IS IT HAPPENING again? After Team USA’s embarrassing failure to finish on the podium at the recent FIBA World Cup, reports have emerged this week that NBA superstars LeBron James and Steph Curry are interested in competing for the United States at next year’s Paris Olympics, where they would attempt to restore the nation to its rightful place at the top of global basketball.
Two-time Olympic champion and four-time NBA champion James has reportedly been recruiting fellow NBA stars for a US squad that would be seeking a fifth successive gold medal in France.
Curry, a four-time NBA champion guard with the Golden State Warriors, has expressed a desire to play on the Olympic squad guided by Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr.
Now, if you’re a LeBron hater, or even just a hoops fan, the first reaction to this story is likely to be one of scepticism. James has a tendency to inject himself into the news cycle whenever he feels that the spotlight may have been off him for a little too long—like announcing he’s not retiring during the middle of Denver’s championship celebrations when no one actually asked—offering up red meat for hungry reporters to chew over, the chat shows to debate, and content aggregators to, er, aggregate. It keeps everyone occupied for about a week before the next thing comes along. If this follows the script, when team officials do get around to selecting the Olympic squad next year, James and the rest of the big-name stars who’ve expressed interest in playing, will then ‘pull a Ben Simmons’, and quietly make themselves unavailable.
And yet, this time there might actually be something to the story. As you might recall, the last time the USA was humiliated on the global stage back at the 2004 Athens Olympics, it responded with the 2008 ‘Redeem Team’, the subject of a recent Netflix documentary. That team featured James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, among others, and was one of the strongest assembled since the original Dream Team swept through the competition at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. That team, too, was a result of wounded pride—the USA had previously sent college players to the Olympics but after finishing with bronze at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, decided it was time to unleash the pros.
A similarly star-studded roster, featuring James and Kevin Durant, defended gold in London in 2012 and the US has won every Olympic tournament since with teams loaded with upper, if not quite top tier talent. The nation hasn’t put the same effort into FIBA World Cups, sending third or fourth string teams; the team that just lost was described by NBC’s NBA reporter Tom Haberstroh as effectively an ‘E’ team.
James, of course, knows the sting of defeat on the global stage, having been a reserve on the 2004 US squad that settled for bronze at Athens and a 2006 team that took bronze at the Basketball World Cup. A third Olympic gold, after 2008 and 2012, at the age of 39, would further feather James’ legacy and add to his GOAT case.
James has reportedly called fellow former NBA Most Valuable Players Curry and Durant, hoping to entice them to play in 2024. Durant, a two-time NBA champion who turns 35 later this month, helped the US Olympic win gold in London, as well as in Rio in 2016 and most recently in Tokyo in 2021. You could see him being keen to chase a fourth gold medal, a feat that would see him pull away from Anthony, who also has three golds, as well as a bronze from Athens.
Curry has never played for the US Olympic squad, so he has space on his mantlepiece. He will be 36 next year, so it’s pretty much now or never.
James has also reportedly reached out to his Los Angeles Lakers teammate Anthony Davis, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Boston’s Jayson Tatum.
Phoenix’s Devin Booker, a three-time NBA All-Star, and 38-year-old Chris Paul of Golden State, a 2008 and 2012 gold medallist, are also among those said to be interested in playing in Paris.
On paper that would probably be the strongest team since 2012. The problem is that it might not be good enough. Team USA was pushed hard at both the 2016 and 2021 Games. As we have just witnessed, almost every international roster is loaded with NBA talent and the advantage these teams have is that in most cases they have reps playing together, though some of the biggest international names, including reigning NBA champion Nikola Jokic, two-time MVP and NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo, Canada’s Jamal Murray and reigning league MVP, Joel Embiid, were missing in Japan. You would expect most of these guys to suit up for Paris 2024, making the USA’s job even more difficult.
If Redeem Team 2 happens, the squad would likely only have weeks together to build team chemistry and offensive cohesiveness. It’s not a long time to figure out who ‘the man’ is in tense fourth quarters. It would likely be Tatum or Booker, given they’ll be entering their primes by then. At a pinch, it could be the indefatigable Durant, who due to his height and range is largely unguardable in whatever league or competition he plays but will be 35 next year. And, with the shorter three-point line, Curry could be an absolute menace under FIBA rules.
Even so, the team’s collective ages are a worry and after a long season, playing an intense, hotly contested tournament in the European summer is asking a lot. There’s also the mental load of playing with a target on your back and a bloodthirsty press pack ready to pounce if things start going wrong.
Finally, of course, as always with James, there is legacy. Does the ‘King’ want to risk blighting his mostly imperial legacy with a silver or another bronze, or worse, in what would be his farewell from the international stage?
It’s a lot to ponder. If Redeem Team 2 comes off it might be worth another doco—heck, if it fails it might be worth another doco. And, if it doesn’t happen, well, at least we had a week of what-ifs to kick around while we wait for the new season to begin—that would be in October.