Team USA Basketball 2012: Is Kobe Bryant More Important Than LeBron James?

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIAugust 10, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02: Lebron James #6 of United States and Kobe Bryant #10 of United States look on during the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match against Nigeria on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on August 2, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In Team USA’s men’s quarterfinal victory over Australia we saw two brilliant performances—one from Kobe Bryant and one from LeBron James. Will the Americans rely more on Kobe or LeBron as they sit just two wins away from a gold medal?

LeBron James has been one of Team USA’s best players throughout the London Games, whereas Kobe Bryant has taken somewhat of a back seat. Even though they’ve both been averaging around 11 points per game in the London Games, LeBron has been playing a more solid overall game.

In the win over Australia to advance to the semifinals against Argentina, Bryant finally woke up from his Olympic slump—especially since he’s been so vital to the overall performance of Team USA in the past.

Bryant went cold from the field in the first half, but came into the second half on fire and was nailing three-pointer after three-pointer, finishing with six long balls on the night.

“I kind of knew what button to push with him,” said Carmelo Anthony via NBC Olympics. “I was talking to him at halftime and in the third quarter and I guess I pushed the button. He was a little sleepy out there. I guess I woke up the Mamba and he responded.”

Scoring 20 points would not be out of the ordinary from Bryant during any NBA contest, but he hasn’t been the scoring machine we’re used to. Bryant has been content with taking a lesser role, according to NBC Olympics, which could be the reason for his scoring droughts. Bryant can’t have that mentality, though. He needs to want the ball and want the last-second shot.

LeBron, on the other hand, has been just fine taking control of games. His triple-double in the Australia quarterfinal has been overshadowed by the awakening of Bryant despite how rare it actually occurs. LeBron has been a part of huge runs by Team USA and has been on the front end of several exciting plays. Where has Kobe been?

Team USA will win the gold medal, but could they win it without LeBron or Kobe on the roster?

Without LeBron, Team USA gives up size, scoring ability, and solid defense—when he decides to actually play defense. Replacing LeBron can’t be done even though there are several other players on the roster who can grab rebounds and make big plays. There is no other LeBron James.

Despite there not being another player named Kobe Bryant on the roster, he’s much more expendable. What has he done that someone else couldn’t do? He’s committed several foolish fouls and hit a couple of good shots. Kobe has the best reputation of any basketball at the London Games, but he hasn’t been the same Kobe we see in the NBA.

Any of the other Team USA players can make some three-pointers, play some defense and be a part of a big victory. If Kobe decided to take this year off from the Olympics, Team USA would be just fine en route to a gold medal, but without LeBron, they’d be in a much different situation.

Kobe Bryant showed that he still has it against Australia, but he needs to bring that kind of performance against Argentina and in the gold-medal match. We all know what LeBron is going to do, but can Kobe be just as vital to Team USA’s hopes?