Years ago, in 1997 to be exact, Lue was poised to don the USA Basketball emblem abroad. During that time, he shone as the leading guard at Nebraska and was selected to play for his nation at the men’s U22 world championships in Australia.
However, a persistent leg injury held him back, resulting in such profound numbness that he struggled with stairs.
Consequently, he was declared unfit to play and took a solitary flight home.
Shift ahead 26 years: Lue, now the head honcho of the Los Angeles Clippers, proudly sports the emblem overseas. Instead of a jersey, it’s on polo shirts, as he’s a pivotal member of the team orchestrating the U.S. men’s journey in the Basketball World Cup in Manila, set to commence soon.
“It feels truly special,”
“Growing up, you’re glued to the games of the Olympic team, the Dream Team. You dream of joining such squads. Though I wasn’t up to the mark as a player, it’s thrilling to get a chance to serve my country in any role. Thus, here I am, coaching.”
Golden State’s Steve Kerr spearheads the coaching; Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Gonzaga’s Mark Few accompany Lue as deputies. Additionally, former NBA guru Jeff Van Gundy aids with reconnaissance, while Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley played a role during the recent training camp in Las Vegas, leading the select team that trained alongside the World Cup ensemble.
“The caliber of our coaching brigade is top-notch,”
commented U.S. forward Bobby Portis from the Milwaukee Bucks.
Indeed, it’s a reservoir of basketball intellect. Intriguingly, Lue, who was substituted as a player 26 years prior, entered this brigade as a stand-in. Initially, director Grant Hill envisioned Lue to lead the select team. But, owing to familial obligations, then-Phoenix coach Monty Williams, now with Detroit, had to renounce his deputy coach position, opening doors for Lue.
“Following Monty’s unforeseen circumstances, both Steve and Grant reached out immediately,”
“Their question was, ‘Would you be willing to jump in?’ To which, I was almost taken aback. It’s like a dream materializing. The opportunity to guide the USA ensemble, be amidst stellar players and an adept team – it was a clear decision for me. While I felt for Monty, he reassured me about the enriching experience ahead.”
The dedication from these coaches is profound. Their camaraderie will last six to seven weeks, predominantly abroad. They’ve been in Spain recently for some trial games, will stay a week in Abu Dhabi for additional exhibition matches, and then pivot to Manila for the main World Cup event. Should the U.S. target a medal, their return isn’t before Sept. 12.
This is barely a gap before the NBA training phase kicks off. Hence, Kerr, Spoelstra, and Lue — leaders of teams with championship visions — trust their deputies to manage the offseason chores in their absence.
“I’m backed by an efficient crew,”
“My team is adept. I can allocate tasks, confident they’ll excel, while I’m engrossed with USA Basketball.”
This stint is another addition to Lue’s ongoing basketball chronicle; he’s even penning a book about it. He experienced championship glory with the Los Angeles Lakers and directed the Cleveland Cavaliers to a win in 2016, thanks to LeBron James’ commitment to Ohio.
Having collaborated with or directed some of the NBA’s elite – the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, James, among others – he’s now poised to clinch gold for his homeland.
“It’s been an honor playing alongside legends,”
“Observing their ethos, imbibing insights, understanding how dedication transforms both on and off the court. That euphoria when you win, lifting the trophy, is unparalleled. Here’s hoping we replicate that success here.”