Rudy Fernandez

Originally published in SLAM 122

It was the night before the gold medal game. Kobe Bryant entered the Olympic Village under cover of darkness, helped out by a member of the Spanish coaching staff and a preposterous fake mustache. He signed in as “Johnny Kilroy” and was led to the Spanish quarters, where Rudy Fernandez awaited. There were important matters to discuss.

The subject was Dwight Howard, the lone three-striper on a squad full of stars and swooshes and jumpmen. Awkward? You bet. Team USA wasn’t quite a team. Conversations were interrupted, next-next gear had to be hidden, that Marvin Gaye commercial took a couple extra hours to put together. The hope was that “fractured sternum” would be enough to make things all swoosh. It wasn’t. So, Bryant.

Kobe’s selection for this task was logical. Number one, he spoke the language. And number two, as the team’s premier perimeter defender, he could be counted on to set things up right. Make it look natural. Fernandez was an obvious choice as well. Known as a guy who could, well, rise to the occasion if he could get by the first line of defense, Rudy was the perfect man for the job. The Hyperdunker.

Bryant laid out the details: the time, the place, the fact that he would make what appeared to be a critical defensive lapse. “Dwight won’t even be ready, man,” he laughed en Español. “The photos are gonna be crazy.”

Russ Bengtson