SALT LAKE CITY — A brief moment stopped for Kobe Bryant where he could focus on something other than playing through pain in his 37-year-old body, overcoming shooting inconsistency and elevating his younger Lakers teammates. Warriors guard Leandro Barbosa approached him two days ago during a stoppage in play, wishing him future greetings for when Bryant presumably would play in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Then, Bryant informed Barbosa that he changed his sentiment.
“It’s the young guys turn to go and play and perform. I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals,” said Bryant, referring to his Olympic stints in Beijing (2008) and London (2012). “I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go and play.”
Bryant had originally ruled out playing in what would have marked his third Olympics appearance as soon as the 2012 Games ended. But Bryant changed his mind last summer, something he still expressed interest in another Olympics appearance as recently as early December. But before the Lakers (9-32) play the Utah Jazz (17-22) on Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Bryant sounded open about only one specific role.
“I’ll watch from afar and show support from afar,” Bryant said. “If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. But that’s about it.”
With Bryant playing his 20th and final NBA season, he had already ruled out playing overseas in following years because his “body won’t let me.” Bryant has averaged 17 points on a career-low 34.7 percent clip in 29.9 minutes, while missing eight games amid varying injuries to his back, right shoulder and right Achilles tendon.
Bryant also found strong symbolism in playing his final game in the Lakers’ season-finale against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13.
“I think it’s beautiful as it would be to play for the country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire and that’s it. That’s it. I’m not going to walk off the stage, Bryant said before pausing for dramatic effect. “‘But I’m going right back for a minute. Hold on one second.’ I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Lakers uniform and support the players from afar.”