LeBron James will wear the red, white and blue this summer after all. Cleveland's All-Star forward ended uncertainty about his status with the U.S. national team on Tuesday night by saying he will play in next month's FIBA America's Tournament, where the Americans will try to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
"I'm going to play," James told The Associated Press. "I've had enough time off, and knowing my body more than anybody, I'm ready to play. I don't know how much I'm going to play or how extensively, but I'll be ready." For several months, James had said he was "50-50" about playing for Team USA this summer. He and his girlfriend recently had their second son, and with the Cavaliers making it to the NBA finals, James may have wanted some extra time off after playing more than 100 games since last October.
However, the 22-year-old, who played on the U.S. Olympic team at the 2004 Athens Games and for the U.S. squad that won a bronze medal at last summer's world championships, intends to honor his three-year commitment with USA Basketball.
"It was a long and tough year," James said. "But for me, if I make a commitment, I want to keep it. I'm a loyal guy. I committed to three years and I'm going to hold up my end of the bargain."
James' decision was welcomed news for U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski, who toasted James before a kickoff dinner preceding a three-day summit involving James' corporate business partners.
"I know people don't realize the commitment that these guys are making," the Duke University coach said. "Literally, with the playoffs, you play well over 100 games in a season, so they give up a lot and when they give up parts of three summers, I ultimately respect their commitment. It's a big-time thing and I need to run things in a way that's respectful of that commitment."
The U.S. team will have a three-day minicamp from July 20-22 in Las Vegas. Three weeks later, the Americans will resume practice in preparation for the 10-team tournament that begins on Aug. 22.
Two teams from that tournament will qualify for the Beijing Games.
So far, USA Basketball has commitments from Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Carlos Boozer, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams, Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Michael Redd, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
Miami's Dwyane Wade will not play in the summer tournaments following shoulder surgery, but the Heat star told Krzyzewski on Monday that he will report to the mini-camp and wants to help out during practices in August.
"Dwyane called me and said, 'Coach I'm one of the captains, and it means a lot,"' Krzyzewski said. "That's a heck of a thing."
James' waffling a few months back was met with a stern response from Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, who said James could be jeopardizing his status as a core member of the team for Beijing.
Playing in China is vitally important to James' business interests as well. He has become one of that nation's most popular players and some of his endorsement sponsors -- Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck to name a few -- would like to tap deeper into that overseas market.
James has been studying some Mandarin in preparation for the Olympics.
The U.S. team finished third in Japan last summer, another humbling result for the Americans who can no longer claim to be the world's best at basketball. James, though, is confident the new additions to the team will help restore U.S pride in a sport it once dominated.
"Kobe's back. We got J. Kidd, Chauncey," James said excitedly. "We've definitely got a group that knows how to win. We'll be ready to play."
And Krzyzewski is ready to coach them to a gold medal.
"Chauncey, Jason, Kobe, Amare, those are huge pluses for our team and also because their egos are at a place where it doesn't have to be about them," he said.
While watching the Cavaliers' first run to the NBA finals -- which ended with them being swept by San Antonio -- Krzyzewski was impressed with James' improvement throughout the playoffs.
"There are certain things that you can only learn from experiencing them," he said. "I thought the Detroit series for him was huge in that he took so much crap for the first two games.
"But instead of putting his head between his legs, he responded with four unbelievable games."
This doesnt really help either team IMO. He isnt what i consider a great fit for Team USA, but i understand it wont exactly have any detrimental effects.
Why? I mean i'm not a fan of Lebron, but of course it's gonna help team USA, without a doubt.
Not really. He was OK last summer, but his style of play really just doesnt fit the international game. He needs to dominate the ball in order to be at his most effective, and with a team full of so many big names, it just doesnt work well when one guy is trying to break down the D all by himself.