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Over his 16-season NBA career, Kobe Bryant has stood out for many admirable traits, not the least of which are his skill and innate athleticism. But while Kobe happens to have as much talent as all but a few other players in the history of the sport, he arguably stands out most for his immense drive to get better. At every step of his career, he's done what's necessary to stay at the top of the game (as best he can, at least) and keep the Lakers in championship contention. It hasn't always worked out, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
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In 2008, Bryant led Team USA to the gold medal in part by setting an intense tone in practices and games, particularly on the defensive end. For this year's tournament in London, Bryant has also committed himself to being at his best. To do so, he's changed his body by dropping 16 pounds. From a long feature by Jeremiah Tittle for The Guardian UK (via PBT):
But it is more than just preparation that allows the 33-year-old, fifth on the all-time NBA scoring list with 29,484 points, to continue to play at such a high level. When asked about the experimental treatment he underwent to remedy his failing knees, he says: "I've spoken to other baseball players, other [American] football players about it. It did wonders for me. It's not just for your knees, but anything arthritic. So, the doctors came up with this [Orthokine] procedure which can act as a replacement of cartilage. For me, the results have been astonishing. I can run. I can train. I can do everything that I wanted to do without limping, my knee getting swollen or anything of that nature."
Beyond experimental therapy, Bryant reveals how else his appearance has changed, losing 16 pounds to prepare his older body for the rigours of the Olympics followed by another run at his sixth NBA title. "With summer basketball leading directly into the season — and I'm expecting to play until next June — I have to take some load off my knees. I've got to shave some of this weight."
The lost weight is not incredibly noticeable at first glance, but a closer look does show Bryant with a more angular face, more toned arms and a slightly sleeker, less muscular look. It's not as if he was in bad shape before — this is a matter of optimization rather than necessary overhaul.
That attention to small edges is what makes Bryant so great — he looks for all possible forms of improvement and investigates them thoroughly. In the past, Kobe has changed his diet and famously flown to Germany to undergo bizarre knee treatments. Other players go to great lengths to fix their bodies, but no one does as much as the Lakers star.
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This decision to lose weight had to do with much more than the Olympics, especially now that the Lakers have added Steve Nash and look like potential championship contenders once again. It just so happens that the Olympics were the first event on his schedule — this is about the totality of his schedule, not just one event.
Kobe can be stubborn and difficult to deal with, particularly when it comes to deciding how to organize the Lakers' offense. However, there's no question that he understands the trials of the aging athlete, and what he must do to get through them. He didn't need to lose weight, but Bryant has always been focused on what can be done, not what must be done.
More Olympic coverage on the Yahoo! Sports network:
• North Korean women's soccer team protests flag gaffe
• U.S. women's soccer doubles up France after falling behind
• Partying more important to IOC than Munich remembrance