Team USA's golden oldie brings leadership, experience

LAS VEGAS -- The thought struck Jason Kidd as he was packing his suitcase and preparing to spend more than a month on the road with Team USA: Should he bring along his Olympic gold medal, the one he won eight years ago in Sydney?

It's the only gold medal that any of the 12 American players on the roster can brag about owning, and Kidd pondered whether the jealously and envy factors might backfire somehow along the way.

And with that, he decided to leave the gold medal inside a safe deposit box at a bank in Houston and to start concentrating solely on what lies ahead: The challenge of coming back to America from Beijing with another gold -- one that would represent the end of an eight-year championship drought for senior men's national teams that have worn the red, white and blue.

"I didn't want to jinx myself by bringing it and looking at it. I want to play for this: Beijing. I want to play for this gold medal," Kidd told ESPN.com.

"I thought about bringing it, I wanted to show the guys, but I thought differently -- for us to be hungry to get that gold medal, I just left it at home. I'll leave it in the box and then leave it to [son] T.J., and hopefully he won't lose it."

Kidd asked back into the U.S. national program in the fall of 2006 following the Americans' third-place finish at the World Championship in Japan, where the play of the point guards -- Kirk Hinrich and Chris Paul -- was one of the team's biggest weaknesses. Both had trouble defending the pick-and-roll, and Paul's greatest strength -- his quickness -- was negated by the opponents' ability to keep a defender in the lane as a second line of defense, something NBA teams are not allowed to do without drawing a defensive three-second violation.

Kidd offered an option that Team USA saw in many of its opponents but didn't itself possess -- a steady floor general with experience playing the international game. Kidd has never lost as a member of the senior national team, going 38-0, and his presence garners nothing but respect from the other members of the team whose only recollections of Sydney were what they saw on TV, back when most of them were still in high school.

Kidd, 35, is the elder statesman on Team USA, nearly 5½ years older than the next-oldest player, Kobe Bryant, who will turn 30 on Aug. 23 -- the day before the gold-medal game.

Of the 11 players who went to Sydney with Kidd eight years ago, five are retired (Vin Baker, Tim Hardaway, Steve Smith, Gary Payton and Allan Houston), one is mulling retirement (Alonzo Mourning), and the others (Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Antonio McDyess and Shareef Abdur-Rahim) have been out of the Team USA mix for a long time due to either disinterest or declining skills.

The 2000 team had an average age of 27.7, slightly higher than this team's average of 26.04. (The 1992 Dream Team averaged 29.0, and the 1996 team averaged 29.4.) The 2004 U.S. team, which lost three times in Athens but defeated Lithuania for the bronze medal, had an average age of 23.6.

LeBron James was only 19 years old in Athens, Carmelo Anthony was 20, and both Dwyane Wade and Carlos Boozer were 22 when they were used sparingly by coach Larry Brown, who never changed his starting lineup of Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury (although Brown started Shawn Marion over Jefferson in the second half and went with James and Wade down the stretch of Team USA's third game in Athens, a 10-point victory over Australia in which the Americans trailed early in the fourth quarter.)

That American team (which was trounced by Italy in an exhibition nearly two weeks prior to the Olympics) lost its Athens opener by 19 to Puerto Rico and its fourth game by four points against Lithuania, before defeating Spain 102-94 in the quarterfinals and then losing 89-81 to Argentina in the semis.

"It was tough; we wanted to hear our anthem and instead we were listening to Argentina's," said Boozer, who attempted only 32 shots -- the same number as James -- over the course of the Americans' eight games in Athens.

"For us, that was something painful we had to endure, but the four of us that were on that team, we look forward to righting that wrong. That still sits with us today. We let our country down, and we have a rare opportunity to make it right."

Boozer's bronze medal is on display in the trophy room at his home, and Anthony retrieved his from his mother's house last year so it could be displayed at a sports museum in his hometown of Baltimore.

The exact location of James' bronze is somewhat hazy -- "Oh, I don't know. I think my mom's got it" -- and the whereabouts of Wade's bronze are a complete and utter mystery.

"I have no idea where that thing is," Wade said." The last thing I remember is packing it in the bag, and I don't know what happened after that. Some of my bags didn't make it back, so it might be in one of them. It's not what I want."

Wade then drew an analogy that anyone who has been to a Mercedes dealership can relate to.

"It's like going in to buy a car. Your mind is made up that you want an SL55, you got to leave with a CLK, you're mad as hell, and you're going to enjoy it for a minute, but you're still going to be thinking about that SL, and do what you can do to get it," Wade said. "So I'm not thinking about that bronze. I'm thinking about the gold."

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.