Kobe Bryant, one of the world’s best-known athletes, joked Friday that he will flee his country if the United States fail to win Olympic basketball gold.
“People ask me and I joke around a lot, but if we want to remain U.S. citizens we got to win gold,” the Los Angeles Lakers guard told Reuters.
“I’ll be an Italian. You’ll be calling me Kobe Giovani, you know what I mean?!”
The U.S. are among the favorites for gold at the Beijing Games after failing in Athens four years ago when they finished third while a dashing Argentina swept to the title.
Bryant’s teammate Carmelo Anthony was another plotting an emergency escape route, just in case.
“I’m going to ship my clothes somewhere else, man,” said Anthony, who played in Athens and at the 2006 world championships when the Americans were again relegated to the bronze medal.
“I’m going to negotiate a contract with another team somewhere — I ain’t going back!
“In ’04 we didn’t know anything. We were blind. It was embarrassing to come back to the States knowing we’re supposed to be the best basketball players in the world and to come back with a third-place medal.
“We really took a big hit — not just as a team but as a country.”
The big-name NBA players, billed as the “Redeem Team” following their recent flops, open their Olympic campaign with a blockbuster game against a Yao Ming-inspired China on Sunday.
“A lot of people are saying it will be the most-viewed sporting event ever (in China),” said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Playing China in the very first game, I don’t know if it gets better than that.”
Krzyzewski’s team are in the same preliminary Group B as world champions Spain and a tough Greece side who stunned them in the world championship semi-finals in 2006.
“After we lost in ’04, everyone has pride and took that to the heart,” said Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. “We want to show that our game is still the best. We’re the founders of this game.”
Krzyzewski’s assistant coach Nate McMillan insisted the Americans were better prepared this time.
“They’re more connected,” McMillan told Reuters. “We feel that family chemistry other countries have over the last few years.
“But the bottom line is we can’t talk about being the best — we’ve got to show it.”