A gold would cap the 'Year of LeBron' - NBC Sports

A gold would cap the 'Year of LeBron'
James carrying Team USA, erasing any doubts about his basketball brilliance
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Lebron James has been the do-everything player for Team USA during the London Games, writes Ira Winderman.
August 8, 2012, 7:08 pm

When he arrived in Miami in 1995, he said the only team banners the Heat would display would be championship banners. Then it became clear he no longer was with the Showtime Lakers, so a steady flow of division-title reminders began to stream from the rafters.

Then, in a move that still confounds many, Riley decided that Michael Jordan's No. 23 should be retired in every NBA arena for what Jordan did for the game. It does, in Chicago. And, because of Riley's convictions, at AmericanAirlines Arena, as well.

Making sure not to snub a local legend, Riley followed by hoisting Dan Marino's No. 13 Miami Dolphins jersey.

With only the jerseys of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway retired by the franchise, it essentially left the score high above at AmericanAirlines Arena tied: Heat 2, non-Heat 2. So Riley decided to also honor Dwyane Wade with a banner of his own, for returning from the 2008 Beijing Olympics with gold, following with similar belated tributes to Mourning and Hardaway for their 2000 Sydney Olympics gold.

And now? And now should come perhaps the ultimate moment for LeBron James, with not only the Heat's 2012 NBA championship banner to be raised on opening night Oct. 30 against the visiting Celtics, but his own Heat Olympic gold-medal banner likely to follow.

By Sunday night in London, LeBron James might just have it all.

And to think, just a year ago, he stood where Dwight Howard stands today, a player with immense talent but also one with questions about an ability to lead.

If June didn't answer all those questions, when he emerged as MVP of the NBA Finals, then these two weeks in London assuredly will.

Because for as dynamic as Kevin Durant has been from the 3-point line, for a streaky as Carmelo Anthony has been with his offense, none of Mike Krzyzewski's players have been as essential as LeBron.

As Kobe Bryant comes to disdain FIBA ball almost as much as Tim Duncan, as Chris Paul lands a low blow that erupts into an international incident, as Tyson Chandler comes to the reality that five FIBA fouls simply aren't enough, James has made a statement in London that he couldn't make in Miami:

That he can do it without Wade and Bosh, albeit with similar stars now alongside.

And, just as significantly, that his move into the post last season with the Heat was not a mere novelty act, now playing as backup center in London behind Chandler, with his post play at the start of the second half against Argentina providing needed breathing room before Durant sucked the life out of Ginobili & Co. with his 3-point shooting.

For now, there is humility.

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"We're very beatable," he stressed after the United States (5-0) finished as the only undefeated team in Olympic pool play. "We don't feel unbeatable. We just got to continue to get better, continue to work our habits, both offensively and defensively. Every team is beatable in this tournament and we know that as well."

But one player might not be beatable. LeBron wasn't after falling perilously behind Indiana and Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He wasn't in the NBA Finals against Durant's Thunder.

No, 2012 is turning into the "Year of LeBron," and his USA Basketball teammates and coach recognize as much.

"LeBron, he is special," Paul said, as he looked ahead to Thursday's quarterfinal against Australia. "What more can you say?"

Paul then related a moment from the U.S. huddle at the start of the third quarter against Argentina, when the United States' lead was a mere single point.

"I came to the bench," Paul said, "and I heard Coach say, 'Take the game over.'"

So James did, with seven consecutive U.S. points, hardly needed thereafter.

"He is the guy capable of taking the game over," Paul said curiously, considering this is a roster that also features Bryant. "When you think about a guy taking the game over you just think about scoring. He is the guy who can take the game over on the defensive end. He can share the ball."

As with the Heat, LeBron has spent much of these past two weeks as a point-power forward or point-center, something we're not sure even Don Nelson could have conjured.

Krzyzewski said putting LeBron in the post seemed natural, while also is a credit to Hakeem Olajuwon, Erik Spoelstra and the others who finally convinced James of his most logical basketball destiny, a place Paul Silas and Mike Brown could barely get him to visit in Cleveland.

"We don't have a post presence," Krzyzewski said. "So it was something a little bit different to give our offense a little different look at that time and he responded really well."

From regular-season MVP to NBA Finals MVP, James appears to be setting up for another hardware moment, to be followed, as has become Pat Riley's way, by a banner moment at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Then again, it only makes sense.

Because over the past year, no player has risen above to LeBron's level.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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