NBA Rivalries Take Backseat With Gold In Mind For Team USA
- LOS ANGELES
DeAndre Jordan’s laughing on the sideline with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Kyrie Irving’s hitting a buzzer-beater at halftime and immediately jogging over to Klay Thompson to slap hands.
From September to June, none of this would happen. But right now, after two dominant exhibition game victories with “USA” emblazoned across their chests, nothing else matters to the USA Men’s National Team other than winning a gold medal.
The rivalry between Jordan’s Clippers and Green’s Warriors, which just went up a notch with Durant’s signing in Golden State this offseason, doesn’t matter. The intense NBA Finals series between Irving’s Cavaliers and Thompson’s Warriors, that doesn’t matter, either.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing for the Clippers, the Warriors, the Thunder, the Mavericks – it doesn’t matter,” Jordan said. “You play for Team USA, and it’s bigger than all of us.”
What the USA Men’s National Team is playing for now is more significant than any NBA rivalry, and as strange as it might’ve been to some of the players early on during last week’s training in Las Vegas, any peculiar feelings quickly dissipated.
The members of the USA Team realize their objective and the significance of what they’re trying to accomplish together. That means players who wouldn’t ever be caught talking to each other during the NBA’s regular season are not just working together as teammates, but enjoying getting to know one another while going through the Olympic process together.
“Seeing their work ethic, seeing them in a different element other than lining up across from them, it’s awesome, “Irving said. “I’m looking forward to just getting to know every single one of the guys.”
That process is already developing, even before the USA squad heads out to Brazil. That’s the beauty of working together for a common goal as profound as winning a gold medal, and that supersedes any previous conflicts.
“We’re really growing together as a group well,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after USA’s 106-57 win Sunday against China. “I want to keep that going.”
Everything that made the players attractive in the first place to Krzyzewski and the U.S. coaching staff still applies. It’s just instead of Klay Thompson getting open looks from Stephen Curry, he’s getting them from Irving. And instead of Jordan giving handoffs and setting screens for J.J. Redick, he’s setting up Thompson, who said he thinks Jordan will “be a monster” for the USA with his athleticism.
“We all have respect for each other, we all know what we are playing for, and it’s fun,” Thompson said. “You know, we compete against each other so much that it’s cool to come together and play for our country. Not a lot of athletes get that opportunity, so everyone is hungry, and we’re all embracing it.”
Jordan said it’s crazy to think about getting to represent the entire country and to play for something this significant. Irving added that the players on board have already built unique relationships, despite coming from different backgrounds and taking different journeys to get where they’re at now.
Some are NBA teammates, some are NBA rivals, but none of that matters right now.
No one knows that better than Carmelo Anthony, the elder statesman of the USA squad, who’s the only player to have also played for each of the last two gold medal winning U.S. teams in 2008 and 2012.
“All eyes are on the gold,” Anthony said.
The cheers should sound exponentially greater for one USA player in particular this week at Oracle Arena.
Durant will step foot inside his new NBA home arena for the first time since joining the Warriors when he plays Tuesday at 7 p.m. PDT in the second of two exhibition games against China, which will be televised by NBA TV and streamed live on Facebook.
“I can’t wait,” Durant said. “Can’t wait. I’m just looking forward to playing with these guys again. Any time I get a chance to step on the court with these players, I get better. So, I’m looking forward to that.”
A handful of players get to go through the Olympic experience with their NBA teammates. For Durant, playing for the USA provides the rare experience of working alongside two of his superstar teammates in Thompson and Green for the first time ever as members of the same NBA team.
Multiple times already the trio has been on the court for USA together, something they’re going to need to get used to doing once the NBA season arrives. Thompson said it’s going to be special to get to play with Durant during the regular season, and as excited as Thompson is to return home to Oracle on Tuesday, he’s even more excited to see the reaction to Durant.
“It’s going to be Kevin’s first time there, and I hope the fans give him his due,” Thompson said. “And the same with (Harrison Barnes). HB gave us four great years, so I hope the fans show him the utmost respect, he helped us win a championship. And obviously me and Draymond, it’s always fun going home. It’s going to feel like a regular game day during the season, so that going to be nice.”