U.S. guard Kobe Bryant tracks down a ball he stole from Australia just before… (Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty…)
In another sign that Kobe Bryant accepts that his NBA career is coming to an end, the Lakers' star confirmed the 2012 London Olympics would mark his last time pursuing a gold medal.
"This is it," Bryant told reporters in London, according to a tweet from ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
It's not surprising Bryant's already revealing he won't play in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janiero. Bryant has also recently admitted considering retiring after his two-year, $58-million deal with the Lakers expires after the 2013-14 season. Bryant stressed in a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports that he hasn't made a final decision. But by 2016, it's safe to assume that Bryant will either have hung up his laces by then or feels a greater need to rest his body in the off-season. Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner David Stern has floated the idea in attaching a 23-year-old age restriction to Team USA participants, an idea Bryant recently said was "stupid."
Whatever the case, it's clear Bryant has embraced his elder statesman role in this year's Games. He's gladly deferred the scoring load to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski has limited Bryant's playing time to 15.7 minutes per game.
Still, Bryant has made a significant imprint on this year's team. His teammates still view him as the team's leader. After a scoreless first-half performance in Team USA's quarterfinal Wednesday win against Australia, Bryant scored 20 second-half points and hit six three-pointers. Bryant's international following has also made him a crowd favorite.
Bryant has possibly two more games to enjoy the rest of the Olympic experience, including a semifinal match Friday against Argentina and a possible gold-medal appearance Sunday either against Russia or Spain. After that, Bryant will have closed one significant chapter of his basketball life.
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