Coach K shares one of his best Kobe Bryant stories from the Redeem Team
The group, whose thrilling run restored America’s standing in international basketball after a disappointing bronze medal finish in Athens in 2004, rightfully earned the indelible nickname “The Redeem Team.”
The Los Angeles Lakers legend, who was coming off a loss in the NBA Finals and the regular-season MVP award at the time, shined in the competition, and he saved his best for last. During the highly competitive gold medal game against Spain, Bryant scored 13 of his 20 points in the final eight minutes–including a four-point play that sealed the deal.
“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.'”
Coach K also shared how Bryant displayed his commitment to defense in the first practice with his teammates.
“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.”
Krzyzewski noted that Bryant wasn’t simply leading by example, though. He was looking ahead to a matchup with 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,” Coach K said of the late NBA icon.
The Hall of Fame coach credited Kobe Bryant and LeBron James for developing a relationship that helped rebuild the culture at USA hoops.
You can watch Coach K tell the full story here:
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree) October 15, 2020
In 2019, Bryant told SLAM where the gold medal ranked among his basketball accomplishments: “It’s right up there at the top because what was at stake.”