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Basketball

The curtain call: Flashbacks of LeBron James' best Olympic moments

LeBron James led Team USA to a decade of unparalleled dominance; here are some of his best Olympic moments.

LeBron James representing USA
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LeBron James (Source: InsideSport)

By

Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 21 July 2021 6:23 AM GMT

After a long, arduous season filled with injuries and disappointment, LeBron James decided to not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, and win what might have been a record-tying fourth medal (Carmelo Anthony is the only one with four medals).

'The King' as he is fondly known, might have called it quits on what was an illustrious national team career, representing his country in three Olympics while winning Gold in two. "I think I'm gonna play for the Tune Squad this summer instead of the Olympics," answered LeBron when asked about his future plans, referencing his newly released movie Space Jam 2: A New Legacy.

Team USA Director Jerry Colangelo seemed to confirm this when he said, "You know, Father Time takes its toll. If you're a human being, your body is built to go so long depending on what your sport is, and then it's a downhill situation. LeBron made choices these last couple of Olympics not to participate because he's got a lot of things going on in his life. So he put in his time, he made a contribution that is appreciated, but I think his time is over."

LeBron showcased his extremely valuable skill set in a global setting, inspiring countless kids from around the world to pick up a basketball to make their mark like their idols. His relentless drive, astonishing athleticism, basketball IQ, and a court vision like none other have put James on a different echelon compared to his peers.

Despite all his heroics on the court, team success evaded James during the nascent stages of his career. Losing to Argentina during the 2004 Olympics transformed not only the United States team, but also helped The King elevate his game, and help his country steamroll their way to two Gold medals.

King James left the audience mesmerized and gave us moments that we could never forget, here are a few of them.

First Taste Of The Olympics

Usually, when it comes to defining moments, we tend to look at the ones that have had a positive impact and forget about the losses. What separates the best from the rest though is that they do not look at those defeats as obstacles, but rather like a springboard which they use as motivation to elevate their game to another level.

LeBron is no different, and defeat in his first Olympics experience to a talented, Manu Ginobli led Argentina side, helped 'The King' understand what it takes to win at the international level as a young 19-year old star coming into his own.

2008 Beijing Olympics

2008 marked the beginning of a historic run for Team USA, who went on to dominate during the next decade and managed to win 3 gold medals in the process. The 2008 team was considered extra special due to their impact on both the international stage and the NBA.

The 2008 team ushered in a new era in the league, with players forming closer bonds while playing for their national teams and hence paving the way for blockbuster trades and free agency decisions in the future. LeBron was at the forefront of it but had to evolve not only his game but his attitude towards his teammates and coaches.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported that James could have been left out of the Beijing roster due to his immaturity and lack of respect for his coaches. A clear message was sent asking the King and his camp to set things right or be left out, after their antics during the 2007 All-Star game.

There were legacies on the line, and the higher-ups were not willing to let LeBron jeopardize that despite his very young age.

To LeBron's credit though, he managed to right the ship and transform into a leader with the mentorship of Hall of Famers Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant.

LeBron's leadership, his ability to pick his teammates up when they needed, motivate them and create a relaxed atmosphere with his sense of humour went a long way in helping the team focus on the goal of bringing the Gold back home while having fun.

He helped the team form close bonds with each other, helping them trust each other irrespective of the situation they are in. The King dominated on the court, changing his game to suit his teammates, turning more into a facilitator and defensive stopper rather than a scorer, allowing teammates like Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant to shine.

His array of mesmerizing blocks and dunks allowed the audience a glimpse into the future of one of the greatest athletes to exist.

From Left To Right - Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony (Source: The Basketball Writers)


The Two Alphas

LeBron came into the 2008 Olympics as a young star hungry to prove himself at the international stage and help his country bring the Gold back home after the embarrassment they suffered during the previous Olympics.

A huge turnaround occurred in James' career during this time as he was able to witness one of the best to ever lace it up, grind and put in the work with maniacal persistence.

Seeing Kobe up close helped show LeBron what it took to be the best and win a championship. He gravitated toward the Black Mamba and soaked in as much as information he got. LeBron was the first in the squad to join Kobe in his legendary morning practices inspiring his teammates to follow their lead.

It was clear that LeBron was next up but, this was Kobe's team and as with any team the late great superstar was part of, he expected his teammates to be relentless in the way they chase after their goals. This had a longstanding effect on the then 23-year old who later set his mind to chase 'a ghost from Chicago' and be the greatest to ever do it.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (Source: CBS Sports)

Kobe and LeBron both had aspirations to be the best and had an uncanny knack to consume information and use it to their advantage. Their leadership abilities went along perfectly with each other, Kobe was more aggressive and serious while demanding the best out of his teammates in terms of dedication, persistence and determination.

LeBron, on the other hand, was more of a prankster and was able to help his teammates relax with his sense of humour while also motivating them whenever they needed it. This helped not only form tight bonds that lasted for life but also helped elevate the levels of stars in the team.

Kobe's effect on a young LeBron is what led to the King James' we see, who in turn inspired another generation to be the best that they can be.

Kobe himself described it best when he said, "I always aimed to kill the opposition. The main thing LeBron and I discussed was what constitutes a killer mentality. He watched how I approached every single practice, and I constantly challenged him and the rest of the guys.

I remember there was one half when we were messing around. I came into the locker room at half-time and asked the guys—in a less PG manner—what in the hell we were doing. In the second half, LeBron responded in a big way—he came out with a truly dominant mindset. And I've seen him lead that way ever since.", reports Silver Screen and Roll.

The 2012 Olympics

LeBron came into his own during the 2012 Olympics and had multiple dominant performances to help Team USA cruise to another Gold Medal. This was peak King James, who came into the Olympics as an NBA MVP and won his first championship with D-Wade in Miami.

He did not let that get to his head and entered with a determined outlook to go back to back. He notched up records like being the first Olympic basketball star to have a triple-double which he achieved against Australia in the quarterfinals.

The King dominated in moments when his team needed him the most with clutch buckets in vital moments in tight games like the one against Lithuania, and the finals against Spain.

Team USA coasted through to yet another gold on the back of dominant performances by its star players led by LeBron. James' showed the world a glimpse of what was to come, leading from the frontline in yet another decade of individual and team dominance.

LeBron's Olympic career cannot be quantified in fundamental basketball terms such as points, rebounds and assists despite being top 5 in most categories. James' exploits in the Olympics led to the player empowerment era where players had the right to choose where they wanted to play and who they wanted to play with, unlike previous times.

The close bonds formed by the team, led by LeBron not only led to historic moments such as 'The Decision' but also the formation of other super-teams such as the Golden State Warriors whose core members all played with each other during the Olympics.

The King was among the first to set aside his ego and help his country play winning team basketball. The 2008 team and LeBron also had a role in the systemic shift from slow grind offences such as 'The Triangle' and to much quicker small ball offences such as the Suns' 10 seconds or less.

LeBron James at the end of his career might go down in history as arguably the greatest player, and along with the 2008 team, will forever be remembered for the moment that changed the next generation of USA Basketball, 16 years from the original Dream Team that paved the way for them as stars.


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