U.S. Rout of Germany Says a Lot
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 18 -- The voice is almost impossible to ignore. It's heard during warmups before U.S. men's basketball practice, when LeBron James is lightening the mood with off-key songs or dead-on impersonations of Allen Iverson's classic rant about the virtues of practice. It's heard again during games, when James is shouting to Dwight Howard that he needs to get tougher inside or telling Kobe Bryant not to gamble so much on defense.
James claims that his mouth isn't constantly moving, but chances are his voice was heard right before his teammates double over with laughter, or when they are running to the right spot on defense. "He's a talker. He keeps it going nonstop," Bryant said. "You hear him in timeouts. He's very playful. Very talkative."
James spoke more with his game on Monday, making 4 of 5 shots from beyond the three-point line and scoring 18 points as the United States ended its pool play demolition with a 106-57 victory over Germany. The Americans (5-0) will face Australia in the single-elimination quarterfinals on Wednesday after taking the top seed by sweeping through Group B. They improved with each game, winning by an average of 32.2 points -- the best since the 1992 Dream Team obliterated the field in Barcelona by an average of 43.8 points.
The 49-point blowout win over Germany was the largest of this Olympics. But while Germany (1-4) didn't advance to the medal round, James was more impressed with that victory than he was with wins over medal contenders Greece and Spain. "Going against Greece and going against Spain, it was real easy to get up for them," James said. "We could've easily had one of those games [against Germany] where we kind of make excuses. We didn't take a step backwards and that was good."
James was heard loud and clear in the third quarter. He caught the ball on the left wing, took one dribble, two steps, cocked the ball behind his head and jack-hammered a dunk over Germany's Chris Kaman to give the United States a 68-39 lead. After he landed, James howled toward the ceiling, and then flapped his arms like the wings of a bird.
"That was nasty," James said, smiling, afterward. "It felt good, too."
James has certainly been nasty to the opposition here, providing a frightening presence on both ends of the floor. He leads the team in total blocks (seven), is tied with Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul in steals (12), is second to Paul in assists (22) and trails only Wade in scoring average (15.8 points). He's also shooting 60.8 percent from the floor.
"I don't think we can intimidate opponents, but we can take care of business," James, 23, said. "Playing angry -- that's how things have been going so far, and it's been going good. It's going to be like that the next three, too. I'm going to try to play with a chip on my shoulder."
U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said that the 6-foot-8, 260-pound James is the strongest, and perhaps biggest player on the team after Howard. Yet he is versatile enough to guard quick perimeter players and big men. James saw action against Germany's 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki on Monday.
"LeBron, if he's not the best, he's in the top two or three best players in the world," said Krzyzewski, who has spent the past three summers coaching James. "Over the last three years, he's really just developed in all aspects -- his leadership, his defense and obviously, his offense. He's really embraced the entire game. He's going to be one of the great leaders in his particular sport. He just has a presence, keeping guys loose, knowing when to get on them, making sure we have good practices. He's been really a great ally for the coaching staff, as far as getting our message across."
The second time around has been much better for James, who still doesn't understand why Coach Larry Brown refused to play him in Athens in 2004, when the Americans finished a disappointing third. "It wasn't really good," James said, recalling the experience. "I was 19 years old. I thought that I should be playing and I wasn't playing. Being 19 and being away from home for 37 days and not being able to do what you love to do, it was kind of tough on me.
"I think at the end of day, it makes me who I am today. This is the best, right now, phase of my NBA career and I'm taking full advantage."
Krzyzewski has not assigned captains for the team, but James has anointed himself as its leader, claiming that he will be the one to ensure that there is no slippage in any game. James already endeared himself with teammates by using his friendship with hip-hop producer Dr. Dre to get each of them a pair of his special-designed, $350 headphones. "That's a good thing for team camaraderie," James said. "Everybody loves gifts. We all like music."
And there might come a time, rare as it may be, when they need a break from his voice.