We've been calling LeBron James the best player in the world for a few years now. (By "we" I mean those of us not blinded by all of Kobe Bryant's rings/z.) But no, really: he's the best player in the world. All of the posing about whose game best fits the international style, one traditionally dependent on shooting and physicality, is irrelevant when you're as good as the American team since 2006. The talent is just too good to require qualifiers. That goes treble for LeBron, who isn't a great shooter from beyond 18 feet, and isn't always the most physical player (though that changed this past NBA season).
LeBron isn't styled in the traditional international flavor, and he's still head and shoulders above anyone else. If he continues this sort of performance throughout the tournament, he'll not only reaffirm his ultimate advantage over other NBA players (a reaffirmation that need not be made, really), but he'll really bolster his claim as one of the greatest players ever.
Think about it: Here he is, in his prime, on a team filled with All-Stars, against other teams with good players, dominating without dominating the ball. For LeBron, against France it wasn't a matter of filling Team USA's holes like a modern-day Pippen. It was a matter of deciding how to express his power. By passing? Okay, here's a 50-foot bounce pass to a streaking Kevin Durant. By scoring? Okay, here's a drop-step turnaround 16-footer over Mickael Gelabale. On the highlight reels? Alright, let's slip the defense to receive a lob from Deron Williams, and let's finish with a thunderous dunk.
The box score doesn't really indicate how thoroughly LeBron dominated France -- in fact, the box shows Kevin Durant having a stronger game (22 points, nine rebounds, two blocks). Given the budding rivalry between LeBron and Durant, and seeing how KD is now the default "rival" to LeBron in any discussion of the league's best player, the contrast is interesting. James finished with nine points, five rebounds, eight assists and two steals. But when Team USA won this game in the second and third quarters, LeBron was doing the work. He was imposing his will. The Americans had Chris Paul and Deron Williams running the point all game long. It's not like Team USA needed LeBron to evoke Magic Johnson and make plays. But he did. It's worth mentioning that LeBron could be considered the best big man in the game on Sunday and the best guard. And again, this is on a stacked team against a quality European squad.
A few more notes from Team USA-France:
* Drake and Chris Brown may have ruined Tony Parker's only Olympic appearance. This is budding NBA lore.
* Anthony Davis could have some moments before this tournament ends -- Team USA next plays Nigeria and Tunisia, which should mean lots of garbage time -- but he didn't really look like he belonged on the squad in Game 1. He was just sort of ... out there, running around. I hoped to get a good taste of his style while he has some good point guards to work with.
* Take comfort, Knicks fans, in the fact that Carmelo Anthony will gun no matter whose team he's on. He is not changing, ever. He had 10 field goal attempts and two separate trips to the line (four free-throw attempts) for 12 total shot attempts in 17 minutes, or 0.7 shot attempts per minute. Leading scorer Durant was at 0.57 attempts per minute. LeBron was at 0.24. Even Kobe, who played just 12 minutes, was at 0.67. 'Melo is truly one of a kind.
* Russell Westbrook is clearly not going to be unleashed by Coach K in this tournament. Awful development. The coach was particularly aggravated by a bad fourth quarter turnover in which Westbrook left his feet without a clear passing lane.
* We may have lost Blake Griffin, but we still have James Harden.
* A person that can make the best American basketball players look nervous and giddy all at the same time: Michelle Obama. The entire team (coaches, too) lined up to say hello to The First Lady after the win. She embraced each of them. I'd never seen Deron Williams or Russell Westbrook look anxious or nervously hesitant ... until I saw them waiting in the Michelle Obama hug line. I love America.