On a team of superstars, the NBA’s three-time MVP LeBron James is Team USA’s most indispensable player.
James has always been a facilitator. A distributor. The type of unselfish player every coach dreams of having on their team. Sunday, the Miami Heat All-Star forward’s repertoire was on full display from the opening tip of Team USA’s 98-71 victory over France in London at the 2012 Olympic games.
On the first play starting U.S. point guard Chris Paul found James in the high-post. As he’s grown accustomed to, James was double-teamed immediately. Unlike most superstars, who find a defensive double team non-threatening and continue to break down a defense and then proceed into their brand of hero ball, James –who can score whenever he wants– takes the more traditional approach and tends to make the best basketball play at every instance. After surveying the field, the three-time Olympian found center Tyson Chandler bolting towards the basket and lobbed up one of the many salvo of highlights he would orchestrate for the game.
“Some of the things [James] does…it’s hard to believe you can be his size and have his vision and still play the game as graceful as he does,” Chandler said in a statement afterwards.
Minutes later Chandler rebounded French point guard Tony Parker’s miss, shoveled the ball to James for an outlet pass outside of the three-point arc, took a quick glance up court and threw a precision 50-foot, two hands, over the head, bounce pass to a streaking Kevin Durant. Durant miraculously caught the thrown skip pass that perfectly eluded Parker and Boris Diaw, in his wake and sailed in an emphatic slam. For that split second, James channeled the 1992 Dream Team’s floor general Magic Johnson, and created a “Showtime” moment all of his own.
For the most part, James focused on defense and playing the role of quarterback for Team USA’s Group A opener. In just three-quarters of play, he finished with more assists (eight) than shot attempts (six) for nine points, five rebounds and two steals, keeping the Americans on track in their gold medal defense. Not to say that ‘Bron didn’t have to score –he and Kobe Bryant sparked a game-turning run of 11 consecutive points– but it was his passing that helped Olympic newbie’s Durant (22 points and nine rebounds) and Kevin Love (14 points in 14 minutes) find their rhythm.
It was a comprehensive effort for King James. It was the second time in international play that he established his presence early and set the tone for the rest of his teammates to follow- the first time was against Brazil in exhibition action in D.C. With James standing as the fourth point guard on Team USA, behind Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook, coach K’s in game adjustments will be seamless.