LONDON – At one point in Friday's USA Basketball introductory media conference at the Olympics, the crowd of cameras and reporters in front of LeBron James was 23 deep. Twenty-three. A mass of humanity that included reporters standing on chairs, craning for a glimpse of him.
LeBron's crowd merged with Kobe Bryant's on one side and Carmelo Anthony's on the other, creating an absolute throng of journalists, a complete mess of people. The reporters had already been warned not to seek autographs and pictures, though that was ignored on occasion.
This wasn't a news conference. It was a mad house, 600 media members in attendance. At least.
Team USA and Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, his own pack in front of him, peered over at the craziness, shook his head and laughed.
"Look at that," he said.
Perhaps the concept of the "Dream Team" has faded back in the States, and maybe there will be a movement to an under-23 team at these games – a debate NBA commissioner David Stern and a number of his owners have raised. But anyone who thinks this isn't still a big deal around the world hasn't seen USA Basketball's traveling rock star show.
The send-the-college-kids crowd?
"They are not getting how big this is," Krzyzewski said. "It's way beyond that now."
[ Photos: Team USA basketball takes on Brazil ]
Twenty years into the Dream Team experiment, the world still sops up every last bit of the hype.
This was the biggest media conference in the run-up to the Olympics, the players needing security just to get into the building. And they were still stopped for pictures and autographs, swarmed as they rode up an escalator from the parking garage.
It was no different Thursday night, they said, when the players visited the Olympic Village, causing their fellow athletes to go wild. (The team, for security and comfort reasons, stays at a hotel away from the village.)
For everyone associated with USA Basketball, this has become everyday life. From Spain to Turkey to Beijing to London and beyond, there is an incalculable value in the star wattage of Kobe, LeBron, and the rest of Team USA.
"You can't put a figure on it," Krzyzewski said. "I think if someone in stats tried to say it's worth this much, you can't."
Krzyzewski has heard the cries of returning to the old days. Some are college basketball fans who can't comprehend how much better international hoops is and resent the big-money pros and their supposedly corrupt egos. Others are NBA owners who fret over their high-priced employees risking injury for free while lining the pockets of the International Olympic Committee.
There is no formal decision to reverse course. Stern says he has no official position and declined last week to argue against Kobe, who likes the system as is. The concept of a 23-and-under team has been broached, however.
And USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo notes, "I sense that change is in the air."
This could be the last of these super teams. If that's the case, an assessment needs to be made on what the Olympics will lose. A bunch of young guys aren't going to duplicate this frenzy.
"I think as big as they are in the States, when they are elsewhere in the world they are rock stars because the fans don't have the chance to be close to them," Colangelo said.
"And let me say this," Colangelo continued, taking aim at the critics who worry about potential lost revenue. "As big as they are in this kind of competition, there is no doubt in my mind of the added value their participation brings to the NBA and their respective teams and their own brand. So it's kind of a win-win-win."
That isn't a value some NBA owners see. They're more worried about injury or the grind of this endless calendar of competition. Colangelo scoffs at that also.
"A few owners are talking about their players playing in the summer," said Colangelo, who formerly owned the Phoenix Suns. "Players play in the summer whether it's organized or not. It's not a strong argument because we take care of our players."
Krzyzewski bristles at the suggestion that NBA players are somehow less wholesome representatives for America, that somehow younger players with less money will be more gentlemanly or coachable.
"The thing that makes [this] is that when these guys are out there, they are very humble," he said. "They really are. They are good guys. They respect the other teams. They respect the other players. I think they are great representatives of the game, not just our country.
"I love our spirit, our camaraderie, the way these guys are so willing to adapt. They get along great. They listen. … All of this talk about big egos? They do have big egos. They are great players. But it doesn't supersede the USA ego."
Whatever happens, happens, Colangelo said. USA Basketball will adapt. Krzyzewski said any move has to be done globally; American can't just unilaterally go young and expect to compete, especially with the incredible development of other countries.
Neither Colangelo, nor Krzyzewski, supported changing an experiment that the world keeps demanding.
Krzyzewski took another look at all the cameras in front of his guys, all the international reporters, all the excitement.
"I want to go over there," he said.
He motioned to where Kobe was breaking down the expected contenders for the 100-meter dash to a host of TV networks: "Usain Bolt has his fellow countryman on his heels, that's going to be a heck of a race." LeBron sat nearby, discussing the virtues of Team Brazil to another group. Other Team USA players joked about James Harden's beard and Anthony Davis' unibrow. One media member broke the rules by getting a personal picture with Russell Westbrook.
The rock stars were in full effect, here in the birthplace of Beatlemania. This is a bad thing?
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