U.S. men's basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, left, and Managing… (Jason Bean / Associated…)
Jerry Colangelo has gold on his mind again.
As chairman of USA Basketball, the former Phoenix Suns owner helped rally the Olympic men's program from a disappointing 2004 bronze-medal effort, hiring Coach Mike Krzyzewski and presiding over a talent base that won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Colangelo's 2012 roster has 10 returnees from 2008, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Although Bryant raised eyebrows last week in Las Vegas by saying this team could beat the original 1992 Dream Team of NBA Olympians, he doesn't count stars Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and now Blake Griffin as teammates.
What do you like most about this team?
"The camaraderie. The physicalness of a team that is four years older. They're just much more mature than they were, and they've filled out so well — LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams. Plus the good, young players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When you add the role players — a guy like Tyson Chandler — it's a group that blends well together."
You have interesting dynamics to deal with considering the fierce competition at the close of the NBA season between LeBron, Durant and Kobe when rapport is now critical. What are your observations of that transformation?
"There's a mutual respect for a common good. They've committed themselves to being teammates. It's all about the three letters on the front of the jersey. That competition of the NBA season is left on the shelf. From our first meeting, in talking about the team concept, we didn't have to start from scratch with this group. Not with 10 gold medalists out of the 12 players. These guys have been through our program with the Olympics and 2010 world championships. They get it."
You were the point man in finalizing the roster, breaking the news to guys like Anthony Davis (before his roster return because of Griffin's knee injury), Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay that they wouldn't make it. What were those conversations like?
"It was difficult, dealing with a guy's future and livelihood. I take it very seriously and completely understand. Anthony was not as difficult because he wasn't really able to perform and because he wasn't already in the NBA. We just told those guys how difficult it was, and the truth was we could've tossed a coin to decide it. It was that close."
What are your thoughts on how this team compares with the 1992 Dream Team?
"The Dream Team will always be the team people recognize as the team of all time. But this team here is a strong team, and compared to the 2008 team . . . this team will be successful too, and I think it's deeper in terms of the roster. Very talented. Very versatile. People will say we don't have size, but we have quickness, versatility, athleticism. We talked about it. You go with what you've got and there's guys in this group who can play two to four positions. You don't take big just to have big. Kevin Love, Chandler can play center. LeBron can play the one, two, three, four or five."
NBA Commissioner David Stern has indicated he might like to limit the age of NBA players who participate on the Olympic team to 23 and younger. Are you concerned about this?
"David has been outspoken about possibly remedying the ages of those who participate in the Olympics. That would change how we go about things in what will now be called the World Cup in 2014 in Spain, but there's a long ways to go from the concept to implementing change. FIBA and a lot of people are saying a lot of things. We'll talk about all the pros and cons of doing something like this after these Olympics. My thought is we have a great program and pipeline with our juniors going."
Will you have a voice in keeping things the way they are?
"My plan is for one more run."
Your position also requires you to generate financial backing for the 54 men's and women's teams to represent the U.S. since 2008. How much have you raised, and who gives the money?
"I've been a marketing guy my whole life, so sponsorships and packages are not unusual to me. We quadrupled revenues from the time I started in 2005, and it allows us to support our senior and junior teams. We've raised $36 million for this group from companies including Nike, American Express, State Farm, Gatorade. . . ."
Was it a slam dunk to bring back Coach K? Why is he the best man for the job?
"He was the best man in '05 to turn this program around, and he remains the best man. He's an incredible leader and coach and he gets these guys to perform for him. It was my observation that having continuity is the best thing for this team's credibility and competitiveness."
You're confident of repeating as gold medalists?
"Yes. We don't take anyone lightly. Spain will be tough. You can't afford to assume it's a given you'll win, and I'm not putting any stock in the idea we'll have it easy early. We need to go over there and play our best basketball. I'm confident we will."