I know there's a lot of Kobe talk on the site - and rightfully so. I wanted to share this as we start remembering his career and different parts of it. This though? This, to me, was his greatest game. The moment he decided to put Team USA directly on his back and stuff Spain directly in a locker during the 2008 Gold Medal Game. Remember, this was the Redeem Team - a roster consisting of Carlos Boozer, Jason Kidd, LeBron, Deron Williams, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince and Melo.
More importantly, this is the team that was strategically put together to remind everyone that USA is the greatest basketball country in the world. This was the team that was supposed to make up for the disaster that happened in Greece. Jerry Colango built this team, like you know a team. Guys like Prince/Redd who were unique players but really relying on guys like Kobe to be the leader as LeBron/Wade/Paul/Melo were just getting into their prime.
So fast forward to the 2008 title game vs Spain. This happened at like 2am and I still remember being back at college before classes start and making sure we all left the bar early to watch this game. I'm a sucker for Olympic hoops, said it all the time and remember the build up for this game - pre-Twitter, pre-real social media. That Spain team was LOADED too. Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon, Felipe Reyes, Juan Carlos Navarro, Marc Gasol, Raul Lopez, Carlos Jiminez, etc. Everything that entire Olympic process - built up to this game. This game was can't-miss and everyone that I knew treated it like such.
The US got out to a quick start, which was vital because Spain actually settled in and didn't care that they were playing this US team. That's why they were able to cut a 14-point lead down. They just never let the US do what the US typically did - push that 14-point lead to 30 and then cruise in the second half. It was just a 69-61 game at halftime. Then it happened. Kobe showed up and took over the game when the US needed him to.
Every clutch play in the 4th quarter stemmed from Kobe. I still remember sitting at 367 Park Ave in Lexington, being in awe that on a roster full of dudes that could take over the game, it was still Kobe. I've said it before. I wasn't a Kobe fan. Hated the Lakers, didn't like him as a player, etc. One thing I always respected about him though was how he didn't give a shit and had that desire to take over a game. That came through here. Just look at some of the moments:
8 minutes left, 2-point game. Kobe takes the ball, gets to the paint hits a tough hanger.
7:30, 4-point game. Kobe gets in the lane, defense collapses, kicks to an open Deron Williams. Bang.
6:05 left, 6-point game. Kobe corner 3. Dagger.
3:10 left, 5-point game. Kobe 3 from the wing. Bang, plus the foul.
Finally, 1:10 left, 6-point game. Kobe hits the runner to really just seal the gold medal.
Remember, Kobe talked about how important it was for him to play for Team USA
He did this all in a gold medal game against USA's rival, in a game that didn't have the NBA dressing so to speak. It didn't have the same rules. It wasn't officiated the same way. He wasn't able to just scream his way for a foul call, etc. It's one of my all-time favorite games of basketball. It just felt different. It was different. In a large part it was different because of Kobe closing and finishing with 20 points and 6 assists.