In 2008, the ‘Redeem Team’ was tasked with returning USA Basketball back to glory after a couple of disappointing finishes in recent international tournaments, including a Bronze Medal finish in the 2004 Olympics. Legendary Duke coach Mike ‘Coach K’ Krzyzewski was put in charge of a team led by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other NBA stars.
Coach K is still in charge of Team USA ahead of this year’s Olympics in Rio, and following a recent practice, he spoke about Kobe’s impact and said he probably would’ve been fired if they had lost in 2008, via Lakers.com:
“In London, he was also an integral part of what we were doing and a key guy,” Krzyzewski said at USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. “But if we lose in Beijing, you’re not interviewing me right now. So I recognize that.”
Coach K noted that Kobe was ‘The Mamba’ down the stretch of the Gold Medal Game against Spain. He scored 13 points and added two assists in the fourth quarter, including a huge four-point play that shifted momentum after Spain had cut the lead to two points.
Coach K also believes that Kobe’s impact is still being felt today as he set the tone for bringing all of the top stars together:
“He was the alpha dog during ’08,” Krzyzewski said. “And we had a lot of other aspiring alpha dogs: LeBron, Carmelo and those guys. So how do you get that era and this era together? They did.
“And then in London, you start adding (Kevin Durant) and (Russell) Westbrook. Now you have three eras of alpha dogs, and they got it together. But Kobe set an example for that. He’s smart. Really smart and good. I love him.”
Kobe’s clutch performance in 2008 is one of his forgotten clutch moments as most only focus on his NBA exploits. That game, however, was huge in shaping what Team USA has become today, and Coach K has also spoken about Kobe volunteering to be Team USA’s defensive stopper in 2012.
To be the leader on a team full of leaders says a lot about the respect Kobe Bryant had amongst his peers. Team USA is thriving now, and Kobe has a lot to do with that.