There are a ton of memories that come to mind when discussing Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, but one that gets forgotten about is his time with USA Basketball. In particular, his role on the 2008 ‘Redeem Team’ is legendary and extremely memorable.
After multiple disappointments in international competition, USA Basketball made sweeping changes throughout its entire program. They would eventually put together the 2008 roster known as the Redeem Team, led by Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, and coached by Hall-of-Famer ‘Coach K’ Mike Krzyzewski.
With the outstanding amount of talent on the team, it was Bryant who set the tone for the team, especially on defense. Team USA Assistant and Hall-of-Famer Jim Boeheim recalled his impact to Yahoo! Sports’ Ben Rohrbach:
“I don’t know if LeBron would say this, and I’m not going to put words in his mouth,” adds Boeheim, “but I felt Kobe raised the level of everybody, especially on the defensive end. If we had a weakness in 2006, it was on the defensive end. We weren’t committed. In 2007 and 2008, we were much better there, and I think Kobe was responsible for a lot of that.”
Boeheim even highlighted a particular game in which the five-time refused to let up on Greivis Vasquez despite USA being well ahead:
“He’s a killer. He comes out to kill people. He was up 40 points pressing some poor kid from Venezuela,” adds Boeheim, referring to Greivis Vasquez, who carved out a seven-year NBA career. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I don’t care. If he’s out there, I’m coming after him.’ It’s just the way he is. He goes after it. He’s super over-the-top, all-time competitive. Him and [Michael] Jordan are the two guys I’ve seen who come to kill you. They don’t come to play.”
That is certainly no surprise to anyone who has followed Kobe throughout his career as he has long been lauded as one of the most competitive players in NBA history. That mindset and work ethic rubbed off on the rest of the team.
Bryant’s performance in crunch time of the 2008 Gold Medal game is one that will go down as one of the best in international history. And his impact on USA Basketball as a whole continues to stretch throughout the program a decade later.