Stars want to restore U.S. hoops

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 22, 2008

AKRON — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade cruised city streets on bicycles Saturday for charity.

Soon, the NBA superstars will be touring China for gold.

James and Wade have been selected to play on the U.S. Olympic basketball team, which will be formally introduced on Monday by coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. The 12-man squad, which will also include NBA MVP Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony, will try to win a gold medal that has eluded the Americans since 1996.

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This will be the second Olympics for Cleveland’s James and Miami’s Wade, who were on the American team that finished a disappointing third and won a bronze medal at the Athens Games in 2004.

‘‘It’s easy to focus on USA Basketball right now,’’ James said. ‘‘We have one goal, and that’s to win a gold medal. We’re very excited about it. We don’t worry about the rest. We worry about getting in shape and getting ready to win a gold medal, that’s our only concern.’’

James was joined at his ‘‘King for Kids Bike-a-thon’’ by Wade, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, former Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton and NBA great Spencer Haywood, the leading scorer on the 1968 U.S. team that won gold in Mexico City. More than 2,000 riders took part in the event in James’ hometown.

While James’ spot on the U.S. roster was a given, Wade’s wasn’t assured until recently.

His season ended in March, shut down by a left knee that never was right following surgery in 2007. Wade has been in Chicago working out since early May, and while he was there, both James and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul — also expected to be named to the U.S. team — joined their good friend to help him polish his game.

‘‘One thing that really helped my confidence was when LeBron and C.P. came to Chicago and we played together,’’ said Wade, who missed 31 games last season, an absence that sent the Heat plummeting to a 15-67 record. ‘‘We really took it up a notch and it was very competitive and I was doing what I normally do, so I was feeling good.’’

Colangelo came to Chicago to see Wade play and came away convinced the 6-foot-4 guard was healthy.

Wade never wondered whether he’d be able to get ready.

‘‘It’s all about me being healthy,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve never doubted my talent. It’s just making sure I’m healthy for the long haul. Once I knew that weeks and weeks ago, then I was confident in moving forward.’’

For James and Wade, playing with so many other top players will be a luxury they don’t get during the regular season. Instead of having to do almost everything to help their teams win, they’ll have plenty of help.

‘‘We got 12 guys that can be out on the court for a long period of time, so it’s not like on our respective teams where we’re the only go-to guys, where every time we come down on the offensive end we’re the guy they have to go to,’’ James said. ‘‘If we wanted to on Team USA, we could go to Kobe Bryant 20 straight possessions. We can go to Carmel Anthony 20 straight possessions. We can to go D-Wade 20 straight possessions. It’s not like we’re going to be exerting a lot of energy like we would if we were on the Cavs or the Heat.’’

Proceeds from the bike-a-thon will be divided among the Akron Area YMCA, the Akron Urban League and the LeBron James Family Foundation.