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The people’s daily online sees a different side of LBJ.Â As LeBron James walked onto the court to thunderous cheers before Team USA’s match with China’s national team on Monday, he clapped his hands twice before saluting all of his team-mates.
It was a relatively understated gesture for the NBA superstar, with fans more used to flamboyant air chest-clashes with team-mates and the chanting of Jay-Z lyrics before he turns out for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But with a determination to restore US basketball to its former standing in the upcoming World Championships in Japan, the 22-year-old is showing a different side.
“It’s not only a salute to my team-mates, it’s also for the whole team and my country,” said James. “I salute to show my respect to the country. It’s about my commitment and determination.
“The goal in the Worlds is clear – the champions.”
Unlike other NBA superstars Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who won the gold medal when they first turned out for the national team in the Olympic Games, James has had a more disappointing experience, with the US team settling for bronze in 2004 in Athens, ending the dominance it had enjoyed since Barcelona in 1992.
Though he left Athens frustrated, the promising teenager came back to NBA stronger, anchoring Cavaliers to the play-offs last season.
“We’re not thinking about what happened in 2004. It’s a different time, a different team for us, a different coaching staff. We are just going out and preparing ourselves the best way to win every game,” he said.
“We have a totally different mindset this time and the atmosphere is great. You want to leave here and have great things to say about your experience, rather than some of the negative things we had in 2004. Now, we want the chance to start over again.”
Realizing it could no longer just throw together players and expect to win international competitions, the national team has enjoyed a series of teambuilding activities since March, including a visit to Nellis air force base in Las Vegas at the start of this month.
“It doesn’t matter how good of a basketball player you are individually, to become a team you need more devotion,” said James.
“It’s quite different to compete for my country, we need to play as a whole. Now, the chemistry is great and it’s only going to get better.”
James looks a different player to the one that played in Athens. He strives for balls on the floor and exhibits a relentless defense, and also got the game-highs 20 and 22 points in two matches with Puerto Rico and China, a sharp contrast with his time in Athens where he averaged a miserable 4.8 points per game.
After making seven-of-eight from the field against China on Monday, James said he wants to be the leader of the Dream Team.
“I don’t look at myself as a hero, but I want to be a leader of the team, or just one of the leaders,” he said. “It’s a long-term target for me, not only in one or two matches.”
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was pleased with what James brought to the team.
“I know he isn’t conditioned to play this way in the NBA,” he said. “The style he wants to play is up in his chest every possession. The boy kind of understands this game a little better now, and he can help these young guys understand what this game is all about.”
In yesterday’s match against Brazil in Guangzhou, LeBron scored 11, including a decisive 2-point shot with one minute to go, inspiring USA to come from behind and beat Brazil 90-86.
Brazil led 82-81 with three minutes left, before USA made a 8-0 spurt in the last two minutes.
The South Americans managed to chase by only one point but LeBron’s score subdued Brazil’s last-gasp rally.Â Â