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LeBron James’ return to Olympic team sparked by chat after NBA points record

USA Basketball men’s national team managing director Grant Hill remembers his first conversation with LeBron James about returning to the Olympic team for the first time since 2012.

The short chat happened on April 9, 2023, two days after James broke the NBA career points record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Hill was in Los Angeles as part of the TNT broadcast crew for the Lakers’ next game versus the Milwaukee Bucks. James sat out the game due to left ankle soreness, but was still at the arena.

“So at halftime, as I’m coming out from the back, and he’s on the court, I walked up to him,” Hill remembered. “I said, ‘Hey man, I need you in Paris.’ It was just kind of in passing, just kind of throw it up there on the wall and see what he says. He was like, ‘I’m in.’ Guys will say things, so you never know are they serious or not.”

Hill learned just how serious James was later that year.

At last summer’s FIBA World Cup, a U.S. team made up entirely of players with no previous Olympic or World Cup experience finished fourth. The Americans lost three games at a major international tournament for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games.

“After we lost the World Cup, T-Lue (Tyronn Lue, a U.S. assistant coach who formerly coached James with the Cleveland Cavaliers) put us in contact, and we really communicated a lot over the course of this last year,” Hill said of his continued talks with James. “He was in from the first time we spoke last fall.”

In early October, USA Basketball received a another big-time commit when center Joel Embiid announced he would play for the U.S. rather than France or Cameroon. Hill said that James texted him after that with a congratulatory message.

“So (James) has been invested in this and excited about this, and I think understands and respects what this is and also how incredibly difficult it is,” Hill said. “So his presence and his leadership will serve us well in addition to his play.”

The entire 12-man roster, including James, was announced last week, coinciding with 100 days out from the Paris Games.

James, 39, will shatter the record of oldest U.S. Olympic men’s basketball player held by Larry Bird, who was 35 years old when he was on the Dream Team in 1992.

James, and potentially Diana Taurasi, will become the first Americans to have an Olympic basketball career span 20 years. James made his debut at the 2004 Athens Games after his first NBA season, then played again in 2008 and 2012.

He skipped the 2016 Rio Games to rest after leading the Cavs to the franchise’s first NBA title. He was not on the Tokyo Olympic roster, either, as he rested his ankle that summer.

After being named to the team last week, James was asked about going back to the Olympics, and doing so with a Lakers teammate, Anthony Davis, who also returns for the first time since 2012.

“When that moment happens, we’ll be extremely excited and extremely happy to put those uniforms back on and go against the world,” James said. “Will be a huge moment.”

NBC Sports’ Andy Dougherty contributed to this report.

The U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team goes for a fifth consecutive title in Paris.