Kobe Bryant will play for Team USA
LOS ANGELES -- So far this season, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has already played with a torn ligament in his wrist and on an ankle and knee that caused him to travel to Germany in the offseason to receive medical attention, but that won't stop him from representing his country this summer.
Bryant was announced on Monday as one of the 20 finalists for the 2012 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team that will compete in London in late July through early August.
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"I'm looking forward to it," Bryant said after the Lakers' 73-70 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. "I'm definitely going to be there because I sure as hell am not going to let that guy win it."
Bryant was referring to teammate Pau Gasol who has already committed to the Spanish national team, which Bryant and the rest of USA Basketball beat in the gold medal game at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Earlier in the day, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski was confident of Bryant's commitment level when speaking to reporters on a conference call to announce the invitee pool.
"I think Kobe really wants to be in London and again, depending on injury, that will be his choice but, it would have to be something very, very serious (to keep him out)," Krzyzewski said. "I know he has a number of years still left but I know he would want another Olympic championship. He's about championships and we need him. We need him because of that mentality to be one of the leaders of our team."
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said that the committee will monitor Bryant's health throughout the NBA season prior to the team's training camp in early July. The U.S. has to submit its final 12-man roster by July 12.
"Obviously, he's such a competitor, he'll do anything to play and he would take any role he was asked to take," Colangelo said. "In this particular case, Kobe's going to keep us posted and we'll watch him as closely as we can. We don't want to put him in any jeopardy whatsoever, and we won't."
Lakers coach Mike Brown was not thrilled about the prospect of Bryant and Gasol competing through the summer, but could not help but grant his blessing.
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"Selfishly, obviously you want (them) to relax at home," Brown said. "You always think about the possibility of getting hurt and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, to tell a guy to not be able to put on his country uniform and go represent, that's not right, nor is that fair of me, so I never do it. I think if they're lucky enough to go do that, it's an honor and they should go ahead and go do it. But, if for some reason they were sick and they stayed home, I'd be OK with that, too."
Bryant told reporters last week that his wrist was getting stronger, and Brown said he hadn't heard of any plans for his star to undergo surgery to improve the wrist in the offseason.
"Nobody has said that to me," Brown said. "He's got that finger where I guess he tore a ligament too and he's never had surgery and it's fine, so I don't know."
USA Basketball officials were cognizant of the health concerns that are tied with NBA players making the commitment to play.
"We always are very, very sensitive regarding the health of each and every player because they are very valuable assets in their own right," Colangelo said.
Added Krzyzewski: "The guys who have played now for us know what to expect. They understand that they're not going to be overworked. What we did after the first year is adapt to each other. In other words, we'd have one practice a day but schedule their workouts -- most of those guys, all of those guys, have some type of individual workouts in conditioning, stretching, pilates, you name it. What we did is, we carved out time so that they could get all that done and it didn't mess up their normal routine. In other words, we tried to incorporate normal routines for these outstanding players along with doing the team stuff. They know that. They know what to expect and it will be the same this summer."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.