjoyed a pregame meal in his hotel room while watching American gymnast Gabby Douglas win a gold medal in the women's individual all-around event (and rightfully paid no attention to her hair). He saw tennis stars Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro duke it out in a match Aug. 3 that lasted four hours and 26 minutes, an Olympic record. After Team USA's 99-94 win Aug. 4 over Lithuania, Bryant went with his estranged wife, Vanessa, and two daughters, Natalia and Gianna, to see U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps compete in his last race where the U.S. won the medley relay. Phelps finished with an Olympic record 22 medals, 18 gold. That same night, Bryant and his family marveled at the U.S. women's swim team — Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt -- setting a world record (3 minutes, 52.05 seconds) in the 400-meter medley relay.
"We were there to support Michael, but also because it's important for my kids to see the results of hard work," Bryant wrote on his Facebook page. "It's one thing to hear it from 'Dad' but another to see others enjoy the success of hard work."
Many U.S. athletes also heard from Bryant directly.
He posed for pictures on his Facebook page with U.S. swimmer Rebecca Soni after she broke her own world record last week in the 200-meter final (2:19.59), only a day after setting a world record the day before in the semifinals (2:20:00). Bryant did the same with U.S. pole vaulter Jenn Suhr and her coach and husband, Rick, on Monday after they won a gold medal. Two days earlier, Bryant went out with teammates Love and James Harden to see Usain Bolt set a world record in the 100 meters. Once the event ended, Bryant and Harden pretended to line up at the starting blocks.
Bryant also spoke with the U.S. women's volleyball team before the Games started about how to focus and absorb the pressure on being the gold-medal favorites. Bryant then sat in on a panel last week with Team USA basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski and former Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka in which they fielded questions from other Olympic coaches on how to maximize their potential.
Bryant relishes those moments. He embraces taking the last shot, whether it goes in or rolls out of the basket. He's valiantly fought through numerous injuries in recent seasons. Bryant's hardly stayed satisfied with five NBA championship rings and a fifth-place standing on the league's all-time scoring list.
Yet, Bryant also admitted on his Facebook page he couldn't fully process how other Olympians manage to excel through various circumstances.
That included seeing the women's gymnastic team winning a gold medal for the first time since 1996. "For the life of me I cannot figure out how in the world they walk, jump and back flip on the balance beam. Just watching them do it scares ... me."
Bryant wondered aloud how Phelps has stayed dominant: "The amount of focus is beyond understanding. We should all embrace his Olympic Era because we truly have been witnessing history in the making."
Bryant also admired how Bubka keeps himself motivated: "This is a man who broke his own record 35 times!!! He talked about his hunger to want to do more; to learn more and to be more. Very inspirational."
Bryant's always taken satisfaction in seeing other athletes in moments of greatness. He has said in some ways it validates his own love and obsession for his own craft. And as these Games continue, it's clear Bryant hopes that witnessing such events will give him a slight edge in maximizing the tail-end of his career.
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