LeBron James savoring Olympics, special summer
LONDON -- Forget 2010. This summer is shaping up to be LeBron James' defining moment.
Two years after his infamous decision to broadcast that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, a content and relaxed James is back on the Olympic stage -- where he doesn't hear the constant boos that chase him around the floor of NBA arenas like another defender.
Wearing America's colors, he's embraced as an athlete representing his country, not a despised villain.
At the London Games, there's peace.
"It's great," James said Thursday. "I'm in a good spot in my career. I'm happy to be with a great team. I wouldn't change this for anything in the world."
He's on top of it.
Coming off the first triple-double by a U.S. player in Olympic history, James is two wins from winning his second gold medal and completing a personal basketball grand slam. In the past three months, he has been named MVP for the third time, NBA finals MVP and won the elusive championship he needed to validate his place among the game's greats.
If the U.S. beats Argentina in Friday's semifinals and goes on to win its second straight gold, James will have completed a sweep of the highest hoop honors possible.
"It's crazy," said U.S. guard Chris Paul, one of James' closest friends. "A regular season MVP. A finals MVP. An NBA championship. The Olympics. All that stuff? It's the best summer ever."
Only Michael Jordan has accomplished the rare feat, doing so in 1992.
"Not bad company," Paul said.
And, in England no less, King James can claim another crown, a golden one.
"It's the only reason I'm here," he said. "I'm not here to win anything but gold."
James continues to be the U.S. team's best all-around player.
When the Americans ran into trouble against Lithuania, it was James who took over down the stretch, making several big baskets in a 99-94 win. In Wednesday's quarterfinals, James recorded 11 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and didn't commit a turnover in 30 minutes as the U.S. beat Australia 119-86 to set up a rematch with the Argentines.
Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant may be better scorers, but James revs the U.S. scoring engine.
"He's the best player on the planet right now," said U.S. guard Deron Williams.
On Thursday, after politely answering questions from reporters on subjects ranging from Usain Bolt to London's transportation system, James reflected on what has gotten him to this point. During a quiet moment in a noisy gym at East London University, he said the negative aftermath of "The Decision" changed him as a person and player.
"I let that get to me during my first year in Miami," he said. "I let it bother me and affect my game."
After the Heat lost to Dallas in the 2011 finals, James spent three weeks trying to figure out went wrong. He had disappeared in the series. When it ended, he hit bottom, and it seemed as if he might stay there for a while.
"I didn't do anything, I just sat around and kind of crashed," he said. "It was so disappointing for me. I knew I didn't play the way I wanted to play. It had all just built up from that season of playing a way I had never played before. That's what happened in the finals. I got all the way to that point and then it just crashed on me."
But he crawled from the wreckage, took measure of his priorities and refocused. What followed was another scintillating season, a championship, and redemption.
James said even as he and his teammates celebrated for days in South Florida, his thoughts turned to Cleveland.
He had avoided questions about the place where many fans remain bitter about his departure. But James said as wrapped his arms around the championship trophy, his thoughts turned to what might have been in Cleveland.
"I wish I could have won one there," he said. "I could only imagine how the parade would have been down East Ninth Street. Of course I thought about it because Cleveland helped me get to that point. The days that I spent there helped me get to the point where I was able to finally win one. It's just unfortunate I wasn't able to do it there."
James has rebounded from the brutal, even cruel, backlash he had received following his TV appearance to announce he was leaving the Cavaliers.
He didn't handle the criticism well when he first got to Miami. It didn't help that his two sons and fiancee, Savannah, didn't live with him during that first year in South Florida. James was on his own when he badly needed support. The court had always been the place he'd go to get away, but even there he was lonely.
"I let everything affect me," he said.
And although he won't admit it, those who know him best say James was deeply hurt by the negativity that followed and has only eased in recent months.
"The thing I don't think a lot of people know about 'Bron is that he has a big heart," said Paul. "He cares about people. He cares about what people think. He wants to be liked, and there was a time where he did sort of let that affect him, maybe watching too much TV. Now, I think he's comfortable with who he is and he's happy with the decisions that he's made, with his family and he loves the situation that he's in.
"It's good to see him happy again."
The smile is back, and his game only seems to get better.
James is at ease in his third Olympics, and right now he can't think about another.
"We'll see," he said of the possibility of playing in Rio. "Let me finish this one."
He's almost done, and before joining his teammates for one of their final practices, James said he's having the time of his life. He's savoring it all, relishing the bus rides, seeing other events and cherishing the moments when the U.S. team huddles together before taking the court.
"I feel good, just all-around with everything," he said, his eyes sparkling. "On the court, off the court, my family, friendships. I feel good."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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