- Associated Press - Monday, July 30, 2012

LONDON — LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are part of an exclusive Olympic club that may never have another member.

Along with David Robinson, they’re the only U.S. men’s basketball players to compete in three Olympics —and with a potential age-limit rule looming, maybe the last ones.

“We’re very humbled from the simple fact that we’ve been selected once again, but we don’t take it for granted,” said James. “This is a very select group of guys who get this opportunity every four years and for us to be a part of it for three consecutive teams is an unbelievable feat.”

A feat that seemed unlikely after James‘ and Anthony’s first experience.

The Olympics couldn’t end quickly enough for them in Athens.

James can hardly hide his disgust with his role, or lack thereof, whenever he is asked about 2004, a time when USA Basketball was, as Anthony says, “just trash.”

Now they refuse to let the Olympic experience stop.

The NBA All-Stars have gone from Olympic outcasts to longtime leaders whose commitment has helped get the Americans back on top and favorites to stay there.

Robinson, a Hall of Famer, followed up a bronze medal finish in 1988 by winning in 1992 with the Dream Team and again in 1996.

James and Anthony can follow the same pattern, a remarkable finish — if they are done — to an ugly start.

“I’d have come full circle,” Anthony said. “Just the feeling of having that experience of being at the bottom of it all as far as USA Basketball goes in 2004 and then coming back to redeem ourselves in 2008, I had to come back. LeBron had to come back. We had to do it once again.

“Even right now, in London, that gold medal in ‘08 was sweet, but this one would be even better.”

James and Anthony were NBA rookies in 2004, playing for a coach in Larry Brown who favors veterans. They still needed to grow as players and grow up as people, and they really didn’t belong in Athens in the first place.

But such was the state of USA Basketball that when numerous players pulled out and the Americans had no plan in a place to fill out the roster, they picked a pair of familiar names who didn’t yet have the games to match their popularity. James had been the NBA Rookie of the Year but was just 19. Anthony was 20, a year after leading Syracuse to the NCAA championship as a freshman.

The Americans lost three times in Athens while James and Anthony mostly sat and watched. Anthony in particular was viewed as the poster child for a team that was hated at home and abroad.

“That experience I’ve kind of forgotten about, honestly,” James said. “I was thrown in as an afterthought after my rookie year and I didn’t play much and we wasn’t a team. Ever since then, being a part of this and part of Team USA has been great for myself — and I know Melo feels the same.”

James has become a leader for the Americans, perhaps caring more about that role because leadership was so lacking on that ‘04 disaster.

“It’s great to see and, yeah, we owe them such a debt of gratitude for committing themselves to be part of this,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “And that’s the thing that touches me so, so much, that players have really committed to it because they liked it, felt comfortable, wanted to be a part of it. And those guys were right at the forefront, Carmelo, LeBron.”

NBA commissioner David Stern has discussed limiting Olympic participation to players 23 and younger, a proposal that would have to be approved by FIBA, basketball’s world governing body.

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