The stories about Kobe Bryant from his summer with the 2008 United States Men’s Basketball team are the stuff of legend. There was the time he tackled his Lakers co-star Pau Gasol to set the tone for his Olympic teammates, and his iconic performance to secure a gold medal against that very same Spanish team.
But Bryant laid the groundwork for what he would do at the Olympics before the team even left for Beijing. To hear then U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski tell it, Bryant actually got things started — in typical Kobe fashion — days before any other players on the team even showed up for training camp.
Krzyzewski told the story on Episode 7 of Diversion Media’s “The Dream Team Tapes: Kobe, LeBron & The Redeem Team” podcast:
“Two days before we started meeting for that team, we were in Vegas as a staff and were planning. Then all of a sudden there was a knock on the door and it’s Kobe. He’s there two days early! Again, I’m not embellishing this at all, he [Kobe] said ‘Coach I’d like to talk to you for a little bit… he said ‘I need for you to do me a favor’ and I said ‘of course, what’s the favor?’ And he [Kobe] said ‘I wanna guard the best perimeter player on every team we face… and I promise you, I’ll destroy them.’”
This is one of the most “Kobe” stories ever. Being there two days early, finding a pre-camp coaches meeting just to demand a challenge and threaten to destroy his opponent, it’s all perfect. And while those were big words, Bryant certainly lived up to them during the Redeem Team’s run to the gold medal:
In the case of Gasol, Bryant may have taken that guarantee a bit too literally, but he was a revelation on defense during those Olympics, following up an MVP campaign with the start of two-year long revenge tour that followed the Lakers’ defeat in the 2008 NBA Finals and kicked off their repeat run.
It was in large part Bryant who made sure the Lakers won the next two titles, not just with his play, but with the mentality he gave the Lakers, a branch from same tree of commitment he showed Coach K before training camp had even begun for those Olympics. Bryant was a man on a mission, determined to destroy the rest of the league with the same vigor and focus he put on display during that run to the gold. And in a year that has given us plenty of amazing stories to remember about the late Lakers legend, this is just one more to remind us of how special his mindset was.