Friends Carmelo, LeBron could make history if they win gold

Friends Carmelo, LeBron could make history if they win gold

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Friends Carmelo, LeBron could make history if they win gold
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James may go after their third gold.Eric Gay/AP

Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James may go after their third gold.

LAS VEGAS — The first time Carmelo Anthony met LeBron James they were both in high school, two blue chippers familiar in name and legend.

“I heard you’re Carmelo Anthony,” started James, with those words transitioning into a conversation that lasted till 2 or 3 in the morning.

The encounter was at the entrance of a hotel in New Jersey, before they moved this first of many chats to the steps. Anthony remembers it vividly, roughly 14 years later as the two prepare for potential Olympic history. They once talked about going to college together, conquering the NCAA. Now it’s the world stage.

“We talk about it all the time, just about the experience how we want to go out,” Anthony says, “how we want to end it this next year with the Olympics.”

Once the teenaged newbies on the scene of international basketball during the 2004 disaster under Larry Brown, the close friends are in consideration to join their fourth Olympic squad and win a third gold medal. No male basketball player has ever done either.

However, it’s hardly a given James or Anthony will be on the Olympic squad next year in Rio, or even their other good buddy also seeking a third gold, Chris Paul.

Age is now a factor. It’s almost assumed the trio will get an invite based on their skill, experience and commitment to USA basketball. But there are concerns about health: Anthony is coming off knee surgery — and exhaustion — James has played in five straight NBA finals.

All three players fulfilled their commitment for next year by arriving for training camp this week in Las Vegas, even if James’ brief appearance was more symbolic than substance. None of them participated in Thursday’s intra-squad scrimmage.

“A family decision,” was how James classified his status for Rio.

“We won’t know till next year,” said Anthony.

PESCE;Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In 2004, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony receive the bronze medal for men’s basketball during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

Still, it’s hard not to recognize how much they enjoy the experience and the company. The winning helps, of course. Team USA is 75-1 since Mike Krzyzewski took over an embattled program in 2005, with James, Anthony, Paul and Kobe Bryant emerging as the cornerstones.

Basketball’s most famous clique — James, Anthony, Paul and Dwyane Wade — was solidified at the 2008 Games.

“Our bond, it goes way deeper than basketball,” Paul said. “We really are like brothers, along with D-Wade. We spend a lot of time together. A week doesn’t go by where we don’t talk.”

It was also during those 2008 Games that, according to rumor, Wade and James plotted their joint free agency move to Miami. They eventually won two NBA championships. Paul orchestrated his own move from New Orleans to the Clippers, joining Blake Griffin to forge an annual contender.

Anthony took a similar path to the Knicks, which has been less rewarding.

“It was tough to see (Anthony play for a team that went 17-65 last season),” Paul said. “But most of all it was tough to see him get injured. All of us, for years, I remember when D-Wade came back from his (knee) injury in 2008, we all flew to Chicago to play pickup with him, just to see how he was feeling, let him play against some guys. That’s how we feel about each other. So it was tough to see Carmelo get injured.”

Anthony returned to non-contact drills during Team USA practices following his February knee surgery, declaring himself fit for Knicks training camp in October. The upcoming year will decide whether he’ll get a chance to make history in Brazil, along with the friend he met inside a New Jersey hotel.

“For this to be the last hurrah together,” says Paul, “it’d be pretty cool.”

“Last Olympics it was Kobe,” Anthony adds. “We always joked with him and laughed that he was the oldest guy out there. And now we’re the older the guys.”

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