Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to drive against Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the first quarter of game five in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. (Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE)
By Larry Fine
MIAMI, June 22 (Reuters) – Now that LeBron James and the Miami Heat have capped off the NBA season with a glorious title run, the spotlight turns to the next great stage for basketball, the London Olympics.
Miami’s ‘Big Three’ of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh dominated Oklahoma City Thunder’s talented trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in five games to claim the NBA crown on Thursday.
All six will be meeting up again soon in Las Vegas among 18 finalists for the 12-man U.S. Olympic team that will defend the gold medal this summer in London.
Other players in the NBA Finals teams, including Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka (Spain) and Miami’s Ronny Turiaf (France) will join their compatriots in preparation for basketball’s greatest international extravaganza.
“It’s what basketball is all about,” Turiaf told Reuters.
“When the opportunity presents itself to step out there on the basketball court and compete, it’s definitely more fun to compete against guys that you consider friends.”
Turiaf said the roster was not yet set for France, who along with Spain and Argentina are considered strong contenders to join the U.S. team in the push for the podium.
“If I was fortunate to go out there, I would expect intensity and basketball at a very high level,” said Turiaf, whose prospective team mates include San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, among others.
“We have a great squad. (The) coach has a lot of options at very key positions. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Ibaka would bring his impressive shot-blocking skills to a Spanish team expected to feature the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and his brother Marc of the Memphis Grizzlies.
No greater amalgamation of NBA talent was ever gathered than the squad that launched the involvement of the league’s professionals in the Olympic tournament, the U.S. ‘Dream Team’, 20 years ago at the Barcelona Olympics.
One member of that hallmark team, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, remembers moving from a joust in the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan into the Dream Team training camp with the Chicago Bulls great for the 1992 Games.
“Competition is competition,” former Portland Trail Blazer and Houston Rocket Drexler told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“You got the NBA season and the Olympic season. Whatever happens, the game moves on. We had no problem with that whatsoever.”
The beloved maestro of the 1992 Dream Team, Magic Johnson, said he was excited about seeing James, crowned the most valuable player of both the regular season and the championship series, take his talents to London after finally achieving his goal of winning an NBA title.
“Thank God he’s in the NBA, that we have a chance to see him every day,” Johnson told the Miami Herald.
“And thank God he’s going to play in the Olympics, and that the world will get the chance to see this unbelievable, dominant player on the biggest stage.”