In the summer of 2008, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant took a break from battling for the crown of current best player in the NBA to accomplish the shared goal of winning gold at the Summer Olympics in Beijing for Team USA.
Having played in different conferences their entire careers, Bryant and James didn’t get the opportunity to play on the same team until the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship leading up the Olympics, which was also Bryant’s first appearance with the national team. Bryant would have made the Olympic team in 2004, but an ongoing sexual assault trial kept him off of the roster.
James, on the other hand, was one of the four returning players from the 2004 Olympic team that came home with a bronze medal for the first time since 1988. Naturally, the 2008 Olympic was dubbed the “Redeem Team.”
Thanks to the contributions made by Bryant and James, Team USA went undefeated in Beijing and walked away the gold medal. However, James and his teammates walked away with more than just gold medals that summer, Jason Kidd told Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report.
“I think for LeBron, he benefited from Kobe, and I think vice versa,” Kidd says. “I think you can look at Kobe and everybody got better, everybody had great years that following year. ‘Melo, Chris Paul, those guys got better seeing Kobe in that light, and LeBron.”
At 35 years old, Kidd was the oldest player on the 2008 Olympic team by six years and, as a result, was one of the veteran leaders of the team. Bryant, who was the second-oldest on the team at 29 years old, was also a leader, but Bryant chose to lead by example, and James was one of a few players that chose to follow him:
What helped bridge the gap between Bryant and his teammates was proximity. “In that time, we were all...in the same hotel, generally the same schedules,” Bryant says. “That’s when I got to know guys a little bit more.” Bryant woke up early to practice. And other players soon followed suit, waking up early with Bryant, adjusting to his schedule.
Wade was the first player to join. “He met me in the gym at five, and then LeBron started showing up at five, and then they all started showing up at five. And then next thing you know, most of the guys were in the gym at five getting some work in,” Bryant says.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard stories like this one from the 2008 Olympics. In a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, Tayshaun Prince said Bryant’s form of mentorship was “going out, playing hard all the time, putting in the work, and letting you see it.”
That leadership style has followed James since, and he’s now influencing his new Lakers teammates in a similar way, with team president Jeanie Buss saying she has seen the team working extra hard since James arrived to the facility.
Lakers fans can only hope the same success like the Redeem Team had follows.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.