LONDON – In the aftermath of their Olympic gold medal triumph over Spain on Sunday, the US Dream Team of NBA stars began looking to the future, one that will not include Kobe Bryant or coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The US squad defeated Spain 107-100 to defend the Olympic crown won at Beijing, both times in unbeaten runs, and bring the birthplace of basketball its 14th all-time Olympic gold medal.
But figure on some changes before the bid for three in a row at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“This is it for me. The other guys are good to go,” Bryant said. “We will continue to grow our program, mentor the young fellows growing up and continue the tradition.”
That’s a pretty hefty task considering the Americans have gone 62-1 with two Olympic gold medals and a world title since revamping the national team program under “Coach K” after settling for a humbling bronze at the 2004 Olympics.
“It has been a long journey but eight years later we have two gold medals and a world championship so it was great,” said US star LeBron James. “It has been a great ride. I don’t know if I will be part of it in 2016. We’ll see.”
The US Olympic lineup featured five players from the Beijing champions and five from the 2010 world championship squad, a totally different unit. Even with some losses to injury, especially of tall players, the US rolled to gold.
“That’s the first time we had so many great players to carry the team,” Bryant said. “When the war goes on that’s the time you let it go.
“This Olympics we were (invincible).”
Bryant was contemplative as he kissed his gold medal.
“It was very emotional,” Bryant said. “You think back to the journey. You enjoy every single moment of it. It brings me great joy to help bring the gold medal back home.”
James finally won a long-sought NBA crown with the Miami Heat in June and added a second gold, an NBA-Olympic title feat the follows the footsteps of NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“It has been a great ride for me,” James said. “I had my dreams about being an NBA champion and finishing up with a gold medal. It’s fantastic to be in this position.”
James also produced the first US Olympic triple double — double-figure statistics in three categories — and contributed to a 156-point Olympic record single-game effort.
“This means more than myself. It means everything to the name on the front of the jersey — USA,” James said. “I’m glad I was able to contribute to a team that represented the country so well.”
For Carmelo Anthony, like James in his third Olympics after sitting on the bench for much of the 2004 bronze debaucle, double gold is a nice payoff after being inspired by Jordan and the original 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
“It mweans a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work. I was one of those kids that looked at the 1992 team and said, ‘That is where I want to be’, and 20 years on here I am winning the gold medal.”
Reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, whose Oklahoma City squad lost to Miami in the final but contributed three players to the US Olympic team, was non-committal about a Rio return.
“I’m only 23 now — we will see where I am in four years and in two years for the world championships,” Durant said. “Right now I’m just going to enjoy this one.
“Twenty years from now we are going to look back on this and reminisce about how much fun it was to be around one another. Forget the games, the passes, the shots we made, just being around each other on a day-to-day basis, how close we became as brothers first.”
They ascended to the medal platform arm in arm, this band of rivals who turned into brothers, forged into a unit by the Olympic flame and a test at the end from Spain, which figures to lose some veterans too.
“It’s going to be hard for me to be in Rio,” admitted Pau Gasol, the Spanish big man who plays alongside Bryant for the NBA Los Angeles Lakers. “We’ll see.
“I love what I do but there’s going to come a time when I will have to say no or my body will say no.”