LeBron James heads star-studded USA team to play in Abu Dhabi ahead of Paris Olympics

Likes of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will also be part of 12-man squad set to play two exhibition games in UAE capital as part of preparation for Paris 2024

LeBron James and star-studded USA basketball team to play in Abu Dhabi ahead of Olympics

LeBron James and star-studded USA basketball team to play in Abu Dhabi ahead of Olympics
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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid … those are just a handful of the stars that have been named on this summer’s USA Basketball Men’s National Team announced on Wednesday and all of them will be coming to Abu Dhabi to compete in two friendly games ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

A 12-man box-office roster that also includes Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo, and Jrue Holiday, will take on Australia on July 15 and Serbia on July 17 at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena in what will be a crucial part of Team USA’s preparation for their Olympic title defence.

It will be the Americans’ second visit to the UAE capital having held a training camp and contested exhibition games in Abu Dhabi ahead of their 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign last summer, albeit with a different group of players, except for Haliburton and Edwards, who have retained their spots on the national squad.

Grant Hill, the managing director of the US National Team, said they were all “blown away” by their experience in the Emirates last year and jumped at the chance to come back this summer.

“We had such a blast there last year. We had such a good time,” Hill told The National during a Zoom call with members of the press on Wednesday following the squad announcement.

“They were so hospitable. The venue, the accommodations, but just the energy and the spirit there was so much fun. Even when it was really hot, we still managed to have a great time.

“Some great sights, we got a chance to see and experience culture, go out to the desert, go to Dubai, visit the mosque.”

“So yeah, the opportunity presented itself and I know all of us from a leadership standpoint, the coaching staff, we were like, ‘Wow, if we could go back there, that would be awesome’. And so it's worked out that way.”

Hill, who played for USA when they won Olympic gold in 1996, has put together a stacked roster for Paris that is reminiscent of the famous 1992 Dream Team that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

USA finished fourth at the World Cup last year after losing to Germany in the semi-finals and Canada in the bronze-medal game.

The Olympics will surely be a different story with the likes of James and Curry at the helm and a well-thought-out exhibition schedule that features games against Canada in Las Vegas (July 10), a pair of clashes in London against South Sudan (July 20) and Germany (July 22) along with the two exhibition matches in Abu Dhabi.

“We’re grateful we get to go back [to the UAE] and we have two incredible opponents that we’ll play while we're there, Serbia and Australia, both great teams and great players on those teams,” added Hill.

“The exhibition schedule is important and I think we were blown away by our experience there last year and look forward to bringing some of the new players who haven't experienced it before this summer.”

Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a hot spot for world-class basketball, thanks to a multi-year deal signed between the NBA and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, which tipped off in 2022 with the staging of two NBA pre-season games between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.

Last year, the USA, Greece, Germany, Egypt, Mexico and Lebanon held training camps and contested friendlies in August before the NBA returned for two more pre-season games between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves in the fall.

The third edition of the NBA Abu Dhabi Games will see Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets take on Tatum’s Boston Celtics on October 4 and 6, 2024.

Both Jokic and Tatum will come to the UAE capital before then though, the former with Serbia and the latter with USA, for some pre-Olympics exhibitions.

LeBron James returns to the US Olympic roster for the first time since 2012 and the two-time gold medallist will be contesting his fourth Games in Paris this summer.

Durant is a three-time Olympic gold medallist while Curry will be competing in his first Olympic Games.

Adebayo (2020), Booker (2020), Davis (2012), Holiday (2020) and Tatum (2020) have won Olympic gold medals and are part of a group that has gone 34-4 in Olympic competition since James’ debut in 2004.

Team USA will be led in Paris by head coach Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), who is assisted by Mark Few (Gonzaga University), Tyronn Lue (L.A. Clippers) and Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat).

In a warm gesture that was documented and shared on USA Basketball’s social media, Hill and his staff visited every player on the 12-man squad to personally present them with their own national team jerseys ahead of the official announcement on Wednesday.

Hill admits there were some tough decisions that had to be made to finalise the roster and understands why some of the snubs, like that of New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, have raised some eyebrows. Brunson was part of the US squad that played at the World Cup last year and is currently enjoying a standout season with the Knicks, who have secured the No 2 seed in the Eastern Conference play-offs.

“First of all, I acknowledge the season he's having is just magical. It's impressive and it's like he almost played himself into that sort of MVP conversation, if you will,” said Hill when asked of Brunson.

“And he's been a great member of our programme, not just last year on the men's national team, but also with the grassroots and the U17s and so on and so forth. So I wanted to acknowledge that.

“I think it's important for me to really honour and celebrate the 12 that are on the team. And not get caught up by this person or that person.

“There were some really difficult decisions that were to be made. You have players who are incredible, players who have helped us in years past, helped us win gold medals. We've had players who are having current seasons that are just off the charts.

“The job was putting together a team and a team that we felt and ultimately what I felt the pieces fit. And this is not an indictment on anyone else. There are some great, great players and we're so grateful that they were interested and they were willing to be a part of this.

“But with that said, we're really, really excited about our group and excited about the pieces, the style, the skill set, the personalities, and we look forward to the challenge ahead.”

USA have landed in Group C at the Olympics alongside Serbia, South Sudan and the winning nation that will emerge through the qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico early July.

Updated: April 18, 2024, 9:37 AM