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Lakers star Kobe Bryant backtracks on Dream Team claim

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LONDON >> On second thought, maybe the original Dream Team was better.

So says Kobe Bryant, who lighted a metaphorical fire around his feet earlier this month by saying this year’s U.S. team would beat the original cast of NBA stars from 1992.

This time, though, Bryant indicated that Michael, Magic and Larry were more talented than LeBron, Kevin Durant and himself.

“I didn’t say we were a better team,” Bryant said Friday amid a mob of reporters at an introductory Olympic news conference. “But if you think we can’t beat that team one time? Like I’m going to say no, that we’d never beat them.”

Bryant agreed with President Barack Obama, who countered Bryant’s comments earlier this month by saying the 1992 squad was superior.

“He’s right. They are a better team,” Bryant said. “The question was ’Can we beat them?’ Yes we can. Of course we can.

“We like where we are but we’re not going to compare ourselves to them because those guys are living legends. We just hope that when our careers are all said and done, people can look back on our team and say we had quite a bit of Hall of Famers as well.”

In his second Olympic tour, Bryant, 33, also discussed his NBA longevity and the near future of the Lakers. He has two years and $58.3 million on his contract, and indicated he might be done after it expired.

“That’s what I’m thinking but I haven’t had any serious thoughts about it,” he said.

Wouldn’t he keep playing until he won a sixth championship, tying Jordan?

“I’m just going to, like, hold on for dear life?” Bryant retorted. “I’m not the type of guy to do that. I’ll give you the great effort, my best effort, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

Then he added with a smile, “But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t.”

Bryant insisted that Pau Gasol should remain on the Lakers despite repeated attempts by the team to trade him.

“He’s staying. If they want to get rid of them, they’ve got to go through me first,” Bryant said. “They can’t possibly. As long as I’m there, Pau should be there too.”

Bryant’s appearance has changed since the Lakers were eliminated in May by Oklahoma City. He dropped 16 pounds leading up to the Olympics by changing his diet.

“I used to eat junk food all the time and I started feeling bloated, sluggish. I had to stop it,” he said. “Every time I wanted to grab that In-N-Out burger, I was like, ’Whoa.’”

Bryant also sided somewhat with Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, who said earlier this year that players should get paid for playing in the Olympics.

“There’s some truth to that,” Bryant said. “But we’re all here because we enjoy playing. Even though a lot of us probably share the same opinion, it’s not like we’re saying, ’Well, we’re not going to play if you don’t pay us.’ We play. We do it because we want to.”

The U.S. begins play Sunday against France.

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