We all know how competitive Kobe Bryant was, but a unique story from an Olympian gold medallist revealed that the Hall-of-Famer’s thirst to win everything was on another level. Every opportunity to learn something that could be of any use in mastering basketball was not to be wasted. Rowing backwards in cold weather?
Susan Francia on meeting Kobe
Olympic gold medalist Susan Francia shared a story that featured Kobe Bryant and his insatiable quest to become the best at everything. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Dwight Howard approached Francia, who was fresh from winning the gold medal in the women's eighth rowing finals. Kobe joined them and had his eyes fixed on the one thing he came there for, and that was around Howard’s neck: the Olympic gold medal Francia had won. The Lakers star told Dwight that they had to win one for the men’s basketball team. Ever the fierce competitor he built his reputation on, Bryant was eager to know what it took for a rower to win a gold medal.
“What is your training like? Do you just row all the time? For real, you go backwards? What happens when it’s really cold outside? Where are you from? Is there a lot of rowing there? He laughed and went back to admiring my medal. Unreal. I can’t even explain the feeling that I had as I realized that, despite all of his trophies at home, in this moment Kobe wanted something that I had and he didn’t have yet.“
Susan Francia, The Philadelphia Inquirer
This may seem like one of a thousand interactions Kobe had in the Olympic village to you, but it wasn't. After winning the gold medal, Kobe and Team USA made their way back to the village, showing off their gold. Francia saw them and yelled to Kobe, 'You got it!' Bryant immediately recognized her and invited Susan and her teammate, Anna Goodale, to join Kobe and the team in their celebratory dinner at Mcdonald's.
Bryant was already a 3-time NBA champion in 2008, but he has not won an Olympic medal yet, which explains his curiosity and admiration for a fellow athlete who had just won one.
Olympic Kobe was different
Before joining the team in 2008, the U.S.A was in some funk. They lost to several countries in the FIBA World Cup in 2002, only placing 5th. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the team lost to Argentina in the semifinals, coming home with the bronze. In the 2006 FIBA World Championship, Mike Krzyzewski was tapped to lead the team, and the U.S.A lost to Greece in the semifinals. These losses triggered team U.S.A to rebuild and show up in Bejing with a lineup of All-Stars. The 2008 team featured Bryant, LeBron James, Howard, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.
Kobe would not let the U.S.A. win anything other than Olympic gold as the team's leader and veteran. The Black Mamba averaged 15 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in the 2008 Olympics. He was often the team’s closer and provided clutch baskets en route to the gold medal.
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Despite Kobe’s greatness in basketball, he was humble enough to recognize excellence in other sporting fields or industries. As a student of basketball for life, he made sure to learn something new and incorporate it into his own game. These traits show why Kobe will go down in history as one of the best to do it.