By Paul Higham. Last Updated: 11/08/08 11:47am
Bryant: The MVP
Surprisingly, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant will be making his first Olympic appearance in Beijing and he will bring all the glitz and glamour with him as the NBA's current MVP.
Although Bryant will not go to Beijing with an NBA title under his belt from the past season - he did lead the LA Lakers to the finals, only to be beaten by the Boston Celtics.
Turning 30 just before the Olympic basketball tournament begins, Bryant is one of the genuine sporting superstars appearing in the Games which highlights the modern-day change away from the amateur ethos and more about the world's best fighting it out for Olympic glory.
Bryant and his American team will have a lot to prove in Beijing having been embarrassingly dethroned in Athens as Argentina took gold, while they could only manage bronze in the World Championships behind winners Spain.
Both Argentina and Spain will offer strong challenges again, but with such a star like Bryant leading the team the Americans can only throw away the chance to take back the title that should really never leave their grasp.
Bryant struggled early on his career with comparisons with the great Michael Jordan, while he has also endured his problems off the court in his private life.
A new sense of maturity does seem to be taking over a player that has scored the second-highest number of points in a single game after once netting 81.
Bryant's ability to manufacture space against even the tightest of defences coupled with his exemplary dribbling and shooting makes him amongst the most complete all-round basketballers ever to have stepped foot on the court.
This is reflected in him being in every All-NBA team since 1999, and involved in the last ten All-Star Games, while he holds or shares 30 franchise records with the LA Lakers- his only team to date.
The first guard to be drafted straight out of High School in 1996, Bryant was chosen by the Charlotte Hornets but refused to play for them and only joined the NBA when the Lakers came in with a trade.
The Philadelphia native was reputedly named after the luxurious Kobe beef in Japan by his parent after they spotted it on a menu, and their son is now certainly the cream of the crop in basketball terms.
Three NBA titles came when Bryant and Shaquille O'Neil formed an unbeatable partnership, but off-court arguments between the pair supposedly led to Shaq leaving and Bryant receiving hefty criticism.
Now more settled on and off-court, and with a bigger sense of teamwork, Bryant is just what the USA need to claim back their basketball gold in Beijing.
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