USA basketball out to create own legacy

MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 06:35 28/07/2012
MIKE SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

The USA basketball team are hot property for the world's media on the eve of the opening of the London Olympic games.

Bryant and James
Getty Images
NEW LEGACY: Kobe Bryant and Le Bron James are focused on winning the USA's second straight Olympic gold.

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First there was the Dream Team, then the Redeem team, and now we have... "that's for you guys to figure out," says Kobe Bryant, the father figure of the billion-dollar collection of talent known as the USA men's basketball team.

Truth is, this rarefied group of hoops maestros is all out of missions to embark on, statements to make or points to prove.

So while Michael, Magic and Larry took the special qualities of NBA basketball on to the world stage in 1992 to earn the Dream Team moniker, and Kobe, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and co re-established their status back in 2008 to become the Redeem Team, the 2012 edition is unencumbered by both history, reputation and a nickname.

They're good, they know it, they're led by the best player on the planet (James), supported by the second best (Kevin Durant), driven by the most competitive (Bryant) and they're here to play ball, and have a ball, in that order.

Let's call them the Machine Team. If we have to.

"I don't know," said Bryant when asked if this team had a theme as they chase back-to-back golds.

"That's your job to come up with the story for this team. You came up with the Redeem Team which was a pretty cool name. But we don't have a name for this team yet."

James, chasing the double of an NBA title and Olympic gold in the same year, concurred.

"We never gave ourselves that name, the media did. We don't have a name for ourselves, we're the US senior men's national team...  no one has given us a name, so we don't have one."

With James coming off the playoffs of his life, Durant continuing to elevate his game, and his jump shot, Bryant thriving on his senior status - he thinks of himself as the relief pitcher in this side, though his team-mates call him OG, as in Old Gangsta - and the likes of Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Tyson Chandler all well versed in the international game, this side has all the firepower it needs.

After going 5-0 in exhibition play - though both Brazil and Argentina gave them an anxious moment or two - they seem ready, and all indications are their leaders remain driven to add another piece of precious metal to their collections.

"I love to represent my country," says Bryant, who is embracing his role as a defensive stopper and a scorer only when needed.

"This is a huge, huge honour, surrounded by so many great athletes. It's fun to be here. Everything is special about it -- look at the media turnout here, this is bigger than any All-Star game or NBA finals."

James also loves the special buzz of the Olympics where, it's fair to say, he has a lot less to prove than he does in the NBA.

"I'm never satisfied," says the man they call The King back home, but who wants to be just LeBron in the real home of royalty.

"I try to get better throughout each and every off-season. I'm not satisfied with just having one ring, hopefully I can get another gold medal and hopefully I can continue to compete at a high level and compete for more championships."

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For the record, both are determined to enjoy the Olympic experience.

Bryant wants to check out swimming, volleyball, archery, weightlifting, wrestling, gymnastics and diving.

"That's kinda my wish-list, whether or not I can pull it off remains to be seen."

For Le Bron there's track, swimming, women's basketball, water polo and beach volleyball.

"There's so many events I wish I could get to," he says, before adding: "I'm not rooting for no other country besides the US."

Bryant is adamant he would love to stay in the village, and doesn't know why they don't.

"We all would - part of the Olympic experience is being part of the Olympic experience," he says.

"Going to the village is always fun for us."

James, though, says he's not too interested in the sights of olde London.

"I'm here for one thing and one thing only, that's representing my country at the highest level, and also to support the other athletes representing my country."

Both remain committed to adding to their legacies. Bryant, who's 33, is clearly invigorated by the off-season additions of Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison at the Lakers.

"I want to win another [NBA] championship. We have made some pretty good improvements to our ball club, and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to be back there in June."

James wouldn't be drawn on which would mean more, his first NBA title or the Olympic gold.

"They're both high up on my list of accolades," he says. "Any time you can become a champion, no matter if it's an Olympic champion or NBA champion, it's an exciting time. I'm happy to say I've done both."

They've dreamed, they've redeemed and now these gods from the home of hoops just win. All is as it should be.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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