NBA: Kobe Bryant hopes for 'beautiful' end to career by making U.S. Olympic team

Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up prior to a game on Dec 12, 2015 in Houston, Texas.
Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up prior to a game on Dec 12, 2015 in Houston, Texas.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Kobe Bryant says he's not pushing to play on the United States Olympic basketball team in Rio, but the retiring Los Angeles Lakers guard said on Monday it would make a "beautiful" ending to his 20-year career.

The 37-year-old American guard, a five-time NBA champion and gold medal winner at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, announced last month this would be his final National Basketball Association (NBA) campaign after a historic career.

After battling nagging injuries for years, Bryant is fit but the Lakers are in a rebuilding mode and at 4-23 have the second-worst win-loss record in the NBA.

Missing the play-offs could leave Bryant rested and in form to become the first man in Olympic history to win three basketball gold medals, should he earn a spot on the two-time defending champion American squad.

"It's not something I'm absolutely pressing for but being part of the Olympic experience is a beautiful thing," Bryant said. "It would be a beautiful thing to finish my career playing internationally. But that being said we will see how it goes."

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams would also have the chance for an unprecedented men's Olympic hat-trick at Rio, but for Bryant it would be a golden farewell.

"I try to look at my legacy as much as how do I impact the future, not where do I rank among the best players all time," Bryant said when asked where he fell among NBA icons.

"It's a moot point and for me it's pretty much of a shallow argument. It's how do I impact the generation of players coming in by what I have done. I think it has impacted the generation coming in a big way and they will pass that along to the next generation to come."

Bryant, a 17-time NBA All-Star, was speaking ahead of his record-setting 16th career appearance in a Christmas NBA match-up, his Lakers hosting city rivals Los Angeles Clippers on Dec 25. He is the all-time leader in scoring for games on the holiday.

Bryant has been nagged by injuries in recent seasons and is struggling with a sore right shoulder. He is averaging 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game this season for the Lakers, with career averages of 25.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals a game.

"I would have loved to have played overseas but it's not going to happen. Body won't let me," he admitted. "My body has been through a lot. And it's very easy to forget I haven't played because of it. My timing is off, my rhythm is off. It was about me continuing my training and believing my timing will come back and that's what happened."

Bryant said he expects the megastar trend of the NBA to continue in the wake of Michael Jordan, James and himself, saying: "I think there's going to be a player in the next 10 years that's going to rise above it all."

He warned that the Lakers carry a history of success that must be respected by those who would join them.

"It's not about handing over the keys," he said. "For the players that are here, winning championships is the only goal. That's the attitude."

Bryant, who spent some of his youth in Italy, said he plans to be a global ambassador for the sport, naming Shanghai and Africa as two of his planned destinations.

"I definitely plan on helping the game spread and helping kids all around the world understand all that surrounds the game and its potential," he said.

"I look forward to visiting places like Africa and teaching the game."