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LeBron opens up about Athens

Once he came back from the Olympics, LeBron James took his bronze medal and hung it on his mansion wall — right next to his pompoms.

It wasn’t the souvenir he had hoped to bring back from Greece.

“I wanted a gold one,” the Cavaliers star guard said, pretending to break down and cry. “I guess I’ll order one. I got the bronze one. It’s so sad.”

One month from beginning his second season in the NBA, James, the league’s rookie of the year in 2003-04, addressed several topics on Monday during the Cavaliers’ media day at Gund Arena.

The most frequent questions had to do with his experience of playing — or rather watching — the U.S. Olympic team, which only managed to win a bronze in Athens.

James remains puzzled why American coach Larry Brown didn’t play him more.

“I wish I knew the answer, I promise you,” James said. “There were times that he told me that in order for us to win, he had to play me. And there were times it was the other way around. It was kind of confusing to me.

“I knew some games I was going to go in the second quarter but after I came out, I knew I wasn’t going to go back in and it was time to put my pompoms on.”

Despite the unforeseen bench time and a supporting role on a roster stuffed with superstars, James enjoyed the Games. He wants to go back, too, and next time win a gold medal.

“I’m going to go for another one or two,” he said. “I’m going to try and go in 2012 if I still have the God-given talent to be part of that team. But I’m real excited about playing in 2008.”

If he didn’t enjoy marquee exposure with the U.S. team, there’s no doubt that he remains the Cavaliers’ main man.

The club delayed James’ entrance onto the practice floor for interviews so Cleveland’s other players wouldn’t sit alone at tables lining the court.

But once James walked in and took a seat in the corner, the 19-year-old was soon surrounded by his customary huddle of cameras, microphones and notepads.

Before speaking, James stood up to see center Zydrunas Ilgauskas suddenly abandoned by reporters.

“Sorry, Z,” James said.

Now that he has a year of pro experience, James said he has less to worry about as he and the Cavaliers enter their second season together.

Physically, James hasn’t changed. However, when answering a question, James exudes an assuredness and insight that wasn’t present a year ago when he came into the league.

The kid tabbed for superstardom, who skipped college to turn pro, has done some serious growing up.

“I’m more mature now. I know what to expect,” he said. “Going into last year I didn’t know how the pace of the game was going to change. I didn’t know how my teammates were going to accept me. Last year, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

“But one year in, I know everything now. It’s going to be a breeze for me.”

If only things had been so easy at the Olympics, where the U.S. team was humbled by countries playing a much smarter game.

But although he and his teammates lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina, James scoffed at the notion that the world is even with the United States in basketball.

“Never,” he said. “The world can’t catch up to the NBA. For one, I feel like we are athletically more gifted. I feel like maybe they love the game, but we bring more to the game.”

And now that someone else is wearing gold medals, James said NBA players will be more motivated than ever.

“It’s changed now. We lost,” he said. “That’s all you needed to have happen. We’re supposed to be the best athletes and players in the world, you can’t go there and lose.”

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