Back for a 4th Olympics run, LeBron James says gold is all that matters

LAS VEGAS (AP) — He first played on the U.S. Olympic team as a 19-year-old. He did it again in his 20s, twice. And now, a few months from turning 40, he's back for one more run.

LeBron James didn't need another Olympic experience to complete some missing box on his resume or add to a legacy that was secured long, long ago. He decided to play this summer for one simple reason — because he wants to.

Taking his first steps toward becoming the first U.S. men's basketball player to compete at the Olympics in three different decades, James hit the floor Saturday with the team that the Americans are sending to the Paris Games later this month. Training camp opened in Las Vegas, the start of a 5 1/2-week quest where the only acceptable ending will be the U.S. winning gold for a fifth consecutive time.

“I’m still playing a high level," James, a three-time Olympic medalist — two golds and one bronze — said Saturday after the first workout. "I still love the game of basketball. And Team USA has done well by me, so I felt like it was important for this summer to be able to go out there and play with the rest of the guys.”

The first practice came on a day of another first for the James family; the workout in Las Vegas was simultaneous to the Los Angeles Lakers' first game in the California Classic summer league — the pro debut of Bronny James, the son of the NBA's all-time scoring leader.

It would have been very easy for James to ask for Day 1 off, to go see his son's debut. It was never a consideration. He took the floor shortly after the buses rolled in, slapping hands with teammates, throwing down dunks and reconnecting with two of his former coaches — Erik Spoelstra and Tyronn Lue, both of whom won NBA titles with James on their squads.

“I was blown away by how hard he practices," U.S. coach Steve Kerr said. “I went to Ty and Spo, and I said, ‘Is this normal?’ And they said, ‘Every day, every day.’ And then I said to Spo, ‘What about way back when you got him?’ And Spo said, ‘Every day, every drill, every walkthrough.’”

Kerr has coached against James in four NBA Finals, all of which featured Golden State guard Stephen Curry — who plays for Kerr with the Warriors and is making his Olympic debut this summer.

And it's fair to say that teaming up was part of what intrigued James and Curry when it was time to decide whether to play in Paris or not.

“I’ve talked to both of them about this idea of being together after going against one another with such high stakes over the years,” Kerr said. "They obviously fit really well together. The idea of Steph playing off the ball, and LeBron pushing it in transition, that’s pretty intriguing. Obviously, Steph will play on the ball as well. And LeBron has become such a good shooter, but they’re both so good at so many different areas of the game. I think they’re really excited to compete together for the first time”

James was part of the U.S. teams that won bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2006 world championships (now called the World Cup) in Japan. And ever since then, the Americans have gone unbeaten when James is wearing USA across his chest in international play.

Starting with the bronze medal game in Japan 18 years ago, the U.S. has played 36 games — 10 at the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007, then four exhibitions before and eight games at the 2008 Beijing Games, then five more exhibitions and eight games at the 2012 London Games — with James in uniform. The record: 36-0. He hopes it's 47-0 when this summer's run ends.

“I'm here to have a good summer,” James said.

Even after not playing in Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo, James will be participating in his fourth Olympics — tying the record for the most by any U.S. men’s player. Only Carmelo Anthony has played in four Olympics for the U.S. men to this point; Kevin Durant will play in his fourth this summer as well.

That's a nice side note, but not the thing James is thinking about these days.

“Our only goal,” he said, “is to win a gold medal.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games