Las Vegas • He already had a gold medal, and now he has an NBA championship ring, too.
But a promise is a promise.
And LeBron James had no inclination at all to break it, anyway.
The newly crowned NBA champion and worldwide superstar said he never even considered skipping the London Olympics after giving USA Basketball his word that he would play, despite having surely everything a basketball player could want — except maybe some rest.
So just 16 days after finally hoisting a championship trophy with the Miami Heat at the end of a grueling season, there was James at the start of the pre-Olympic training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center on Friday, smiling and ready to go.
“I got a love for the game,” he said, “and a great respect for representing my country.”
James said he takes seriously the commitment he made to USA Basketball, which revamped its national-team program under chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski in the wake of its disastrous bronze-medal showing at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“We were just put together really fast, and the pieces didn’t fit right,” James recalled. “It showed in our play.”
James and Carmelo Anthony are the only two current players who were on that team, and James said he doesn’t even display the bronze medal among his other awards and mementoes at home.
“That’s not an achievement,” he said.
But James also was a crucial part of the “Redeem Team” that rebounded to win gold at the 2008 Beijing Games — he was the second-leading scorer, behind now-injured Heat teammate Dwyane Wade — and restore dignity to a nation that views world basketball domination as a birthright.
“First of all, I’m humbled,” James said. “I’m blessed that I’ve been able to stay injury-free. To be here in ’04, in ’08 and now in ’12, it’s just huge for myself, it’s huge for my family and everything I represent. It’s great.
“Only way I would have backed off is if I was injured or couldn’t play,” he added. “I finished the season, just like everybody else, with a couple of nicks and bruises. But I’m healthy enough that I can go out and help this team win gold.”
Both James and Anthony agreed with teammate Kobe Bryant that many other nations seem to increasingly believe they can compete with the Americans. Spain, in particular, appears to be a top challenger at the Olympics.
“We’re definitely accepting all challenges,” Anthony said. “We believe we are the best players in the world.”
And nobody is better than James.
The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, the 6-foot-8 beast of a forward is among several players on the team in the prime of his career, and coming off his first championship. That seems to have lifted a weight off his shoulders, and he could be asked to do a little bit of everything in the Olympics — perhaps including playing every position, from point guard to center.
“Whatever Coach K has for me, I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “If Coach K wants to get freaky or unique with the lineups, he has the ability to do that.”
James said part of his comfort with joining the team after such an arduous professional season is that he won’t have to play “big minutes,” because “we have so many guys who can do so many things.”
But he will have to help try to mesh a new group of teammates.
Only four others on the 12-man roster have Olympic experience — Anthony, Bryant, Deron Williams and Chris Paul — although five new teammates joined to win gold at the 2010 World Championships.
“So I think the mix now between the ’08 Olympic team and the ’10 world games team, once we come together as a team — which is going to take some practice, going to take some exhibition games — we have a lot of guys in their prime and we have a lot of young guys and hungry guys who are always looking forward to challenges,” James said. “It should be fun.”