Kobe Bryant is no longer interested in playing in the 2016 Olympics for Team USA, according to the man himself. Earlier this season, Bryant told Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press "It would mean the world to me to be around those guys," when asked about getting one final chance to play with the best players the United States and the world have to offer in Rio de Janeiro.
But apparently Bryant's struggles on the court (he is shooting the worst field goal percentage of his career at 34.8%) and problems with injuries to his back, shoulder, and most recently his Achilles tendon during his 2015-16 farewell tour have made him change his mind about suiting up for his country one final time.
"It's the young guys' turn to play and perform," Bryant told reporters before the Lakers' Sunday night game against Utah (as captured by Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times). In addition to ceding the spotlight to the games younger stars, Bryant has also found appeal in playing his final game of high-level basketball for the franchise that drafted him nearly 20 years ago:
Kobe said as "beautiful as it would be to play for our country," he's looking forward to having his very last game be in a Lakers jersey.— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) January 17, 2016
Seeing Bryant represent his country and (likely) win a gold medal would have been a cool way for fans to watch him end his career, rather than his final basketball being played for a Lakers' team that ranks among the very worst in the league, but Bryant is probably making the right call here.
Kobe volunteering to sit out also eliminates a difficult decision for USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, who had previously said that selection for the team would be based on current performance rather than career legacy and cited the difficulty of leaving a potentially more deserving player off of the team.
As things stand, Bryant will finish his career in purple and gold with the only professional franchise he has ever known, which is still a pretty special thing for both his fans and fans of the Lakers.
All stats per Basketball Reference.