|Aug 08||Women's team sees other side of Kobe and LeBron|
BEIJING (AP) Katie Smith and the U.S. women's basketball team got a taste of what it feels like to be an NBA superstar with fans chasing after them and the paparazzi snapping photos, begging the question: Does China have that much passion for women's basketball?
Nope, those were just some of the benefits of traveling with the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and the rest of the men's team.
While the women have witnessed first hand thousands of fans lining the streets to snap a photo of their favorite NBA stars, the women have also seen another side of their brethren. They are just a bunch of normal guys - some even babysitters - who share the same hotel, gym and meal room.
"They definitely are rock stars," Smith said. "But for us it's fun to see them in a relaxed setting. They are just coming in here to play and have fun. When we see them around they are just able to hang out and be themselves."
The men have arguably become the face of America at the games. But even the biggest stars like Bryant and James are just normal around the women. Lisa Leslie has known Bryant since he joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1997. Both have young children and have gotten to know each other through the years.
"Kobe and I have a relationship because we've been friends since the day he got to L.A," said Leslie, who has played her entire 11-year WNBA career with the Los Angeles Sparks. "He's missing his kids and me having Lauren here, he's always holding her waiting for his kids to arrive."
To Lauren, having Bryant and the men's team around gives her a chance to play her favorite game - going up high in the air.
"It's so funny. Lauren's like up, up. Usually it's like 6-foot-5 with me, but here it's 6-foot-6, 6-foot-9, there's only so far you can go up," Leslie said. "Most of them have kids and we chit chat about it. They ask how it is having a daughter since they have sons. They want to know how Lauren is to her dad."
At breakfast the other day, Leslie wanted to get some food, but had Lauren around. No problem. In steps Bryant.
"I love her little baby, she's a cute kid and I've told her I'd baby sit any time she wanted to go out to an event or something," Bryant said. "I miss my girls so it's a comfortable feeling for me. The other day in the buffet line I was holding her and I had her in my arm and I was getting my food and I thought this feels natural because I've always got one in my arm."
Besides enjoying spending time with Lauren, Bryant has developed a respect for what Leslie has brought to the women's game.
"She's one of the pioneers for the game in terms of bring it mainstream," he said. "There was Cheryl Miller and others before her, but Lisa really helped take it to the next level. The relationship we had started off with mutual respect. I was young, I was up and coming and getting started, and she never treated me like a young kid."
The two teams have a mutual respect with both having the pressure of winning a gold medal. On Friday, the men's team practiced right after the women. The men got to the arena a little early and joked around with the women on the court before starting their workout.
Despite all the time the teams spend together, it's still hard sometimes for the women not to step back and be in awe of the men.
"It's unbelievable the way they impact people and don't even know it and that's cool," Smith said.