Glory of Olympic Send-off for Kobe Bryant Worth the Price of a Few Annoyed Stars

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 11, 2015

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant waves to Detroit Pistons' Jodie Meeks as he leaves the court after an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 93-85. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

It's not the world's decision, but let's be realistic about what the world would want.

Kobe Bryant is more beloved around the globe than any of us can even wrap our heads around.

If he and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo both want a past-prime Bryant to have one last hurrah before retirement, filling a space on the 12-man U.S. Olympic team next August in Rio de Janeiro, then everyone else should be celebrating that instead of second-guessing it.

Bryant, 37, told the Associated Press in Miami on Monday "it would mean the world" to have the opportunity to be with the team again on that stage.

"I would like to play," Bryant said. "I think it'd be awesome. A beautiful experience."

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.

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But the truth is that it's not going to matter at all to the world if Kevin Love or Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard just miss the cut. It might not be fair, and, of course, there will be hurt feelings when guys like that can offer so much more than Bryant right now.

Aug 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; United States Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and the USA Team address the crowd after the game against  Brazil at the United Center. The United States defeated Brazil 95-78. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA T
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

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.

(For the record, Bryant has 7.78 million Twitter followers. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors have 1.15 million. And China doesn't even use Twitter. Bryant has 3.64 million more followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.)

It's no surprise that Bryant is coming around to the idea of playing in the Olympics. He insists on being a Laker or retiring, so assuming it ends after this season, Bryant will not have even played an NBA playoff game for the final four years of his career.   

The possibility of going out a winner with the U.S. team in Rio instead of a loser with the rebuilding Lakers is too much to resist—and Colangelo and all the world can feel the pull of that allure.

Bryant would be in line to be among the first players in history to win three Olympic gold medals in basketball if he were to play next summer in Rio.
Bryant would be in line to be among the first players in history to win three Olympic gold medals in basketball if he were to play next summer in Rio.Mark Ralston/Associated Press

Bryant's challenge is to stay healthy and productive enough through this NBA season to make himself a viable option for this roster that will be chosen in June.

If so, his glory could come at the expense of Love, Thompson, Leonard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth FariedLaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond or Dwight Howard.

(My projected U.S. team, based on how they lined up for the first practice and subsequent workouts during the Las Vegas minicamp last August: Chris Paul, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Anthony Davis as starters; Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Bryant, George, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin and DeMarcus Cousins as reserves.)

Anthony would make it for some of the same sentimental reasons Bryant would. Anthony, Bryant, James and Paul are positioned to become the first players ever to win three Olympic gold medals.

Bryant won his second Olympic gold in 2012 at the London Games.
Bryant won his second Olympic gold in 2012 at the London Games.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

And if you think that doesn't matter to Bryant, allow me to remind you of the story of how Bryant had just won his first gold medal in 2008 and was set to take a happy photo with Lisa Leslie...until he realized she didn't have any of her four gold medals on her, and he wasn't about to show off his one medal in a photo if she wasn't showing one.

Bryant making this grab for one more moment of glory is sure to rub some the wrong way. Selfish, from beginning to end, they'll say.

Yet if he's offered the chance one last time to compete on the highest level, Bryant seizing the moment would be far more in keeping with the theme of his career.

And right in line with the Olympic spirit to strive to compete with the best.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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