BEIJING — Kobe Bryant thinks Team USA might have to get used to a new reality of losing in major events.
Bryant was part of arguably the second-most-relevant Team USA in history, after the original Dream Team in 1992. The Bryant-led 2008 “Redeem Team” that won gold at the Beijing Olympics is held in high esteem. He was at the start of a 58-game tournament winning streak for the Americans that was snapped with a loss to France this week.
Back in the same arena where his big fourth quarter clinched gold against Spain 11 years ago, Bryant said Friday that this summer’s national team doesn’t need to be redeemed next year at the Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the U.S., it’s that the rest of the world has been caught up for quite some time,” Bryant said at the Wukesong Sports Center. “And it’s to the point now where us in the U.S. are going to win some, we’re going lose some. And that’s just how it goes.”
The Americans weren’t playing in the World Cup semifinals Bryant attended Friday Night, and they won’t play Sunday when the title is handed out. Instead they will play in the lowest-stakes game of the weekend, Saturday afternoon’s seventh-place game against Poland.
Bryant dismissed the idea that Team USA’s struggles in China can be attributed to the top players who elected not to play this summer and that all will be well if the front line recommits and goes to Japan next July.
“I hear that a lot: ‘Did we send the best possible team that we can put out there?'” Bryant said.
“You have to remember, on the Redeem Team we needed a hell of a fourth quarter to beat Spain. That was a hell of a team we had. We still needed a real late push to beat Spain in that gold-medal match. So I say that to say, put the best players that you think are going to make the best U.S. team out on the floor, we are still going to have challenges. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. The days of the ’92 Barcelona Dream Team are gone. They’re over, so it’s going to be tough.”
Bryant played with Team USA three times and never lost a game, winning the 2007 FIBA Americas title and then Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 in London. He declined to play several times earlier in his career due to injuries and for personal reasons, like in 2000 when he passed on the Sydney Olympics because he was getting married.
With that understanding, Bryant said American stars who decided to skip playing this summer had their reasons and he supported them.
“Some of those guys haven’t had the opportunity to play for the United States, so I’m sure if their health allowed them to, they certainly would’ve been over here playing,” Bryant said in an interview with ESPN.
“But a lot of those guys are coming off of serious injuries and trying to figure out how to navigate through that to get healthy again and back to 100%. Other guys are moving, moving to different cities and getting their families to settle in. It’s a big adjustment for families, so I certainly understand it.”