LeBron rebrands, as does USA Basketball

LONDON — They posed at times. But never as famously as Usain Bolt did.

They never peed in the pool, either figuratively or bodily. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte admitted they had.

They never tested positive. They were never accused of tanking. They were actually born and raised in the country they played for. And they didn’t, unlike some of their basketball opponents, swing at vital body parts.

What they did was happily attend other Olympic events, and meet all obligations with the media, and win every game with respect for the sport and their opponents.

The rebranding of USA Basketball is complete.

The rebranding of LeBron James is getting there.

Sunday closed more than the Olympics. It also closed the debate about whether the 2012 gold medalists are better than the Dream Team of 20 years ago.

James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul are special. But the Americans at times on Sunday played a frontline of small forwards because they had no other choice.

Where are the big men? Apparently, in Spain. And as the Spaniards scored 100 points in what was mostly a tight game, someone in the stands in London likely wondered if that would have happened in his day.

David Robinson, with Patrick Ewing subbing, would have defended the rim.

Still, this odd lineup worked, especially when Durant aimed from the shorter international 3-point line. The Americans played together, and they accepted roles. Sunday, when pressed, they also reacted with considerable poise.

During their time in London they also stayed out of the tabloids, and that’s not always easy. This team, as it was with the 1992 version, had a Beatlemania feel in the land that created it.

Given that, the Olympic press would have jumped on the slightest hint of bad behavior. And if they had ever done what the Spanish team did in 2008? Posing for a team picture by slanting their eyes before leaving for Beijing?

“We would’ve already been thrown out of the Olympics,” Jason Kidd once told a reporter.

Maybe they understood all of this. Sunday, when Sergio Rodriguez stuck a finger into Tyson Chandler’s face, nothing followed.

And when Rudy Fernandez slammed into Paul at midcourt? Paul was far nicer than he is in the NBA.

When the game ended, Paul ran onto the floor to track down the basketball; he wanted to secure it for history. Moments later, several of the U.S. players nodded to history.

They went to Doug Collins, who was working for NBC, to give a nod toward him and the 1972 Olympics. Collins choked up.

The difference between this team and the joyless, dysfunctional group in 2004 is staggering. And there in Athens, stained for the first time, was James.

Other stains would sink deeper, and were seemingly indelible. The Games could never erase The Decision, right?

Maybe not. But what James completed here will change how some see him. Now, in the same year, he has an NBA title, an NBA MVP trophy, an NBA Finals MVP trophy and the Olympic gold medal. Only Michael Jordan has done the same.

It’s also how. James remained unselfish, and he did the dirty work without complaint. On this team, he had to play post defense.

“LeBron James has shown an incredible amount of growth as a person, as a player and as a leader,” Jerry Colangelo, the managing director of USA Basketball, said Sunday. “And it’s all come because of what has transpired in his life.”

Colangelo said winning the title with the Heat was huge for James. “But he also knew this was big for him and his legacy, and he seized the opportunity. He wasn’t going to let it go. Because he had a lot riding on this thing.”

So ahead by only one point entering the fourth quarter, James didn’t respond as some see him, like the pampered Olympian who stays in a 5-star hotel. Instead, he cut inside, where Kobe Bryant found him, and spun for a score.

He rebounded and set up teammates, and he finished. With two minutes left, James cemented the gold with a 3-pointer.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said. “We didn’t want it easy.”

None of it has been easy these past eight years. Not for USA Basketball, not for him.


Twitter: @Buck_SA

Leave a Reply