Is LeBron James the Most Versatile Team USA Star of All Time?
Team USA has been privileged to employ the best and most versatile men's basketball players of all time over the years, most notably Oscar Robertson in 1960 and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1992.
Though LeBron James has done, and is doing, plenty to put himself not only in that category, but also at the very head of it.
Long a multi-skilled menace in the NBA, James has taken quite nicely to unleashing the full complement of his talents on the international stage. LeBron did just that during USA Basketball's 98-71 walloping of up-and-coming France on Sunday, as his nine points, five rebounds, two steals and game-high eight assists would suggest.
You want alley-oops? LeBron can deliver on either end of the equation, as was the case against Les Bleus.
How about an easy bucket on the low block? LeBron's got that covered as well. Alongside a big man rotation consisting of Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, James' contributions in the post are that much more noticeable and crucial to the cause of winning gold.
Need someone to stretch the defense with outside shooting? James can knock down the occasional three-ball. In fact, he was the first Yank to connect from distance in Team USA's Olympic opener.
Defense? LeBron might just be the best in the business on that end of the floor. He made life on the court particularly difficult for Nicolas Batum, the Portland Trail Blazers swingman, who managed just six points for France.
Let's not forget about the all-important 64-foot bounce pass in transition. LeBron can pull that one off, too:
On a team that already features two of the best point guards in the world (Chris Paul and Deron Williams) and a third (Russell Westbrook) who can play the position rather well, LeBron might actually be the best distributor and facilitator that Mike Krzyzewski has at his disposal. As NBA.com's David Aldridge noted during the game, it's LeBron's particular combination of size and vision that places him alongside some of America's greatest ballers:
LeBron's passing is incredible. Like all the great passers (Oscar, Magic, Bird) w/size, his angles are just different from everyone else's.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 29, 2012
In essence, LeBron possesses many (if not all) of the same skills that made those three such legendary dynamos on the offensive end and just so happens to be one of the best defenders on the planet to boot.
And frankly, it'd be quicker and easier to come up with a list of things at which LeBron doesn't excel than to go on praising him incessantly for all of his strengths.
Of course, this isn't exactly news to anyone who's followed his career in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. Like walking into Mordor, one does not simply earn four straight All-Defensive first team selections and three of the last four MVPs as LeBron has.
Not by accident, anyway. He's been the best and the most well-rounded player on the planet for some time, though the hatred he incurred by ditching Cleveland for Miami with his "Decision" served to obscure that fact, at least until he claimed his first NBA title this past June.
It's not as if James' all-around game is anything new to the Olympics, either. This is LeBron's third trip to the Summer Games, which, according to ESPN Stats & Info, makes him one of three American men to play in three Olympic basketball tournaments:
When they play today vs France, LeBron James & Carmelo Anthony will join David Robinson as only American men to play in 3 Olympics.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 29, 2012
Of course, LeBron was but a wee 19-year-old back in 2004 when he and Carmelo Anthony were the youngsters-in-waiting on a disgraceful USA Basketball squad that settled for bronze in Athens. He was considerably better and more consequential to the club in 2008, when he averaged 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on the way to gold in Beijing.
Chances are, LeBron's point production will take a hit this time around, as well it should. After all, it's not as though Coach K needs James to put the ball in the basket, what with scoring champs like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup and (perhaps) the best pure scorer in basketball (Carmelo) coming off the bench.
LeBron certainly won't, and shouldn't, mind. He's long been a pass-first point guard at heart, with the sort of unparalleled skill and athleticism for his size that allows him to dominate nearly every facet of the game when he so chooses.
Who's the most versatile player to suit up for Team USA?
Like the Big O did as a collegian under Pete Newell at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Like a rusty Magic and an on-his-last-legs Larry Legend did with Chuck Daly's Dream Team in Barcelona 20 years ago.
Except LeBron has the added benefit of experience and playing abroad during the prime of his basketball career, not to mention the added challenge of competing against a world that's so much better on the hardwood than it's ever been.
And, if all goes according to plan in London, LeBron will stand on and above the shoulders of those giants who preceded him with a second gold medal around his neck.
Which, as it happens, would further confirm "winning" as a skill to be included among the litany of those that LeBron counts in his already-extensive arsenal.
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