LeBron James had his month.
The detractors had to duck for cover. Those who previously mocked were now embracing. The Larry O’Brien trophy had been a steady companion, the glare blinding the skeptics.
But unlike those who get a yearlong reprieve until put-up-or-shut-up time arrives the following June, LeBron got about a month.
Because if the U.S. Olympic team does not deliver gold at the London Games, which open this week, guess who goes to the head of the blame line?
Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh?
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Nope. They ducked for cover, taking needed, and well-earned, time for recovery and replenishment.
But back into the line of fire — fair or unfair, right or wrong — heads LeBron.
Yes, he already has Olympic gold, achieved four years ago in Beijing alongside Wade and Bosh.
But for as much as his prediction of multiple NBA titles led to second guessing about that confidence, he will find himself with even less wiggle room over the next three weeks.
Because when it comes to the U.S. men’s program and the Olympics, it is either gold or failure.
Had Dwight Howard’s back, Bosh’s abdomen, LaMarcus Aldridge’s hip and the knees of Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin and Wade not gone bad, there not only would have been ample support, but not nearly as much of a need for LeBron to do as much.
Instead, through training camp and these pre-Olympic exhibitions, there have been times when his role with the national team has been eerily similar to his heavy-lifting during the Heat’s just-ended two-month playoff run. With Tyson Chandler the lone true center on USA Basketball’s roster, there have been times when James has been cast in a power role, similar to his time defending the likes of Chandler and Kendrick Perkins during the playoffs. At other times, he again has assumed the role of point forward.
This isn’t summer vacation. This again has become work, a workload that included a needed 30-point performance in last week’s escape act in an exhibition against Brazil.
This is supposed to be a roster so loaded with talent that it requires no definitive leader beyond the guiding hand of coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Yet a leader typically emerges.
By tenure, that would be Kobe Bryant.
Except there was Krzyzewski this past week calling LeBron, “our best player.”
After winning regular-season and NBA Finals MVP honors, who’s to argue?
And yet that means it’s back, all of it: the pressure to produce, to be the best of the best, to stand as the difference between success and failure, with failure not tolerated.