LeBron James had just led the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title — including a tough, seven-game finals — when he decided to skip the 2016 Summer Olympics. That meant passing on a chance to become the first American to win four medals in men’s basketball.
Now he has another chance in Tokyo.
The Lakers star heads a list of 44 players nominated to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Summer Games. USA Basketball issued the finalists’ names on Monday morning, also including stars such as Damian Lillard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Tokyo would mark James’ fourth trip to the Games after winning two golds and a bronze dating back to 2004 in Athens. Officials have spoken with the candidates to confirm their willingness to play.
“It means everything to represent my country,” James said in a video released by USA Basketball. “Playing for Team USA means everything.”
The Lakers have five candidates, including Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell of the Clippers also have a shot.
The initial roster features nine players who earned gold in 2016 and all 12 from fall’s World Cup team. Managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Gregg Popovich will decide who gets invited to training camp in early summer.
“Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all the athletes,” Colangelo said. “Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process.”
The Americans are favored to defend their title in Tokyo but stumbled to seventh place with a depleted roster at the 2019 World Cup — their worst finish in a major international tournament — and will face a handful of countries that have NBA talent.
Australia should feature Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons and Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will lead Greece and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets will play for Serbia.
“Anyone who follows international basketball knows there are many really good players from all around the world,” Popovich said, adding that “there are many teams that will have a legitimate shot at capturing gold.”
Tokyo could mark a comeback for at least two marquee NBA names who have not played this season, with Kevin Durant aiming to recover from Achilles surgery and Klay Thompson working to rehabilitate his knee.
U.S. men’s basketball team finalists
Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Clippers: Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Kawhi Leonard
Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker
San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White
Indiana Pacers: Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, Kyrie Irving
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson
Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler
Utah Jazz: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell
Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton
Houston Rockets: James Harden, Russell Westbrook
Cleveland Cavaliers: Andre Drummond, Kevin Love
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris
New Orleans Pelicans: Brandon Ingram
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry
Denver Nuggets: Mason Plumlee