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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kobe Bryant, Carl Lewis, Jon Drummond and the Olympic Spirit

Kobe Bryant would like to play for Team USA in the 2016 Olympics. Based on Bryant's recent performance level and injury history, you may think that is selfish or just unrealistic; that will most likely be the mainstream media take on the matter. However, Kevin Ding--a rare NBA commentator who covers the sport insightfully and treats Bryant fairly--explains why Bryant deserves the opportunity to play for Team USA in 2016 and why USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo should honor Bryant's request:

Colangelo has already set the precedent that it's not necessarily about the best players: He promised Paul George a spot for 2016 already after George broke his leg in a U.S. uniform in 2014. He included a 35-year-old Jason Kidd on the 2008 U.S. team for his experience and past contributions.

Team USA is going to win gold in Rio with or without Bryant, with or without George, with or without even LeBron James. The team is absurdly stacked, which is why it becomes thorny to consider what great player would be left off the squad to accommodate Bryant...

But it's Colangelo's call whether to honor something greater here.

And there is indeed a greater good to be had.

Consider the Olympic creed:

The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight;
the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.

No one has answered that call in his athletic career any better than Bryant. He has been triumphant at times, but his fight for personal excellence is what has truly won out.

His fight is why all these fans worldwide see him as their inspiration.

Bryant's proposed candidacy for Team USA's 2016 basketball team reminds me of the controversy surrounding Team USA's 4x100meter relay squad during the 1996 Olympics. Veteran Carl Lewis, participating in the Olympics for the last time, wanted to run anchor for Team USA in the 4x100 meter relay. Lewis previously anchored two Olympic gold-medal winning teams and five teams that set world records. Maybe he was over the hill by 1996 but--based on his past performance and the capabilities he still possessed at that moment--he had earned the right to compete. Prior to the 4x100 meter relay, Lewis won the gold medal in the long jump, his fourth straight Olympic gold in that event; no one else has ever defended an Olympic long jump title even once. He is only the third American to win the same Olympic event four times. Lewis could have capped off his Olympic career by pursuing a then-unprecedented 10th gold medal. Instead, the Team USA coaching staff went in a different direction and Lewis watched Team USA fail to capture gold for the first time ever in the 4x100 meter relay (not including the boycott year of 1980 and three times that Team USA was disqualified for improper baton passes).

Jon Drummond, one of the members of the 1996 Team USA 4x100 team, publicly declared that Lewis did not belong on the team because Lewis finished "butt-naked last" in the Olympic qualifying trials. Lewis had enough athletic ability left to win the gold medal in the long jump and he had previously anchored gold medal-winning relay teams but Drummond thought that he and Team USA's other young guns deserved their time to shine. Carl Lewis is a legend of the sport. Would you even know Drummond's name if I had not brought it up? Well, maybe you would, because he has been in the news recently: he is currently serving an eight year suspension from track and field for his role, as Tyson Gay's coach, in illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Drummond has been banned from the sport until December 2022. He was not caught using performance-enhancing drugs during his athletic career but, then again, neither were Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds, two cheaters who often bragged about never failing a drug test.

Drummond was a loud-mouth nobody who played a role in keeping a legend off of Team USA's 1996 4x100 relay team and, quite possibly, cost Team USA a gold medal. After the race, Drummond admitted that he and his young teammates were "tight." Lewis would not have been tight.

It may be true that Team USA can win the 2016 Olympic gold medal in basketball with just about any conceivable roster of current NBA stars. However, if Bryant wants to play and is able to play then he deserves a spot on the team not only based on his legendary status but also because during the 2012 Olympic games Team USA needed Bryant's clutch production to survive the gold medal game versus Spain. If Bryant plays for Team USA in the 2016 Olympics he will not lead the team in minutes played or scoring or any other statistical category but he will set the right tone with his work ethic and focus--and he may very well make a key shot or key defensive play that is the difference between Olympic gold and the silver medal that Drummond got in 1996.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:51 PM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Wednesday, November 11, 2015 3:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying about Kobe/Lewis, but if there's other better players...? I'd like Kobe to play, but I don't know. Since only 5 play at a time, if he's 11th or 12th, and there's 7-8 games to be played, that's a lot different than one race where all 4 guys have to run pretty much their best to win gold. Yes, there's probably 2 qualifying races before that, but as long as they don't get DQ'ed, they'd easily make the finals. Easy to say in hindsight, Lewis should've ran. At some point, your time is done. If Lewis ran anchor in 96, and USA won, then what about him running in 2000? Can't do it forever. What I take from it, is that Drummond was a loud-mouth who disrespected Lewis, which shouldn't have been done. That was just dumb.

Kobe could provide a good work ethic, and some timely defense/clutch play possibly. I don't think team USA is ever going to win easily again, though. Bryant had to play on the 08 and 12 teams, which needed him to come up huge just to win close games vs. Spain each time. Sure, there's newer faces who are very good players, but none of them are Kobe. Team USA should've won 04 easily, too, and they fell flat on their faces. That was a disgrace.

 
At Wednesday, November 11, 2015 4:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Due to age/injury, Bird was not one of the top 12 players in the NBA but he was still deservedly a member of the Dream Team. Stockton broke his leg and could hardly play but he was not replaced on the Dream Team roster. Kidd was not one of the 12 best players in the NBA in 2008 but he deserved to be on the Olympic team and he filled a key leadership role, along with Bryant. So there are some good precedents for including Bryant on the 2016 roster.

Lewis was going to retire after the '96 Olympics regardless of what happened. You are right that you cannot run/play forever but I think that he would have given Team USA a better shot to win. Drummond is such a clown and I hate how he disrespected a legend of the sport. It does not surprise me that Drummond is currently under suspension, though I did not realize that little tidbit until I researched this article.

 
At Wednesday, November 11, 2015 4:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying, but there's other deserving players as well as Bird, Stockton, and Kidd. You can only have 12. And the Dream Team was different. It was the first year for the pros playing for USA, and the rest of the world was a complete joke for basketball, professionally-wise. Now, Team USA actually needs to be organized and pick their 12-man roster at least somewhat wisely. Precedent or not, I just don't know. What if Klay Thompson is the odd man out? He's worked his butt off to become an AS SG, has a ring, and is better than Kobe now. He's deserving, isn't he? I understand there's going to be several guys upset about being left off the team, regardless if Kobe makes it or not. This season is still young, though. Maybe Kobe's tank isn't empty yet.

 
At Thursday, November 26, 2015 2:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After watching Kobe the last few games, he should really hang up the shoes. Watching him throw up countless bricks or barely able to jump is sad to see. Being such a fierce competitor, I doubt this is the way he'd want to go out, with a token nomination. He'd want to earn that roster spot.

 
At Thursday, November 26, 2015 3:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that if Bryant cannot get his legs under him to a greater extent as the season progresses then he should not be on Team USA. If this is the best that Bryant can do by that point in time, I am sure that he would not want to be on the team.

Watching him shoot 1-14 from the field versus Golden State was very unpleasant. As Barkley said during the telecast, you can work out all you want but when you get old there comes a point when you just cannot get it done against younger players, even if you are in good shape.

 

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