In 2008, Mike Krzyzewski witnessed Kobe Bryant’s competitiveness firsthand in a story centered around San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
The legend of Kobe Bryant had another chapter written on Wednesday, as legendary college and Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski recounted a tale of the team’s 2008 gold medal bid. The previous Olympics resulted in the United States falling to the bronze medal thanks to heroics by San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
After learning in 2004 that they could no longer expect to cruise to gold by throwing together superstars at the last minute, the redeem team was all business. Spearheaded by veterans Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul along with younger talent like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the United States team was determined to redeem themselves in Beijing.
Four years before in Athens, Manu Ginobili led Argentina to the gold medal, upsetting the United States in the semifinals along the way. Apparently, Kobe Bryant was the last person you could expect to forget that fact when 2008 came around.
Coach Krzyzewski recalled an anecdote on an episode of The Old Man & the Three, hosted by J.J. Redick.
“Kobe said, ‘coach, can I talk to you for a minute?’ “, started Mike. “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.’ “
Krzyzewski agreed to grant Kobe the favor, then noticed something unusual the next day during the team’s practice.
“He doesn’t take a shot. He’s playing defense. I said, ‘I’ve seen you destroy teams offensively. Will you shoot the frickin’ ball?’ “
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It’s extremely rare to see Bryant gunshy on the court, but as Mike revealed to Redick, his proposal was another example of how many steps he was ahead of everyone else in the basketball world at the time.
“He knew that for us to win the gold medal, we would have to beat Argentina,” revealed Krzyzewski. “He wanted to guard Ginobili. He already had that figured out, and he was going to prepare to guard Ginobili.”
As it turned out, the United States had a date with Argentina in the semifinals once again, and Bryant was ready for the task. Unfortunately, the world didn’t get to see the matchup between the two international stars to fruition, as Ginobili left that game in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
Though Argentina fought valiantly for much of the game, they didn’t have enough star power without their leader in the end and fell 101-81.
It’s safe to say the result would’ve been more of a toss-up if Manu Ginobili didn’t suffer the untimely ankle twist, but even so, Kobe Bryant would have been waiting in the wings, as he always was.