N.Y. Times: In a desert oasis built on fantasy, illusion and contrivance, Kobe Bryant has found an equally fantastic and illusory basketball refuge. He has teammates worthy of his stardom, the coach he always coveted and an arena full of adoring fans chanting his name.

Playing for the United States national team is everything Bryant could have dreamed and, given the timing, much, much more.

“It’s been a great experience,” a beaming Bryant said late Thursday night, after leading a 91-76 rout of Argentina to close second-round play at the FIBA Americas Championship.

That experience will only be enhanced by a gold medal here and an automatic trip to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, an outcome that seems all but assured. The United States, undefeated through eight games, will play Puerto Rico (4-4) in the semifinals Saturday at Thomas and Mack Center. Argentina (7-1) plays Brazil (5-3) in the other semifinal, with the two winners meeting Sunday in the gold-medal game.

The Americans have beaten the three other semifinalists by an average of 30.3 points. So these are low-stress days for the N.B.A. stars who make up the team. None of them needed the distraction and adulation as much as Bryant did.

Bryant began his off-season as a disgruntled employee, publicly lambasting the Los Angeles Lakers for failing to provide a better supporting cast. On May 30, he asked to be traded.

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