Life couldn’t get much better for LeBron James.
The forward from the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat yesterday joined Michael Jordan in completing a sweep of titles available to him in one season. He added the Olympic gold medal to last season’s NBA championship, along with the Most Valuable Player awards for the regular season and the league finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James scored 19 points to cap the U.S.’s second successive Olympic-final victory against Spain. The Thunder’s Kevin Durant scored a game-high 30 points in the 107-100 victory in London. Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers led Spain with 24 points. Durant finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 156 points.
“I’ve been with LeBron since 2006, I’ve seen him grow, he is the best player,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters at the North Greenwich Arena. “We have developed a close bond as I rely on him to be this player for me, and he is. I love my relationship with him.”
The two came together as the U.S. tried to rebound from the country’s first failure to win a men’s basketball title at the Olympics since the U.S. started selecting professional players in 1992. James was part of the team that lost in the 2004 semifinals to Argentina.
“We made that three-year commitment from ’05 and we just tried to get better each and every summer,” said James, 27. “It’s been a long road for USA Basketball. I’m happy to be in position I still have something to do with us being back on top, because that’s what it’s all about.”
The crowd, including former English national-team soccer player David Beckham and actor and one-time California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, watched a tight game. Spain led 67-64 in the third quarter and trailed by one point as the final period began, before James helped the Americans outscore their opponent 24-18 in the final 10 minutes. He scored five consecutive points in the final three minutes, including a 3-pointer over Marc Gasol that effectively took the game away from the Spaniards.
“It was a big shot, but there was a lot of big shots in our game, not just mine,” said James. “There was a bunch of big plays offensively and defensively.”
The U.S. hit 15 of 37 3-point shots, while Spain made just seven of 19 in a game that was marked by physical play and constant stops for fouls in the first half.
“I think the officials controlled the pace, to be honest with you,” said Kobe Bryant, the 33-year-old Lakers shooting guard who scored 17 points for the U.S.. “The first half was extremely choppy for both teams. Both teams had to adjust to it.”
Bryant said the success was his greatest with the U.S. team because it was his last Olympics. He said he won’t be part of the effort to get a third straight gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“I’m definitely not going to play, so it holds a little bit more significance I think,” Bryant said.
The players saluted the efforts of Krzyzewski. Since joining in October 2005, the 65-year-old Duke University coach’s record with the national team is 62-1, the lone loss coming at the 2006 world championships to Greece.
“He’s been brilliant, he communicates very well, he communicates accurately and he’s fun,” said Bryant. “He has a sense of humor, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and we all have enjoyed him immensely.”
Spain, led by Pau Gasol and 21 points from captain Juan- Carlos Navarro, caused problems for a U.S. team that had won seven straight games in the tournament by an average of 36 points.
“Go out there and do what you’ve been doing the entire tournament,” was Krzyzewski’s message to his team when it led by one point at halftime, according to Bryant.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, 27, scored to give the U.S. an advantage early in the fourth quarter. Spain kept coming back as the intensity continued to build. Pau Gasol, the tournament’s third-highest scorer with 153 points, had to leave the court after James’s flailing hand caught him in the right eye.
“We got to the fourth quarter with a few of our best players a little tired,” Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo told reporters. “We did a good job in making them try to change their rhythm. Some situations were better, some were worse, but at the end of the day we could slow them down a bit.”
James and Bryant combined for nine points down the stretch, allowing Krzyzewski to clear his bench in the closing seconds as the U.S. won its last gold of the London Olympics. The Americans finished atop the standings with 46 golds and 104 medals in total. China was second with 38 golds among its 87 medals.
“We have an incredible team, we love when it gets tight,” James said. “That’s when our will and determination shows. It was the same in 2008 when we played against those guys, who are a great team and much respect to them.”
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