During the 2008 Summer Olympics, LeBron James reportedly issued a blunt directive to Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski about Kobe Bryant.
Ian O’Connor’s new book “Coach K” included the anecdote that related to Bryant’s shot selection and level of motivation during a closer-than-expected game.
Over time, Kobe felt reinvigorated by the unique challenge before him. He had been a pro for 10 years and appreciated the fact that Coach K was motivating him in a way that had nothing to do with money. But standards are standards, and suddenly on the night of Aug. 5, 2008, Bryant wasn’t meeting Team USA’s. He took a few loose shots in the second half against Australia—enough to draw the attention of his teammates. The U.S. won 87–76 but looked exceedingly beatable in doing so. The Americans were eager to get on with the Olympic tournament, and Kobe, apparently bored, seemed to be increasing the degree of difficulty on some attempts.
“Everyone knew it,” says one Team USA staffer. “They know when another player is being selfish. Players can police themselves, but in this instance, as LeBron was coming out of the game, he said to Mike, ‘Yo, Coach, you’d better fix that motherf—–,’ as he walks by. He was talking about Kobe.”
Krzyzewski, who had already led Duke University to three NCAA titles by that time, had obviously been able to motivate his Blue Devils players in the past. The mentor would ultimately find a way to get Bryant back on track.
That’s because Team USA ended up winning the gold medal in those Olympics. Between James and Bryant, there was no lasting animosity toward each other about the heated moment.
However, it offers a window into the competitive nature of James as well as a rare moment in which Bryant was not striving to perform at his very best.
One of the reasons that Team USA members like James were on edge about their relatively close victory was because of the pressures involved at the time.
Just four years earlier, Team USA had won only a bronze medal and played poorly throughout that particular Olympics. The more determined effort in 2008 led that year’s squad to be dubbed the “Redeem Team.”
O’Connor’s book about Krzyzewski is coming out in the final months of the legendary coach’s career. He will be retiring at the end of the current college basketball season.
Krzyzewski’s storied tenure at Duke nearly ended in 2004, when he came close to becoming head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, the team was looking to replace another coaching legend, Phil Jackson, who had resigned the previous month.