A 12-year member of Team USA, All-Star gets in workout
POSTED: Aug 12, 2015 9:10 PM ET
LeBron James, who has been part of the foundation of Team USA for 12 years, gets in a workout with the squad in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — LeBron James showed up, warmed up and participated in Team USA's minicamp workout Wednesday, looking in his blue No. 27 practice jersey like any of the other players on USA Basketball's 34-man roster.
Truth be told, though, James had much in common with managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who surveyed the Mendenhall Center's two courts brimming with much of the world's best basketball talent.
As far as Colangelo and Krzyzewski are concerned, James, like them, rates as one of the thriving program's architects. A builder as well as a performer.
"When we talk about LeBron, we don't talk about a guy who is playing for USA Basketball," Krzyzewski said after the squad's second light workout in as many days. The final event in the three-day gathering -- far more about bonding and camaraderie than skills or strategies this summer, a year out from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics -- is a low-intensity scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center on UNLV's campus Thursday night.
"We're talking about, he is -- and Carmelo [Anthony] and Chris [Paul] and [Kevin] Durant and [Steph] Curry -- they are USA Basketball," Krzyzewski said. "In other words, they have ownership. They're not 'playing for' -- they have ownership. That comes with an amazing commitment.
"LeBron's made an amazing commitment to our country's basketball program. A huge positive impact besides just winning."
James has been involved with USA Basketball since his arrival in the NBA in 2003. He was part of the bronze-medal effort in 2004, and played increasing vital roles on gold-medal teams in 2008 and 2012.
Reports of his expected departure from the program surfaced soon thereafter -- and proved to be seriously premature. James has stayed heavily involved even as his day job with the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a bevy of outside business and endorsement interests, demanded more of him.
That's what made James' involvement Wednesday so significant. He didn't just attend the team meeting Monday night or watch idly from the sidelines as the others worked. He might or might not participate in the scrimmage, but taking part -- and stretching post-workout far longer than any of his teammates, part of his carefully orchestrated fitness routine -- was a sign of the leadership he exerts over the squad.
"He's been a leader," Krzyzewski said. "In London [in 2012], obviously, a key guy. And a young leader in Beijing [in 2008]. LeBron's so darn smart and such a good guy. These guys, it's like a renewal of friendships. We may have to kick 'em out of the gym."
During the late minutes of the hour-long session, James, Anthony, Paul, Durant, Curry and Russell Westbrook worked through some shooting drills at one basket, followed by some 3-on-3 work on which James called out the score. There definitely was a sense that the program's "A" team, the elite of the elite, was hard at work and enjoying the elbow-rubbing.
Understand, there's no need to "god up" James over his commitment to Team USA -- it just shows the degree to which he, Anthony and Paul bought into Colangelo's and Krzyzewski's plan for keeping excellence and preparedness in the program's pipeline. Now it appears there's a bottleneck of worthy candidates for next summer's 12-man roster, but it wasn't that way a decade ago.
"We needed someone to bring back what it truly meant to represent your country, and that's what Jerry and Coach K did," James said after the workout. "Once they implemented the system, everyone fell into place.
"It's an unbelievable turnout that we have, 34 guys. For a guy who's been part of it for almost 12 years now, it's great to see this type of turnout. Jerry and Coach K, they've done an unbelievable job of building ... a brand of Team USA. This is a team that people want to be around. When you see how many NBA All-Stars, superstars, champions [are here], it shows the type of program that we have."
Said Colangelo: "For us it's all part of a legacy-building situation. ... That's what we wanted to accomplish when we took over 10 years ago -- put in infrastructure that's going to last a long time."
James actually hasn't made up his mind if he will compete for yet another gold medal in Rio next summer. When he does make that decision, it will swing on family consideration, as well as his basketball health and the impact it might have on his sense of duty to the Cavaliers.
But at a certain level, whether he continues or not, his work is largely done.
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