Before Kobe Bryant was recruited to the 2008 Men's USA Basketball Olympic team, the squad went through an embarrassing phase. The U.S. men's team finished in third place in the 2004 Athens Olympics, which ended their 24-game Olympic winning streak since 1992.
The same team lost 3 games against their opponents, which also marked the most games ever lost by a U.S. men's Olympic basketball team. So Head coach Mike Krzyzewski needed to stop the drought and thought Bryant was the solution to the problems.
Kobe was the heart and soul of the Redeem Team
When Bryant arrived on the team, he instantly told the squad that he was tired of watching them lose and that his goal was to set and bring back the winning culture that the U.S. men's team had been accustomed to since 1992. Coach K admitted that he needed Bryant's leadership because before the Black Mamba's arrival, he had concerns about the group's ability to play team basketball.
"A lot of them weren't known as great team players. I had a lot of concerns, that's why we recruited Kobe Bryant," Krzyzewski revealed in the trailer of The Redeem Team documentary set to premiere in October.
True to Krzyzewski's words, Bryant instantly set the tone from the first day of practice. The reigning NBA MVP that year committed to playing defense instead of scoring and stepped up as the team leader.
In all 8 games Bryant started, he averaged 15.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game, and shot 46.2% from the field and 32.1% from the 3-point line in an average of 23.5 minutes per game. He also hit the most crucial shots late in the gold medal game versus Spain as the offense ran through him.
Coach K's gamble paid off
Krzyzewski's recruiting of Bryant proved that he was the best player on the Redeem Team. Despite featuring the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and several other NBA greats, the head coach knew that he needed the best basketball player in the world at that time to take the U.S. men's basketball team back to a place where it belonged.
It's easy to determine who the best NBA player is when the U.S. men's basketball team takes the stage. It's that dude who Coach K runs the offense through, trusts to hold the ball in the clutch moments, and steps up as the top dog of the team. In 2008, that guy was no other than Kobe Bryant.