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James assumes leadership role as Team USA humbles France

LeBron James has eight assists yesterday and Kevin Durant scored 22 points as the US defeated France, 98-71, in each team's first basketball contest of the 2012 Olympic Games.

By Christopher HartmanContributor / July 30, 2012

USA's LeBron James (6) grabs a rebound during the first half of a preliminary men's basketball game against France at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 29, in London.

Eric Gay/AP

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LeBron James has established his NBA career by being one of the most versatile and athletic performers.

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Sunday, James added to his illustrious credentials by subjugating his own offensive tendencies in favor of assisting others – eight, with Team USA getting 25 total in demolishing France, 98-71 at London’s Olympic Park Basketball Arena in their opening Olympic contest.

On one play in particular, a long pass from James, following a Tyson Chandler rebound of a Tony Parker shot, fell in the hands of a perfectly synchronized Kevin Durant for a massive dunk. It was the first of many such dunks in a game that made France look like more like a college squad than a world-class basketball team.

That James-Durant hookup was emblematic of how the tightness of Team USA's opening minutes began to melt away like a candy bar in the hot July sun. Both France and the U.S. began the game with numerous fouls – seemingly feeling out the FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) officiating crew that was initially calling the game very tightly.

In fact, France’s early foul trouble hampered any attempts to try and muscle their way back in succeeding periods (Olympic games consist of four 10-minute frames). France seemed totally hapless offensively – making only two of 22 shots from beyond the three-point arc, and giving up 18 turnovers (11 in the first half).

The US, before it got rolling, was 0-for-6 from the three-point stripe. Doug Collins, doing the commentary for NBC, remarked that one of the reasons for the initial poor shooting may have been the ball itself – he noted that during their practice session, Team USA had been using well-worn basketballs; but that once the game began, they were using a new ball that appeared “over-inflated.”

However, that was the only part of the US repertoire that was over-inflated; for the Americans, it was just another day at the office, with a lot of great fundamental basketball augmented by the type of athleticism that only a team of NBA all-stars can muster. U.S.A. head coach Mike Krzyzewski remarked afterward that the team’s slow start was more the result of unfamiliarity with and adjustment to the venue – half-jokingly dubbed “The Marshmallow” – than “jitters” or anything else.

The US team was only allowed in the facility for only an hour during the entire preceding week, and that, together with the fact that the crowd was far-removed from the court, making it less intimate – and familiar – than a normal NBA-variety arena, was initially disconcerting for the US starters.

Team USA.’s sheer height – with trees like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love on the roster – made it seem totally plausible that James, at “only” six feet, eight inches in height and 250 pounds, could play a convincing guard. It prompted Collins to remark, somewhat incredulously, that at his current statistics, James is the same size as Karl Malone was in the prime of his career.

Collins then added, looking on with both astonishment and admiration for James’ unselfish play, that this is what great players do – they constantly add to their repertoire – and James, with both an improved brand of play in the post along with a focus on assisting his teammates rather than himself, has done just that. It prompted more than one comparison to Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the former L.A. Lakers star. After yesterday’s game, it seems entirely fitting and appropriate.

The US’s next game is Tuesday, July 31, against Tunisia. All games are being broadcast on the NBC Sports Network and NBC Olympic Basketball cable channels.

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