Olympic Basketball 2012: 5 Players Who Would Benefit Most from Gold Medal

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2012

Olympic Basketball 2012: 5 Players Who Would Benefit Most from Gold Medal

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    The Summer Olympics may have a lot to do with promoting a spirit of global sportsmanship, representing one's nation with pride and putting on a show for the world. That's all well and good.

    But, for the United States' men's basketball team, the mission is uncomplicated.

    Nothing short of winning a gold medal will satiate the expectations cast upon this team of other-worldly talent. There is no dignity in a solid effort alone. There is no silver lining to be found in international solidarity or other such pleasantries.

    Team USA needs this gold medal.

    And yet, some of its members need it more than others. Here's a look at whose legacies stand to benefit the most. 

Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant already has a gold medal and five NBA championships to his name, but he'll have precious few opportunities to add to that list of accomplishments.

    Bryant turns 34 this month, so he may have another gold medal run in him, but there's no guarantee. And, while he appears to be in good position to collect a sixth ring, that's not a sure thing either. Kobe's window of opportunity to remain relevant is narrowing.

    At this point, Kobe's name is already established well beyond any doubts about where he stands in historic terms. 

    He never quite became the next MJ, but he's carved out a legacy that's plenty memorable in its own right. He's a lifetime Los Angeles Laker, following in the footsteps of legendary guards like Jerry West and Magic Johnson.

    Another gold medal wouldn't significantly change how we remember Bryant, but failing to win that medal just might.

    For Kobe, this is more about preserving a record of success at the highest levels than building upon it.

LeBron James

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    LeBron James is always on the hook like no other, and the London Summer Olympics are no different.

    He's the best all-around player in the NBA, and that makes him the default best all-around player in the world. Though he's not the senior statesman of Team USA, he's its de facto leader. In practical terms, he's also the starting unit's principal playmaker and defensive engine.

    Attitudes toward James began to soften after he won his first title with the Miami Heat this year. They could soften even further if he collects his second gold medal.

    On the other hand, if he comes home with another bronze medal, as he did in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, there will once again be some fuel for the American past-time that is criticizing LeBron James.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Unlike Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony has yet to win an NBA championship. 

    In fact, there's a reasonably good chance that he never will. Sure, the New York Knicks could pull it together this season or next and make a run. But, they could also find themselves repeatedly foiled by James and his Miami Heat.

    For Anthony, then, the Summer Olympics are an opportunity to prove to the world what so many hoops fans already know: He's quite simply one of the best scorers of his generation.

    Carmelo already has one gold medal from 2008, so this is his opportunity to cement his legacy as one of the great Olympic performers. His record-setting 37-point performance against Nigeria helps.

    Like Charles Barkley, Anthony could become a globally recognized phenomena thanks to his opportunities with Team USA. And, like Barkley, he could do so without ever having won an NBA title.

Anthony Davis

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    Could Anthony Davis win a gold medal before he snags an NBA championship?

    It's looking like a pretty likely scenario right now. In fact, he may win two gold medals before he ever takes the New Orleans Hornets all the way to the top. Of course, Davis should end up with a ring or two before his career comes to and end.

    He might even get those rings with the Hornets.

    If he isn't quite so lucky, at least he'll be able to take some solace in the fact that he's a gold medalist and an NCAA champion. And, he will have done all that before turning 20 years old.

    Not bad.

Andre Iguodala

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    This is Andre Iguodala's first time at the Summer Olympics, and let's be entirely honest: It will probably be his last.

    That's not a knock on him. He's done a fine job, and he's the perfect kind of glue guy for a roster chock-full of scorers and playmakers. Iggy is a hard worker, and he's one of the reasons Team USA's bench has been so successful.

    He deserves this medal as much as anyone.

    Nevertheless, he'll be 32 when his next gold-medal opportunity rolls around, and there's no guarantee he'll be called upon once again to represent the United States. And, unless Iguodala is traded to a contender at some point in the not-too-distant future, this may be his last real chance to win anything of particular import.