That team was known as the “Redeem Team,” and their main goal was to bring back the USA on the top of the world. Before that summer, the USA won a bronze medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.
At that time, Bryant was the most popular basketball player in the world, especially in China. According to Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports, Tayshaun Prince revealed that every opposing player wanted to guard Bryant.
“Out of anybody on our team, those international guys, no matter who we played against, all them dudes wanted to guard Kobe. That was their guy. They looked up to him, and every time he got the ball, there were two or three guys around him.” Prince told Bryant to play faster, and later in the tournament, Bryant made his moves a little quicker. The game began to open up for him. He doesn’t have to give me no credit for that, though,”Tayshaun Prince, via Yahoo Sports
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an assistant under Krzyzewski on the last three Olympic gold medal-winning teams, said this about Bryant.
“He doesn’t care if it’s summer, winter, fall, or spring. He does not take any prisoners. That’s what you’re looking for as a coach.”Jim Boeheim, via Yahoo Sports
Bryant set that tone in his first Team USA game at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.
“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.”Jim Boeheim, via Yahoo Sports
That summer, Bryant was coming off the 2008 NBA Finals loss to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. He was more determined than ever to help his team win a gold medal, and this was also his first tournament as a member of the national team. Bryant averaged 15.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists throughout the tournament and, in the finals, faced an outstanding Spanish squad that featured a couple of good NBA players like his teammate Pau Gasol.
Bryant led the US team past Spain by dropping 20 points and hitting one clutch shot after another. As opponents embraced the challenge of guarding Bryant, he made all of his teammates like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade that much better heading into the 2008-09 NBA season.
It turns out Kobe’s achievement at the 2008 Olympics would follow with two NBA championships with the Lakers, and it was Pau Gasol from Spain who helped Bryant during those endeavors.