“I’m gonna play for the Tune Squad this summer instead of the Olympics”,

– a few days ago, James LeBron gave a straight answer to the question about his participation in the Tokyo Olympic Games. This unleashed a new torrent of hatred in his direction. 

Why are the fans angry?

Laker’s forward is frequently criticised for having double standards and ambiguous statements, but in this case, directness caused him even more problems. The fans are used to seeing top NBA players missing games of the United States national team for personal reasons. Still, such priorities of the leading basketball player of the generation caused a wave of anger.

LeBron decided to actively participate in the Space Jam film promotion rather than represent his country in the most significant international competition. This is the second time the US national team has received such a refusal – he skipped the Olympics in 2016 as well. His decisions did not go unnoticed in the media space and raised a somewhat odious question….

Is LeBron even a patriot?

It is well known that LeBron talks about “my people” and “white people”, which he wants “nothing to do with”. This does not contradict the traditional relationship between basketball superstars and the US national team – once Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to represent America, saying it is not really his country (that is not the country of the African Americans).

But in the case of James, his career speaks for itself, and he has already proved everything to everyone: political agenda has never extended to the national team. He always willingly joined it.

In this case, we can explain his rejection with quite obvious reasons. Yet, many still genuinely can’t understand (and accept) his reluctance to win another competition which lasts only a few weeks.

We’ll try to explain.

Why doesn’t James need the Olympics?

Let’s begin with the obvious: in six months, LeBron will turn 37. Even the most famous American basketball players did not participate in the Olympic Games at that age – Kobe Bryant was 33 in 2012, Jason Kidd was 35 in 2008, John Stockton – 34 in 1996. Larry Bird, the oldest player of the “Dream Team”, was 35. 1992 was also the last time 29-year-old Michael Jordan played for the national team.

Don’t forget that last year Laker’s became champions, which means that only 71 days have passed between James’ last match in the NBA-2020 final and his first game in the 2020/21 season. According to the American medical specialist Rajpal Brar, with a PhD in physiotherapy, NBA basketball players spend 45 days on passive recovery after the championship. Thus, the leader of the LA Lakers had a full pre-season training two years ago.

A forced break caused by the cancellation of games in the 2019/20 season due to the coronavirus cannot exactly be called a preparation. First, sportspeople were left without game practice from March to July, then suddenly conducted a few matches and immediately were put into the playoff mode. Preparation, which lays the foundation for the entire season and crash program to get into shape quickly – those are two different things.

LeBron is already a leader in the minutes played in playoff games (11 035 minutes, Tim Duncan, who is in second place, has 9 370). In the regular championship, he is in sixth place (50 054 minutes, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is the leader, has 57 446). Such a result is unprecedented for all the veteran players of the Olympic Games. In addition, in recent years, the King is increasingly receiving traumas, which have more and more influence on the way he plays. This season, he missed 27 games and secured his team participation in the relegation games only through a play-in match. Moreover, he had to fight against Stephen Curry’s “Warriors” and also against his right ankle injury.

While James is on the “Lakers” sports team, it will always aim to win the championship. The additional workload of a few week’s competition and training camp before the Olympics don’t meet his target of recovery before the next NBA championship. 

If LeBron didn’t have Olympic gold medals, perhaps, he would consider going to Tokyo. But the superstar playmaker has already visited international athletic competition three times and came back with two gold medals (in 2008 and 2012).

The third place of Athens 2004 will remain a disgrace for all members of the American team, but 19-year-old James and his friend Olympik Melo can hardly be blamed for this failure. Unlike the coach Larry Brown and two leaders of the national team, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson.

Lebron simply doesn’t have anything to prove at the Olympic games anymore.

But why is James still important for the national team?

You might have witnessed the creation of another tandem of a great player and a great coach. In 2017 LeBron gave hope of returning to the national team to spend a few weeks under the leadership of Gregg Popovich, who replaced Mike Krzyzewski as the head coach of the US team:

“I believe he’s one of the great basketball minds that we’ve ever had in this game, and I wish I could be around him every day to kind of just pick his brain and see what he does, what he thinks.”

James’ example would make other basketball stars participate in the competition. At the moment, the most high-status player who personally expressed interest in playing for Team USA is Damian Lillard. Steph Curry is in doubt, and the chances of him going to Japan are estimated as fifty-fifty.

At the 2019 World Basketball Championship, Popovich already had a situation where the basis of his team was 22-year-old Donovan Mitchell and young Bostonians Tatum, Brown, and Smart, while the main star of the team was Kemba Walker, who transferred to the Celtics that summer. The team lost in the quarterfinals to the French and, in the end, took only seventh place.

Then, the best players refused to go to the World Championship, preferring participation in the Tokyo Olympics, which was initially scheduled for summer 2020. Now the situation may repeat itself. In 2019 everyone was afraid of two incomplete pre-seasons due to major competitions in a row; now, they are just tired of a series of rushed seasons.

The training camp of the US national team sometimes looks like a special interest club. Many participants come not so much for universally recognised awards, as for training and performance with modern basketball stars. Think back to the participants of the 2012 Olympics, who were rapturous talking about the attitude and professionalism of Kobe Bryant.

LeBron could have become the same symbol for the new generation of the US team, but he decided not to.

In 2016, 31-year-old James won the first championship rings for “Cleveland” and said that he would skip the Games to get some rest. Five years later, he states, without hesitation, that he’s too busy in a film with animation. It looks like LeBron has now put the matter of the Olympic Games to rest.