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LeBron James and a golden transformation

Aug 12, 2012, 12:45 PM EDT

Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler AP

A year ago, LeBron James didn’t exist.

After mourning in his house over the loss of the NBA Finals for several weeks, dealing with the way his entire world had been turned upside down, how the public had revolted against him, James was simply absent. He rarely made appearances if ever at the NBA-NBPA meetings in futile efforts to resolve the lockout. He didn’t bring his weight to the negotiation. He didn’t do publicity tours or release cartoons or even commercials. He wasn’t making terrible, facepalm-inducing comments. He was just silent.

He didn’t exist.

Twelve months later, and James’ statements have been made with his actions. And his exposure is not in the form of boneheaded press conference comments or a television special in a plaid shirt, but in the simple step to the podium and a grasp of his legacy.

If the NBA Finals were the rise of James as the undisputed best player in the world and a dramatic shift in his legacy, Sunday’s win over Spain in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympic games was the cementing of that identity. Draped in the American flag on NBC, when asked about his accomplishments over the past year, James responded with nothing complex, controversial, or self-centered. It was simple.

“This is all about USA.”

In truth, the Olympics showed maybe even more than the NBA season what James’ stature is. On a team of the greatest players in the world, James was the rock. When the offense stalled, James would force his way to the rim with his singular athleticism. When the ball movement became stagnant, James would probe, post, and dish, drawing multiple defenders and leaving players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony wide open on the perimeter. It was an elite showing of his all-around, every-position skills.

Late in the fourth, Rudy Fernandez foolishly went to challenge a ball-fake from James, leaving the lane wide open when Marc Gasol rotated to cover an off-ball screen. James detonated to the rim and finished with authority. His three-pointer minutes later was the kind of shot he said he was done with, but its satisfying fall through the net a reminder that there is no shot he can’t hit, no ability he does not have in the bag.

James was not the spokesman on the team, nor the emotional leader. That was Kobe Bryant. Similar to Magic Johnson’s role in ’92, Bryant was the player that spoke first and most authoritatively for Team USA. He spoke on the identity, on their goals, on who they were and why they were there. James, Durant, Melo they all deferred to the five-time champion playing in his final Olympics. But on the floor, just like it was with Jordan, it was apparent. James was the best. Kevin Durant’s scoring ability cannot be bested, and it was a collective effort by Team USA to form a cohesive identity. But James’ ability to defend, create the break, pass in transition or in the post, and to attack the rim separated him.

James is the best player in the NBA, in America, on the planet. And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.

James will still be hated by many and there is an undercurrent of rumor that James hasn’t changed his personality, that his new identity is simply the result of a new PR team that has focused on shifting how he relates. He’s no longer as candid, and that’s a good thing. He’s no longer as loose-lipped, and that’s a good thing. He’s abandoned his perimeter game by about 80 percent, even in a game with a shortened three like under FIBA rules. He’s somehow taken the vast number of talents he has and made them make more sense together, linked them to one another.

Maybe he’s not more likable. But it’s impossible not to respect what he’s capable of, and how he leads by example.

The 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in basketball will be remembered for the talk of how they match up with the Dream Team (hint: they don’t), for Kobe’s last run, for Kevin Love‘s coming out party and Kevin Durant stepping to the stage as the deadliest shooter in the world (if he wasn’t already). But there will also be the knowledge that there is no step back for LeBron, no reconfiguration of his identity, no regression. After three months of the best basketball he could play, he threw another six weeks on, added his gold medal, and left no doubt.

The King has his ring, and the gold to go with it.

  1. somekat - Aug 12, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    Congrats to all USA team members for winning the gold.

    Shame on the refs in that game, who A, decided they were why people wanted to watch the game (22 fouls in a 10 minute quarter…..really?), and B, for doing everything they possibly could to keep Spain in that game. It’s relatively comforting to know that international basketball hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. The main goal is still do do whatever possible to keep the US from getting gold. Luckily for the US team, they had such a talent gap, they could win 5 on 8

    • phaden27 - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:19 PM

      Stop me if I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that if you or I had the training and threw on the zebra stripes we would probably have people making snide comments about us too. : /

      • jerkize - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:14 PM

        Should we accept poor performances just because we can’t see ourselves doing better? If someone is not performing at the expected level, then they should be held accountable. I don’t know about olympic officials, but nba officials are compensated handsomely. It seems that officials in many professional sports & leagues around the world get complacent and feel entitled. Let’s not make excuses for them. Just like the athletes, they need to perform at the highest level or be replaced by more qualified personnel.

  2. shockexchange - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Congrats to Lebron for leading USA to Olympic ‘chip. After memorizing the “Lebron Rules” from the Shock Exchange, he is now the world’s best player.

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      He is “now” the world’s best player? Were you sleeping for this year’s NBA Finals? The Celtics beat the Heat if not for Lebron, especially in Game 6 in Boston, where even the locals had to admit James was by far the best player in the game.

      • shockexchange - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:48 PM

        My apologies jimeejohnson, the Lebron Rules were posted during the 2011 finals between the Heat and the Mavs. Only after mastering the Lebron Rules last summer, did Lebron cut down on his 3-point attempts and improve his mid-range game to become the best player on the planet. He demonstrated his mastery against the Celtics.

      • jimeejohnson - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:00 PM

        Your analysis is right on the money. In that sense I owe you an apology. Either way, thumbs up!

    • soopreme - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      ” he is now the world’s best player.”

      Where have you been for the last 5 or 6 years !!!!!

      • shockexchange - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:38 PM

        soopreme, The Mavs stymied Lebron with the “LeBron Rules … The Keys to Stopping LeBron James.” At the time, public sentiment was that he was either the best or one of the best players in the L. After mastering “The LeBron Rules,” the Shock Exchange believes LeBron is far and away the best player in the L.

  3. therealroman - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    that’s rediculous man, spain did everything they could to keep the US from getting gold, show some respect for a good opponent! there were definitely bad calls made, but against both teams!!!

    • therealroman - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      he took away his comment so i look like a dumbass now…some dude was saying that it was a close game only because the refs were making calls against the US and that’s how international basketball has been working for decades now…

  4. acdc363 - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Silly first sentence

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      At least it was a sentence.

      • tommyshih - Aug 12, 2012 at 9:48 PM

        Definitely more coherent than what Kurt chucks on the page.

  5. timpaz - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    How could anyone compare this team to the dream team? They were fortunate to come away with the gold. Coach K is glad he won’t have to coach this bunch anymore.

    • deeballer - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:58 PM

      I’m not saying this team is better than the 1992 team, but the competition has gotten WAY better in 20 years than what it was in the past. Look at how many other NBA players there are now in the Olympic. How many foreign players were in the Olympic 20 years ago? You could probably name a few and probably only one per country if you could name them.

      • scalfor3 - Aug 12, 2012 at 8:43 PM

        the dream team would’ve mopped the floor with the current competition as well if given the chance. i hardly think malone, ewing, robinson or barkley would have trouble with the gasol brothers

  6. timb12 - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    I’m so glad Lebron hit that 3. But it was still a bad shot. I’m sure everyone cringed when they saw him pull up.

    • sellahh - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:50 PM

      You don’t judge makes, LeBron, Jordan or Kobe, those shots are what makes them great.

      • brutl - Aug 12, 2012 at 2:43 PM

        Shooting the 3 is not what makes Lebron great.

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:57 PM

      Not everyone; some people thought “money in the bank”. LeBron’s clutch (I’m not a Miami fan) and can do more with the basketball than anyone on the planet. Congratulations to Team USA, and to Spain I say, nice try. At least you didn’t lose your machismo at the end of the game like those Argentinians. The British must’ve loved seeing Argentina lose their game and their minds. The rest of the world has gotten way better at basketball, but the United States is still superior in every way. This is why anything but gold would have been considered a failure, but instead, this team is a success and bound to stay that way for many years.

    • 1historian - Aug 12, 2012 at 9:29 PM

      He took the shot because he had to. He hit the shot because he had to. THAT’S what the champions do when they have to and that makes them champions.

      Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world, and I am grateful that he plays for the USA.

  7. miamatt - Aug 12, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    LBJ is the best player in the world hands down, and he’s handling his business with class. In the post game interview James only talked about team. Compare that to Usaine Bolt’s “I am a living legend, etc.,” comments after winning gold in a TEAM event (relay) and you can see how far LeBron has come from a PR perspective. I’m not saying I’m glad it happened, but being humbled the way he was a year ago has made LeBron a much better man, not to mention basketball player.

  8. itsonlyaspeedbump - Aug 12, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    Kevin Durant. He can use his quickness and get to the rim, he can play the pick-and-pop game all day from midrange, and his 3 point shooting abiltity is already approaching legendary. And he does all this at around 50% FG percentage. Amazing.

    Lebron James. The all-everything, do-everything, ultra-athletic monster we envisioned when he was a high-schooler has finally arrived. The best 2-way player in the league since Kobe was in his prime, and arguably better.

    Anybody else excited about those two going at it for the next 5-6 years?

    (BTW, I’m a Warriors fan, so I know going into every season my team has no hope. May as well appreciate greatness where you can find it.)

  9. ou812ahole - Aug 12, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    Deeballer says: How many foreign players were in the Olympic 20 years ago? You could probably name a few and probably only one per country if you could name them.

    I’m pretty sure every other team had a roster full of foreign players 20 years ago. Nice sentence.

    • deeballer - Aug 12, 2012 at 5:25 PM

      Nice. I meant to say, Look at how many foreign players were in the Olympic 20 years ago that played in the NBA. I don’t write for a living so who the F would care about my sentence anyways?

  10. connaniii - Aug 12, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    sic “James is the best player in the NBA, in America, on the planet. And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.”….simply categorical!

  11. connaniii - Aug 12, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    sic “I’m pretty sure every other team had a roster full of foreign players 20 years ago. Nice sentence.” Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciuolenious, and maybe a couple others…in the whole league!

  12. Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 12, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    From the sound of it, the officiating was like that of the Finals.

    But as a James fan, I love that he has developed that winner’s killer instinct in the past few months. KEEP IT UP!

  13. 1972wasalongtimeago - Aug 12, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    Tamapjoey? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  14. deadeyedesign23 - Aug 13, 2012 at 12:06 AM

    “And if alien life is discovered and they know how to play basketball, you have to like James’ chances there, too.”

    What if it was one of the Monstars?

  15. asublimeday - Aug 13, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    Lebron is not the king. He is not the chosen one. He has a medal just like everyone else on the team, and he has one ring. Many, many, many players have one ring. Many players have a gold medal. Calm down.

  16. progress2011 - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    azz-sublime….Dude, a few facts for ya-hater !!!!

    LBJ is the:
    1. Regular Season MVP
    2. Finals MVP
    3. NBA Champion
    4. Olympic Gold Medalist- credited with being the glue that held the team together, in tough games

    So, in your 4’9″ midget world, that may not be impressive to you as you play marbles in the dirt. But for the rest of us….LBJ is the King, if only for this year.

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