Zach LaVine never hid his strong desire to represent his country on the Olympic stage. And now, after a brief speed bump, the Chicago Bulls' All-Star guard will get his chance.
One day after USA Basketball announced that LaVine landed in the program's health and safety protocols, team officials announced late Tuesday that LaVine had been cleared to rejoin the team.
In a statement, USA Basketball said LaVine will meet the team Thursday afternoon in Tokyo. In an overnight news conference from Tokyo, head coach Gregg Popovich said the plan is for LaVine to resume practice on Friday.
The U.S. men's team opens its bid for a gold medal on Sunday against France. Popovich said it's his expectation that LaVine, who started the last two exhibition games, will play if he navigates practice without incident.
LaVine, who landed in the health and safety protocols for either an inconclusive test, false positive or contact tracing situation, couldn't join the team flight that left Las Vegas on Monday. But he quickly exited the protocols and will fly to meet the team in time for the opener.
"Not having Zach on the trip, we were on edge about his next test," Kevin Durant said. "Luckily, he got through protocols and he can come join us again. That was the only thing we were worried about."
Team USA, which already has had its share of COVID-19-related incidents with Bradley Beal dropping off the roster and Jerami Grant moving in and out of the health and safety protocols for contact tracing, will also get reinforcements now that the NBA Finals have concluded. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday from the champion Milwaukee Bucks and Devin Booker from the runner-up Phoenix Suns are scheduled to fly to Tokyo later this week.
LaVine missed 11 games down the stretch of the Bulls' regular season following a positive COVID-19 test that he disclosed upon his return. Sources at the time indicated that LaVine had taken one shot of a two-shot vaccination schedule, producing the positive test one day before his scheduled second shot.
USA Basketball's initial statement regarding LaVine used language that strongly indicated a contact tracing situation or testing issue. It said LaVine remained in the U.S. "out of an abundance of caution" and indicated that team officials were hopeful he would rejoin the team later in the week.
Soon, LaVine will be on his way. A gold medal is the goal.