MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Kobe Bryant, the face of the U.S. men's team favored to retain its gold medal, has slammed the NBA for considering an age limit that would prevent many of the world's top basketball players taking part in future Olympics.
National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner David Stern has spoken about the possibility of limiting participation in the Olympic basketball tournament to players aged 23 and under following the July 27-August 12 London Games.
"It's a stupid idea, stupid," Bryant, 33, told reporters on Tuesday ahead of Team USA's Olympic friendly against Britain on Thursday. "It should be a (player's) choice.
NBA team owners are understood to be concerned about the greater potential for injuries and fatigue suffered by the top players while they represent their national teams during the league's off season.
But Bryant, a five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and a member of the U.S. team that won gold at the 2008 Olympics, feels anything but the world's best players is not acceptable when it comes to international competition.
"The Olympics is really about putting the best athletes out there to compete against the best. That's what it's about, put the best out there," said Bryant. "From a basketball standpoint, (an age limit) would lessen the Olympics, absolutely."
The prospect of having no NBA participation in the Olympics, just 20 years after they were first allowed into the competition at Barcelona, gained momentum after Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin was hurt during a U.S. Olympic team practice.
Griffin's injury, which occurred last week and required arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, came shortly after the NBA All-Star agreed to a $95 million contract with the Clippers.
But Bryant smiled when asked if he could understand owners looking out to protect players from injury while participating in competition outside of the NBA.
"No, it's to protect their investments," said Bryant. "When you look at guys who are injured here, they have treatment around the clock. We have the best training staff, we have the professional coaches who are here monitoring us.
"If our owners or NBA coaches want to contact us and see how we're doing, they can easily come to practice, they can easily talk to the training staff - as opposed to guys disappearing for the summer and coming back overweight."
Bryant's Olympic team mate and fellow NBA All-Star Chris Paul said he also felt the decision to take part in international competition should be left to the individual.
Paul, 27, won a gold medal with Team USA in 2008 and followed that experience with one of his best NBA campaigns, setting career highs in points per game, steals and rebounds during the 2008-09 season.
"You see guys, when they come back from playing on a team like this, they go into the new (NBA) season with the ultimate confidence," said Paul, a starting point guard for the NBA's Clippers.
"It's better than being at home just working out and playing ball. You get to play against the best players in the world."