Thunder struck the Olympic Games on Saturday night as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden became the first trio of NBA teammates ever to represent Team USA in the same international competition.
Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka will play for Spain, which is considered one of the toughest challengers for Team USA in its quest to win its 14th Olympic gold medal in 18 Games.
A fifth Thunder member will participate in head athletic trainer Joe Sharpe assisting Team USA.
The men's basketball competition at the 2012 Olympics in London will be staged from July 29 to Aug. 12.
Durant and Westbrook were considered locks for the Olympic team, having led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
Harden, meanwhile, continued his rise as one of the league's most prominent players by surviving the final cut to the 12-man roster.
“It's very special to have my two brothers here with me,” Durant told NBA TV of playing alongside Westbrook and Harden. “We've been going through everything in this league together. To go through this is something I'm really excited about. Our experience here is going to help us out throughout our NBA careers. I'm just looking forward to playing. After a tough (NBA) Finals loss (to Miami), playing together with these guys again is going to make it even better once we come back next year.”
Other Team USA members are Miami Heat forward LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala, center Tyson Chandler and forward Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, plus point guard Chris Paul and former Oklahoma standout power forward Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Griffin, Iguodala and Harden were the final three selections to the roster.
Memphis forward Rudy Gay, guard Eric Gordon and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans, who couldn't scrimmage this week because of a sprained ankle, will serve as alternates should any roster member become unavailable.
The final Team USA roster was in constant flux after injuries eliminated Dwight Howard (back), Dwyane Wade (knee), Derrick Rose (knee), Chris Bosh (abdomen) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip). Lamar Odom withdrew his name from consideration.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks was in Las Vegas to watch Team USA practices and said he was impressed with what Harden showed.
“The two days that I saw, I thought James played well, but the other guys played just as well,” said Brooks, who on Sunday will head to Orlando for his team's summer league session. “I thought the practices were very competitive.”
Brooks said his players' Olympic experience no doubt will be beneficial next NBA season.
“They'll have great coaching — for a change,” deadpanned Brooks, who last week agreed to a contract believed to be worth $18 million for four years. “There are some things that will carry over to the NBA. There's excellent competition, not only during practices but against other countries. Just playing against those guys, seeing how they prepare and work, you always can take things from that type of environment.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said: “It is a tremendous honor for Kevin, Russell, and James and clearly a testament to the consistency of their work and dedication. We are very proud of them and believe they will represent Oklahoma City and the Thunder well through the Olympic process. We wish all of USA Basketball the best of luck.”
Durant was named MVP of the World Championship two years ago, while Westbrook was third in scoring and assists.
“First of all, this young man was born to play the game,” Team USA executive director Jerry Colangelo said of Durant. “He's a coach's dream. He has great character. He has great passion for the game, and then his skills are off the charts. He plays with such enthusiasm that it's difficult to keep him off the floor and in the World Championship, he just rose to another level. He was in a class by himself.”
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, winner of four NCAA titles at Duke, has called Westbrook the greatest athlete he has ever coached.
“I love Russell,” Krzyzewski said. “It's an honor to coach him. He is such a versatile player and I think as good an athlete as there is on this planet playing basketball. He plays with an abundance of energy and courage. We'll use him at every place on the perimeter. We're lucky to have him. I'm a big Russell Westbrook fan.”
The three OKC players bring versatility to Team USA.
Durant will play anywhere from the shooting guard to the stretch 4 position. Westbrook will play at multiple perimeter positions and Harden will be counted on for scoring off the bench, a role which earned him Sixth Man of the Year this season with the Thunder.
“I'm looking forward to wherever coach needs me to play,” Durant said. “He told me I was going to play some power forward all the way up to the 2 guard, so I've got to be ready for that. It's going to tough, but I look forward to the challenge. I know I'm just going to go out there and be me and hopefully it goes well.”