“Were you surprised that David Stern didn’t nix the Steve Nash trade and send him to the Clippers?”
“I wasn’t surprised,” Bryant said, laughing. “But I think Chris [Paul] was, though.”
“Are you worried LeBron and NBC will team up for ‘The Decision II,’ in which LeBron said he is defecting, that, ‘I’m taking my talents to Spain?’ ”
Looking to his left at LeBron James, his Team USA teammate, shaking his head, trying not to bust up, Mamba composed himself and said, “No, I think we’re good with LeBron.”
What? You wanted depth? It’s the Olympics. We’re supposed to go all Sam Donaldson on the Kobester, continue interrogating him like Craig Sager about the Lakers, which he gets grilled about 82 times a day during the regular season?
Nuh-uh. Can’t do it.
Bryant’s the senior member of Team USA now, a 33-year-old veteran of 16 NBA seasons, nearly 30,000 points, two Olympic teams, two creaky knees and numerous aging joints, joints that whisper their expiration dates to a tone-deaf, five-time NBA champion still pining for a Jordan-esque sixth.
“I’m just going to, like, hold on for dear life?” Bryant said when I asked if he would stick around till he won another title. “I’m not the type of guy to do that. I’ll give you the great effort, my best effort, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
After a slight pause, a coy smile crossed his mug: “But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t.”
Bryant knows this is it. Hinting again he may retire after his current contract expires in two years (“That’s what I’m thinking, but I haven’t had any serious thoughts about it,” he said), Bryant knows his days on the international stage number fewer than 12. He can sense it. To see him march into Olympic Stadium on Friday night during the Opening Ceremonies to the London Games, apart from his millionaire hoops peers and in the thick of the lesser-known members of the U.S. Olympic team, was to view a much different athlete than the kid who jumped to the NBA from Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High at 17.
“Yes, I have started receiving social security checks,” Bryant quipped. “They call me the O.G. That’s what I am around here.”
“One hundred percent,” Bryant said. “That’s what they call me.”
One day you’re a new-jack kid in this game, waving the old heads off when they set a pick on your defender. You’re breaking ankles and taking names en route to the rim. The next, you’re . . . dieting.
“I used to eat junk food all the time and I started feeling bloated, sluggish,” a sinewy Mamba said, confirming he had dropped 16 pounds since the end of the NBA season. “Every time I wanted to grab that In-N-Out burger, I was like, ‘Whoa.’ ”