- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
MANCHESTER, England -- After saying in Las Vegas that he hopes NBA pros will continue to represent their countries in the Olympics, Kobe Bryant voiced his dismay with the 23-and-under concept floated by NBA commissioner David Stern in even stronger terms Tuesday when Team USA arrived in the United Kingdom ahead of London 2012.
Speaking at an appearance at the town hall in Manchester not long after the Americans reached British soil via an overnight flight after Monday night's exhibition victory over Brazil in Washington, D.C., Bryant branded Stern's proposal to restrict the NBA's Olympic involvement to players aged 23 and younger as "stupid."
"It's a stupid idea," Bryant told local reporters at the reception to welcome them to Manchester in advance of Thursday night's exhibition game here against Team Great Britain. "It should be a (player's) choice."
Asked how much he and his Team USA teammates have talked about Stern's proposal since getting together in Vegas on July 5, Bryant said: "Our discussion is this: Basically, it's just a dumb idea and we (discuss) it that way. ... We just discuss it like that (and) kind of voice our opinions through you (media) guys."
Bryant, subsequently, wasted no time getting comfortable with his new surroundings. Shortly after the town hall stop, Bryant and longtime personal skills guru Tim Grover were spotted strolling along the Deansgate strip of Manchester's city center in the company of a tour guide and a small security detail ... with Bryant decked out in full Team USA practice gear and stopping occasionally to snap pictures with excited fans who recognized him.
His comments about the Olympic age debate expounded upon sentiments Bryant shared during Team USA's recent week-plus stay in Vegas, where he was openly dismissive of the injury concerns frequently raised by NBA owners such as Dallas' Mark Cuban.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Bryant as saying, "I think that's the wrong way to look at things. If I'm an owner, I would want my player to play (internationally) because I understand that they're going to be playing anyway, going to be playing pickup basketball in the summertime, and I'm not going to be able to know where they are. They could be playing against a bunch of bums -- no, really -- guys that feel like they have something to prove and all of a sudden, a (star player) goes to the rim and a guy takes them out and now he's hurt.
"Here you're playing against the best guys, you have treatment around the clock, your (NBA) coaching staff can always come sit in the stands and view practice. To me, playing on an Olympic basketball team is actually better if you're an owner."
With Team USA poised to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original Dream Team that captivated the world and changed international basketball forever at the Summer Games in Barcelona, Stern announced at the NBA Finals that the league needed to "step back and take stock of where we're going" in terms of sending its best and, often, most highly paid players to the Olympics.
The change Stern favors is switching to a system similar to that used in men's Olympic soccer -- which is a 23-and-under competition with three overage players allowed per country -- and allowing all NBA players to remain eligible for the quadrennial FIBA World Championship. That competition will be renamed the World Cup of Basketball in 2014 and, if eligibility changes also are made, theoretically sets up NBA owners to finally earn a share of revenues in return for allowing their top players to participate. At present, NBA teams get no revenue from the Olympic basketball tournament.
It's thus conceivable this summer's London Games might be the last time that Team USA is comprised of America's best NBAers, but Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo is also resistant to the proposed changes.
"I don't want to change anything because I like what we have," Colangelo told the Times earlier this month. "We take care of our players and I think we do the right things.
"You need a lot of things to fall into place in order for all of this to happen. You need the cooperation and the votes and support of a lot of people. So when I hear something like this, I say it may happen. The real question is when. Is it '16, is it 2020? Don't know at this point. It's a long way from the finish line."
Injuries have been the major storyline for Team USA for months, thanks to a succession of serious setbacks during the lockout-compacted regular season that knocked London finalists Derrick Rose (knee), Dwight Howard (back), Dwyane Wade (knee), Chris Bosh (abdominal muscle), LaMarcus Aldridge (knee) and Chauncey Billups (torn Achilles) off the roster before coach Mike Krzyzewski could hold a single practice in Vegas. Team USA then lost Blake Griffin to a re-aggravated knee injury that this week required arthroscopic surgery.
In Manchester, when asked if he understands the concerns of NBA owners, Bryant scoffed, saying such reservations are motivated by owners merely wanting "to protect their investments."
Team USA guard Chris Paul also appeared at the town hall event, dismissed concerns about his recent thumb injury during training camp and said in support of Bryant: "I heard about this a while ago and I was thankful they haven't thought about (Stern's proposal) now, because if they were, I wouldn't be able to play now because I'm 27 years old. I personally would like for it to be your own decision, because playing in an Olympics -- this will be my second -- is the greatest experience of my life.
"If you look at the track record for it, I can honestly say my best season in the NBA statistically was the 2008-09 season, which was after my first Olympics. You see guys, when they come back from playing on a team like this, they go into the new season with the ultimate confidence. We talk during the season, we talk about how tired we're going to be in the summer, but as soon as we all get out to Vegas, we're excited. We're ready to go -- it's on. It's better than being at home just working out and playing ball. You get to play against the best players in the world."
ESPN.com special contributor Ian Whittell contributed to this report.
After saying in Las Vegas that he hopes NBA pros will continue to represent their countries in the Olympics, Kobe Bryant voiced his dismay with the 23-and-under concept floated by David Stern Tuesday.