By JANIE McCAULEY, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Kobe Bryant, take a bow.
No longer the greatest of the greats on the Olympic roster, Bryant is leaving the international stage after the London Games. With one more win, he'll complete his exit just as he envisioned.
Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of this glittering American team face Spain on Sunday for Olympic gold only hours before London shuts down this successful Summer Games show.
"Well, I just want to go out the right way," Bryant said before practice Saturday. "You know, go out the right way by winning a gold medal."
Also Sunday on the Olympics' final day, Brazil plays for its second men's volleyball gold medal in three Olympics when it meets Russia in the final. In the pool, it's Italy against unbeaten Croatia for the men's water polo championship.
When the next Summer Olympics arrive at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Bryant will be pushing 38. Old for basketball legs, indeed. The Los Angeles Lakers' star turned 30 during his Olympic debut four years ago in Beijing while still in his basketball prime.
A lesser role in London has done little to diminish his popularity. Globally, Bryant remains the most recognizable face of this roster everywhere he goes. Fans swarm him, desperate for any moment with the NBA superstar. Autograph. Photo. A quick word. Any tiny piece of Kobe will do.
"It's been fun," said Bryant, who spent part of his childhood in Italy where his father played pro basketball. "You get a chance to go out into different countries and you get a chance to meet a lot of people just walking up and down the street wanting pictures and autographs. You get a chance to make a lot of people happy. I don't get a chance to come out here too often. They don't really get a chance to see me play in person too often, so it's a thrill."
Bryant had a bigger presence on the court in 2008 than he does now. He has seemed to enjoy his place in London, taking a back seat to James & Co. Bryant has watched while James, Anthony and Kevin Durant command the world stage for the unbeaten Americans (7-0).
"I get a chance to kind of just rest a little bit and let them do all the running and jumping and stuff, and show glimpses every now and then of what I can do," Bryant said.
Bryant has picked his spots, cranking up his game when needed. It has worked out fine for everybody.
"Don't let Kobe fool you," Durant cracked. "He's just resting up for the season — that's what he's worried about. But he knows when he's got to turn it on he'll turn it on."
After a slow start in London, Bryant stressed he wasn't worried about his scoring. Then, he produced two clutch games during the medal rounds to get the Americans in the very spot they've expected to be from the moment they were brought together this summer: chasing a second straight Olympic championship, with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski orchestrating this array of NBA egos.
This team might not have the Dream Team tag of the 1992 squad led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But it might wind up outscoring that team from 20 years ago.
Bryant certainly will do his part — whatever the numbers, whatever his role.
Assistant U.S. coach Nate McMillan is among those who appreciate Bryant's transformation from singular NBA sensation to role player.
"Kobe, playing in his second Olympics with us, he understands that LeBron and Durant and (Russell) Westbrook and these younger guys are going to be taking over from him," McMillan said. "Yes, he is a very important part. He has adapted, and that's been the biggest thing we all have had to do, to adapt to who we are and what we're trying to accomplish. And he has done that."
Bryant is the Americans' fifth-best scorer, averaging 11.3 points to go with 1.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He had 20 points in 20 minutes in a 119-86 quarterfinal victory against Australia on Wednesday. He then scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting with three 3-pointers in Friday's semifinal rout of Argentina.
"He's still as focused and locked in on the defensive end here," Durant said. "As far as offense, he knows that we've got a lot of different guys who can score the ball. He's just putting all his effort on defense, and when he needs to make shots he'll make them."
And Bryant isn't spending any extra time thinking about his Olympic goodbye. Not yet. That might hit Sunday night on the podium.
"I don't need to think about it that much right now," he said. "I already knew coming in that this was going to be it. But I'm looking forward to it."
As a bonus, before he even got to the gold-medal game, Bryant learned he had a new Lakers teammate: Dwight Howard, acquired by Los Angeles in a blockbuster four-team, 12-player trade.
So, after this trip, Bryant turns to the business of bringing another championship banner to L.A. But might he have just one more Olympics in him four years from now, with Rio beckoning?
"Nah, I'm pretty sure," Bryant said with a smile. "I'm looking forward to going and watching."
NBC Sunday Olympic prime time schedule:
7 p.m.-10:38 p.m. (EDT/PDT)
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