Two years after back-to-back bronze finishes in the Summer Olympics and the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the 2008 "Redeem Team" was formed to re-take USA's place at the top of the basketball world.
Featuring household names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, they ended up bringing home the Gold that year in a rather impressive display of skill.
But one of the best moments of that summer was detailed in a story by coach Mike Krzyzewski, who described the time Kobe Bryant came to him with a game plan days before the tournament was set to begin.
“When we were starting to build a culture at USA basketball, and [Bryant], Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd were added. … We’re getting ready for Beijing, I’m with my staff in Vegas…and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door, two days early, and it’s Kobe,” Krzyzewski remembered. “He said, ‘I want to guard the best perimeter player on every team that we play.’ Now, he’s the NBA scoring champ, he’s the best player in the league at that time. … And he knew that he would have to change a little bit and be a leader.
“And then he pauses — and, you know him and Jordan had the same eyes, they killed you with their eyes — and he leans forward and he said, ‘Coach, I promise you I’ll destroy ’em.'”
He also described one exchange where he asked Kobe to shoot the ball more.
“The first practice he doesn’t take a shot,” Krzyzewski added. “So I call him over afterwards … I said, ‘I’ve seen you destroy teams offensively. Will you shoot the friggin’ ball?’ And he said from then on, I was the only coach ever to ask him to shoot.”
Team USA beat their opponents by an average of 27.8 points per game, no doubt in large part to Kobe's leadership and passion throughout the competition. He always found something that motivated him, like the matchup with Spurs star Manu Ginobili.
“He had this vision of moments. He knew that for us to win the gold medal we would have to beat Argentina … and he wanted to guard Ginobili. Believe me, he already had that figured out. It wasn’t just to set an example for the team. … So, we do play Argentina in the semis, and we’re beating them by 20 points and Ginobili gets hurt … and it becomes a six-point game, because now [Kobe’s] not interested anymore. That’s who he was."
Many have told stories of their own experiences with Bryant, and in all of them his love, dedication, and exceptional work ethic for the game of basketball can be seen.
Though the NBA star is no longer on this earth with us, the footprint he left behind for us will never fade.