LeBron James swung for the fences this year. The Miami Heat All-Star forward now has his grand slam.
With the United States’ 107-100 victory Sunday over Spain in the Olympic gold-medal game in London, James became just the second player to be named NBA regular-season and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player while also winning NBA and Olympic championships in the same year, something previously only accomplished by Michael Jordan, in 1992 with the original Dream Team.
On the way to Sunday’s gold medal, James passed Jordan for second place on the United States’ all-time Olympic scoring list, his 273 points now behind only the 280 of David Robinson.
James said Sunday was not about him or his year, but the golden moment, itself.
“This is all about U-S-A, and it’s not about me,” he said moments after it was over. “It’s about these three letters on this chest, and we’re happy that we’re able to represent our county in the right away.”
It was an emphatic punctuation for James in his march to the top of the basketball universe, overcoming foul trouble Sunday with an emphatic dunk and 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to put away a game the United States led by only one point at both halftime and the end of the third quarter.
“I just wanted to try to make an imprint on the game,” he said. “I just wanted to come in and make a few shots.”
He did just that, as he has over these past several months.
“He’s a basketball genius,” NBC commentator and Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins said.
From NBA villain after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent in July 2010, James now finds himself world champion in the truest sense.
“People like him again,” said Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who served as an Olympic commentator for NBC. “It’s OK again to cheer for LeBron, not in Boston, but in other places.”
Again playing as much as facilitator as scorer, a common theme throughout the two-week competition, James closed Sunday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists, leading the United States in assists in their 8-0 run to the gold medal. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant led the United States with 30 points Sunday, with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant adding 17.
Whether James goes — or even can go — for a third gold medal remains somewhat in doubt, with the NBA pushing basketball’s international ruling body, FIBA, for a future 23-and-under format for Olympic play. Such an approach is not expected in time for the 2016 Brazil Games, when James will be 31.
In a game filled with fouls, a game the United States led 83-82 going into the fourth quarter, James had to watch some of the finish as spectator, called for his fourth foul with 7:23 to play. But when he re-entered with 3:20 to play, he helped the United States seize control.
James originally was to be accompanied to London by Miami Heat championship teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade and Bosh, however, both withdrew from the Olympics due to injuries that were exacerbated during a Heat championship run that did not end until June 21. Two weeks later, James reported to Olympic training camp, with the national team since. He now has less than seven weeks before the Heat open training camp in late September.
James, Wade and Bosh won Olympic gold in the 2008 Beijing Games, when James still was with the Cavaliers, Bosh with the Toronto Raptors. James becomes the fourth player to win Olympic gold while a member of the Heat, joining Wade, as well as Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, who did it in the 2000 Sydney Games. The Heat have honored each of their previous Olympic gold medalists with a banner atop AmericanAirlines Arena.
It proved to be an Olympic whirlwind for James, including the first-ever Olympic triple-double by a United States player, which he accomplished in the quarterfinals against Australia. Along the way, he played as closer against Lithuania and then offered a key second-half spark in the semifinals against Argentina, doing it again Sunday against Spain. Argentina lost Sunday’s bronze-medal game to Russia.
From the outset, United States coach Mike Krzyzewski cited James as the key to his team’s chances and James again showed his versatility, playing as facilitator on offense while also frequently playing defensively as a center on the undersized U.S. roster.
email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat.