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Bryant, O’Neal Mull Olympic Service

October 1, 2002

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) _ Kobe Bryant said Monday he might be willing to play in the 2004 Olympics, while Shaquille O’Neal said he would suit up only if Phil Jackson is the U.S. coach.

Bryant and O’Neal said they watched the U.S. team finish sixth in the World Championships in August in Indianapolis.

O’Neal played on the gold medal-winning team in the 1996 Olympics. He kidded that George Karl, the coach at the World Championships, cost the Americans their winning streak. But if Jackson ran the show in Athens, O’Neal said he would like to be on the team.

``Then, yeah, I would,″ he said.

Bryant was impressed with the Yugoslavian team that won the title.

``It says a lot about European basketball and how you really have to take it seriously now because they were out there running pro sets,″ Bryant said. ``We’re just going to have to bounce back.″

Bryant was criticized for not playing this summer. He also bypassed the 2000 Olympics.

``They can take all the shots they want but you have to know what’s important to you. My family is more important to me,″ he said. ``My wife is expecting a child and you want me to go and play in the Olympics and the world games this summer, I’m not going to do it.″

But might he play in Athens?

``I would say so,″ he said. ``We’ll cross that bridge when it gets here.″

Bryant showed up for media day 15 pounds heavier, with much of the muscle on his chiseled upper arms. Part of his workout routine involved boxing, although he said he didn’t allow his sparring partner to take any shots at his head.

``The goal was to just get stronger,″ he said. ``This summer I was completely healthy, so I was able to push myself pretty hard.″

Even O’Neal was impressed with Bryant, who worked out up to four times a week at the Lakers’ practice facility.

``He looks fabulous,″ O’Neal said. ``Kobe’s always been a workaholic.″

O’Neal came back to camp looking considerably slimmer for the first time in recent years.

``I didn’t change anything,″ he said, ``just stayed out of trouble.″

O’Neal had surgery on his arthritic right toe Sept. 11 and is expected to miss all of training camp, which begins Tuesday. His rehabilitation most likely will extend into the season, which begins Oct. 29.

``I can’t do anything right now,″ he said. ``Once I’m able to run around, I’ll run and jump on it and then I’ll be able to determine when I can come back.″

O’Neal said his toe is stiff, but he hasn’t experienced pain since the day after the surgery.

A beaming Bryant eagerly shared the news that his wife, Vanessa, is expecting a daughter in February. ``Beautiful, isn’t it?″ he said, grinning.

The Lakers will be going for a fourth consecutive NBA championship, which hasn’t been done since the Boston Celtics in the 1960s.

``There’s nothing else to do but that,″ Bryant said.

He provided three reasons why the Lakers want to win it all again: to break Jackson’s tie with Red Auerbach at nine titles; to do something that hasn’t been done in 36 years; and to honor the late Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.

``That’s a good, doable goal,″ O’Neal said. ``However, I don’t think we should talk about that right now. We have to set our goals one month at a time. I’m sure by March or April we should be able to tell if we have what it takes to do it again.″

Jackson missed media day because he underwent an emergency tooth extraction. He was expected to rejoin the team Tuesday.

The Lakers will wear a black strip on the left shoulder of their uniforms this season in memory of play-by-play announcer Hearn, who died at 85 on Aug. 5 of head injuries sustained in a fall. The Hall of Fame broadcaster started with the Lakers when they moved to Los Angeles in 1961.

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