LAS VEGAS — Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant have tasted gold before. But this year, they’ll have to earn that medal without LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul.
Or Kobe Bryant.
With Bryant’s retirement in April, the U.S. National Team will complete at the Olympics without him for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games, when it returned stateside with nothing but bronze to show.
As the Americans seek their third-straight gold medal in Rio de Janeiro next month, Anthony and Durant will serve as the team’s veteran leaders — a role that Bryant filled during the 2012 Olympics in London.
Bryant was 33 at the time — four years older than his next-closest teammate. This time around, Anthony, 32, is the most experienced player on the roster, while Durant, 27, is fourth.
Still, despite having a 12-man roster with eight players 26 years old or younger, Anthony maintains that he has less space to bridge between his teammates than Bryant did.
“It definitely was a gap between him and the rest of us,” Anthony said on Wednesday at USA Basketball training camp, laughing. “My gap is not that big. Kyle Lowry’s 30 years old. People underestimate that. People don’t talk about him being old.”
Nonetheless, Anthony finds himself in the same role as Bryant, whom U.S. National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski credited with using the Games to set the tone for a new era of superstars.
Anthony now leads a crew of 10 new Olympians — with Durant being the only other to have played in the Games.
In two Olympic runs with Bryant, Anthony — who was just 20 when he was a member of the bronze team in Athens — studied the Laker’s unique way of locking himself in before tip-off, saying that “just the way his mind works” was the most impressive part of his game.
“For me, it was more his mental approach to the games and seeing him in the locker room before the games and seeing how he prepares for the games and for teams and for individuals,” Anthony said. “I took more from that than anything from his game.”
Durant, meanwhile, was Olympic teammates with Bryant only in 2012. But he, too, took away the same principle message: Bryant’s mentality was something to be adopted and tailored.
“His intensity and his focus is contagious,” Durant said. “I learned a lot from him. (We have) different personalities, obviously, but the way he approaches the game is something I learned and I tried to change up and tweak it my way.”
But what stuck most with Durant was Bryant’s mere presence on the team.
He was coming off a First Team All-NBA season that saw him rank second in the NBA in scoring with 27.9 points per game. As the elder statesman on a U.S. roster featuring the likes of Durant, Anthony and James, Bryant also deferred to the younger stars by taking only the fourth-most shots on the team.
“Kobe Bryant’s done so much in this league,” Durant said. “He didn’t have to play. He wanted to. He came out here and sacrificed everything. In 2012 he was just the greatest, man. He was a great leader. He didn’t care about shots — none of that stuff. He wanted to help us win and he was passionate about it.”