Kevin Durant was on the front cover of The Players Tribune , and it’s come to light that the man behind the paper isn’t the same Kevin Durant who’s a free agent. Rather, it’s a retired Kevin Durant. In the story, it’s revealed that the player who’s currently an unrestricted free agent and the player who’s retired are two different guys. And that’s how he and Kobe Bryant were introduced.
The rest of the world is still trying to figure out how Team USA’s 101-69 loss to Nigeria in the FIBA World Cup is an appropriate way to honor Kobe Bryant, but there’s nothing funny about it according to Kevin Durant, who said the team wants to honor Kobe during their tournament run in Japan this summer.
Kevin Durant missed the 2019-20 NBA season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Although his return was one of the most productive in the history of a player with such an injury, he missed more than half of the 2020-21 regular season with hamstring and hip problems. But he never considered not playing for the U.S. basketball team at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which were postponed because of the pandemic. One of the many reasons? A desire to honor the memory of the late Kobe Bryant.
The Tokyo Games will be Durant’s third Olympics and he will be looking for a third gold medal, in addition to the medals he won in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Moreover, Durant is now just 25 points away from Carmelo Anthony’s U.S. Olympic record in Tokyo. The trip to Tokyo did not start well, however, with a loss against an unlikely rival.
USA Basketball has won 39 consecutive games in the past three Olympic seasons, including practice games prior to the Games. There are two wins against Nigeria in this series. In London during the 2012 Olympics, Team USA defeated Nigeria 156-63. This match set Olympic records for points scored and margin of victory (83 points).
In the 2016 pre-Olympic tournament, the U.S. closed out its pre-Rio exhibition schedule with a 110-66 victory in Houston.
But on July 10 in Las Vegas, Nigeria scored a historic victory by beating the United States national basketball team 90-87. It was the African team’s first win over Team USA and only the third practice loss to the U.S. since NBA players were allowed to participate in the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
Nigeria did better than the United States, especially in terms of distance. They made 20 of 42 (47.6%) shots from distance, compared to 10 of 24 (41.7%) for Team USA. Overall, Nigeria achieved 43.8% (32 out of 73) while the Americans achieved 41.3% (26 out of 63). USA Basketball kept the game close at the free throw line, where they scored 25 of 32, while Nigeria only scored 6 of 10.
Durant scored 17 points and led Team USA. Gabe Vincent, a reserve in the Miami Heat’s deep rotation, scored 21 points for Nigeria.
U.S. gold medalists Kevin Durant, left, and Kobe Bryant, right, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in the stands after the men’s basketball gold medal game at the London 2012 Olympics between the United States and Spain at North Greenwich Arena on Dec. 12. August 2012 in London. CLARY/AFP/GettyImages
Kobe Bryant was a veteran of USA Basketball. He played for two Olympic gold medalists – in 2008 in Beijing on the famed Redeem Team and in 2012 in London, where he was on the team with Kevin Durant. Bryant also helped the United States win gold at the 2007 U.S. tournament.
Durant told the New York Post that he had many reasons to play in Tokyo, but one of them was the memory of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
This will be important for many reasons, and this is certainly one of them. We have many students here from Kobe who studied with him for so long and kept in touch with him. They want to go out and win the gold like he did. I’m looking forward to it.
Those who had a close relationship with him will understand how he approached each day, especially with Team USA. He was really proud to be a part of this group and his team. We all feed off that kind of energy, and Kobe always brought it. That’s why it’s always a big deal for all of us. We miss him, we really miss him because he would be there to support us.
Durant wants his third gold medal, rest assured. For Team USA coach Gregg Popovich, the motivation for a successful performance has nothing to do with Olympic failure. Instead, his first experience as a head coach since Mike Krzyzewski decided to retire went poorly.
In 2019, respected San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will get his first chance to lead USA Basketball to a major international game. But the team he took to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China had a glaring lack of stars.
While the U.S. won the two preliminary rounds 6-0, the medal round was a disaster. France eliminated the United States from medal contention with an 89-79 victory in the quarterfinals, while Serbia stirred the pot with a 94-89 win in the consolation semifinals. Basketball USA salvaged seventh place with a win over Poland.
With players like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal, the United States has star power. But a loss against Nigeria is still a bad start in the process.
statistics provided by USA Basketball and Basketball-Reference.
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