RIO DE JANEIRO: An Olympic crown for the US team of NBA stars means more this time around for Carmelo Anthony, who sees a gold medal quest as something Americans can unite behind.
The 32-year-old forward for the New York Knicks hopes a nation divided over politics and the killings of unarmed black men and white police officers can come together just like NBA rivals did in less than three weeks for the Rio Games.
“There’s so much going on back home in our country, to show we are united no matter what’s going on, I think that’s important,” Anthony said Thursday (Friday in Manila).
“This is the best way we can go out and show the world that we’re united through all the turmoil.”
Anthony could become the first man in Olympic history to win three basketball gold medals, having gone from a bench spot on the 2004 US team that settled for bronze in Athens to a stalwart in golden efforts at Beijing and London and now a senior leader for a team with almost no Olympic experience.
“My goal is to help lead this team to a gold medal and enjoy the process and the journey,” Anthony said. “For me it’s always about winning the gold medal and for my teammates to take in this moment and enjoy it.”
But there is pressure as well. US teams are 130-5 in the Olympics, failing to win the gold medal on only three occasions in 17 attempts.
The five defeats include a controversial last gasp loss to the Soviet Union in 1972, 1988 to the Soviets to spark creation of the original NBA “Dream Team”, and three times in 2004.
“I remember losing that first game to Puerto Rico. After that it was a downhill snowball effect,” Anthony said.
That led USA Basketball to create a national team program with NBA talent and Mike Krzyzewski as coach. They got their first test at the 2006 World Championship in Japan and lost a semi-final to Greece.
“I know that bottom feeling is the worst,” Anthony said. “And I never want to experience it again.”
But since “Coach K” took over, the US team is 80-1 overall and since 2006 has won two world and Olympic titles. With Krzyzewski retiring after Rio, that just adds to the US pressure to give him a triumphant sendoff.
“We know the task at hand and we know how serious it is,” Anthony said. “We control our own destiny. We expect to win but I don’t want to say what the odds are to win.”
All the lofty goals in the world collapse if the US doesn’t win gold.
“We all realize individual performances don’t matter unless we win and we want to take the gold medal back to the USA,” US guard Klay Thompson said. “As long as we play with focus, we should be in a great position.”
Every team is a threat
Kyrie Irving, who helped the Cleveland Cavaliers win their first NBA crown in June, will take no one for granted.
“Every team is a threat,” he said. “If anything gets hard, we should be able to withstand it. I know we will be ready for it.
“You realize the history, the work that has come before you. We have a duty to the USA.”
Former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant knows that this year’s US team could lose and nothing is guaranteed.
“We just don’t want to think about that,” Durant said. “But it can happen. Anything can happen. But we’ve got the best guys we can get and we’ve gotten together and know our roles.”
That, Durant hopes, bring the US team a third consecutive gold.
“I’m chasing that feeling of jumping up and down and hugging my teammates and celebrating in the locker room after we win,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to that moment.”