London 2012 Olympics: In race to win gold Lebron James is suddenly model citizen
Waiting for LeBron. Waiting and waiting. If you’ve ever jostled for a tube in rush hour, then you get an idea what it was like here in the bowels of the basketball arena in the wake of the USA’s victory over France in their first appearance of these Olympic Games.
A mixed zone with a million journalists from all nations. A mixed zone where those up the front have taken no prisoners to get there and where those down the back would have gladly eaten their young to be where the others are. Where’s LeBron? Where is he? Or as one reporter from the Seattle something or other put it, “Where’s anybody? Goddamn!”
The Dream Team came among us yesterday, graced us with their presence and awed us with their athleticism. And they did it by putting a 27-point beating on the heads of a team that’ s tipped for a medal, one that was beaten with their athleticism. At times it was rough and ragged. Well, as rough and ragged as it’s possible to get for a team that was described by one of their opponents yesterday as having two settings – “nightmare and nightmare.” There is a feeling that the Spaniards are a serious threat to them, but we shall see. This was mere sparring. The real stuff is days ahead.
King James bestrode this contest like a colossus. Think of him what you will – and there’s plenty to think – but watching him up close, seeing the grace of a ballerina and the power of a bull, is a hell of an experience.
A few minutes into the game, with Michelle Obama watching on and receiving a hug from each of the American team on full-time, whether she wanted one or not, James did something that made the place gasp. He intercepted a pass, he spun, he found Kevin Durant and Durant got the points, but the wonder of it was that James did it all in one remarkable movement. It was over and done in the blink of an eye – the steal, the turn, the pass that travelled low and halfway down the court into a narrow gap between two Frenchmen before bouncing once into the hands of his team-mate. It was the perfect illustration of the man’s anticipation, vision and execution.
There’s been a wonderful backdrop to the Games for the American team, a preamble that showed the importance of the sport to the American psyche and the narcissism of the elite at the heart of it. A few weeks back, Kobe Bryant, one of six members of this 12-man squad named in Forbes magazine’s list of the top 100 earners in world sport, did an interview on television in which he stated that the Dream Team of 2012 are better than the storied Dream Team, and Olympic champions, of 1992, a bunch of immortals led by Michael Jordan with back-up luminaries Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Karl Malone – “the greatest team in any sport, ever” as they are routinely described in their hero-worshipping homeland.
Bryant’s boast – backed up by James – has resulted in some of the greatest names in the history of the sport banging heads in public. Jordan said, “For him [Bryant] to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.” Ewing went a tad further: “There’s no question about it, we would kill them.” Then Barkley provided some detail in this game of fantasy. “We’d win by 15 or 20 points,” he said.
There is so much to see in Team USA, so many disparate talents. But the biggest draw, as ever, is James, not just because he is the leader and the phenomenon but because of the back story, the life and times that had made him one of the most loved and, more recently, the most hated sportsman in America. Boy, how the nation has obsessed about this guy. Last month, after many years trying, James finally won an NBA championship. At last, The Ego had landed the big one after failing so often in the past, failing in terms of his character more so than his ability. For all his genius James had earned the reputation of a choker. No more.
He said recently that he’d been playing with a lot of hate these past years, a state of mind that came directly from the nature of his arrival at Miami Heat and the storm of protest that greeted it. His move to Miami was James at his rampantly pompous worst, a runaway train of self-absorption. Many teams wanted him, all of them made to wait for the man to make up his mind, which he did by way of calling a live telecast which he entitled The Decision. “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” he proclaimed. Meanwhile, a nation puked.
The dumbest PR move in NBA history, it was called. Dumb and dumber. James responded to his critics by saying that these people are nothing and have nothing in this world unlike him, King James, who is and has everything. Yeaaah, baby! Even now, two years on “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” is a phrase that is mocked all over the nation. LeBron would say that he was made a scapegoat for all of the ills of the professional sport, that when people looked at the obscene sums these guys make – annual income last year of $53m with Dream Team chums Bryant, Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Devon Williams hoovering up $52.3m, $25.5m, $22.9m and $18.2m respectively – they took it all out on him. “Blame it on LeBron,” he told reporters.
He’s since apologised for coming across like the most arrogant idiot in the world over The Decision farrago. Some have accepted his mea culpa, others, in truth, will never forgive. He is one of the most polarising athletes in American history but, as an Olympian, he’s been a model citizen, without the pomposity of his normal life, without the paeans to his own greatness. There have been 16 Olympic championships in basketball and the United States have won 13 of them. James knows what it is to win, four years ago in Beijing, and knows what it is to lose. Only gold will continue the debate about who is best – 1992 or 2012. Battle of the Dream Teams, a thunderous clash of the conceited.
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