Having two alphas on the same team is extremely challenging, and getting them to buy into the collectivistic culture is a must. But that’s easier said than done. That’s why coaches whose superstars do it voluntarily are the lucky ones. In 2007, Mike Krzyzewski was one of those lucky coaches.
On their own individual teams, they exulted to be the one or two superstars on the team, but we could not have that. And that’s where the relationship between Kobe and LeBron really became the centerpiece of that foundation, and those two guys were magnificent in how they brought it together.Mike Krzyzewski, Diversion Podcasts
Why did Coach K single out those two? Because they were the two alphas on the ’07 USA Basketball Team – a revenge act for the ’06 World Cup semifinal loss to Greece. Kobe Bryant was seen as the best player on the planet. In most people’s eyes, LeBron James was a close second. Krzyzewski knew they would be the tone setters for the rest of the group and was ecstatic when the two made it clear co-existing wasn’t going to be a problem.
At that point, Coach K had a little more history with LeBron than he did with Kobe since they’d gone through that humbling loss in ’06. So he went to Akron, Ohio, to meet with the Cavs forward and get his feedback on some of the new players joining the team for the ’07 FIBA Americas Championship.
I said, ‘I wanna bring these three guys in, and how do you feel about them? Because some of these guys may feel nobody is as good as them. This is a true story. He said, ‘Well, J-Kidd is the best passer in the NBA; I can really pass too. I can learn from him.’ And at that time, Kobe was the best player in the NBA, he didn’t say that, but he did say, ‘Nobody prepares like Kobe, I can learn from that, and Chauncey is really smart.’Mike Krzyzewski, Diversion Podcasts
That’s when LeBron turned into a sponge, absorbing day-to-day on-court lessons while constantly asking for more. The 22-year-old superstar made sure to capitalize on being around the best of the best, but never to the detriment of the team.
Every meeting that we had with that team, LeBron sat next to J-Kidd, and almost every night – people don’t realize how much extra these guys do – Jason and LeBron went to shoot together. I call it sharing best practices. How would they have ever shared best practices if they had not come together and been willing to share that stuff? At the end of the day, it was beautiful. And I give so much credit to those guys.Mike Krzyzewski, Diversion Podcasts
Once it was time to play, the group delivered. They went 10-0, capturing one of the FIBA Americas zone’s two qualifying berths for the ’08 Beijing Olympics. The team averaged 116.7 ppg – the most since the ’94 USA World Championship Team averaged 120.1 ppg – and defeated its 10 opponents by an average margin of 39.5 points – the most since the ’92 Dream Team.
Carmelo Anthony led Team USA in scoring with 21.2 points, LeBron put up 18.1, and Kobe Bryand added 15.3. The next year, a slightly altered roster also won the Olympic Gold Medal, restoring Team USA’s international basketball dominance. And they haven’t stopped since.