Team USA was about to start their training camp for Beijing. Coach K and his staff got to Vegas a couple of days before the team to lay the foundations for the new culture at USA Basketball. Then, out of nowhere, someone knocked on their door. This was two days early. It was Kobe.
Kobe said, ‘coach, can I talk to you for a minute?’ We went to a private room, and he said, ‘I need to ask you a favor.’ I said, ‘yeah, what is it?’ He said, ‘I want to guard the best perimeter player on every team. I promise you. I’ll destroy him.’Mike Krzyzewski, The Old Man and The Three Podcast
Keep in mind Kobe was coming off his first and only regular-season MVP and was widely considered as the best player in the world. But he knew he had to make some adjustments and alter his game to the benefit of the collective. So he decided to be the team’s defensive stopper, as his offensive duties were voluntarily put on hold.
And I mean literally, because, according to Coach K, Bryant didn’t take a single shot during their first practice. Not a single one. Now, that was in line with Kobe’s request, but even Krzyzewski had seen it as an extreme. So he called Bryant over after the practice. ‘Yo, this destroy thing?’ Krzyzewski said. ‘Coach, I promised you, I’ll destroy him,’ Kobe responded. Coach K was like, ‘look, I’ve seen you destroy teams offensively. Will you shoot the frickin’ ball?’ Kobe smiled. He wasn’t used to it.
But as always, Bryant was one step ahead of everyone else. He was looking at the bigger picture, envisioning potential teams they’ll have to go through on their way towards the gold medal. And in every possible scenario, facing Argentina was inevitable. So, before the tournament even started, Kobe started his preparation for potentially his toughest individual matchup – guarding Manu Ginobili.
And as Kobe predicted, two teams matched up in the semi-finals, meaning that Bryant got to guard the one he spent weeks preparing for. But unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Six minutes into the game, with Team USA up 12-4, Ginobili went down with an ankle injury and hadn’t returned to the game. And according to Coach K, neither did Kobe.
You’d think we’re going to win by 40. All of a sudden, it’s a six-point game because now he’s not interested anymore.Mike Krzyzewski, The Old Man and The Three Podcast
Kobe dropped 12 points in team-high 32 minutes of action as Team USA beat Argentina 101-81. Argentina couldn’t compensate for playing without their best player. It would’ve been a much more competitive game had Ginobili been out there, for the sole reason of him going up against Kobe. After weeks of preparation, Mamba sure would’ve been ready.