AKRON, Ohio --- LeBron James stood before 360 third-graders Monday, telling them their futures are bright.
Plenty of ominous signs notwithstanding, he believes the same is true for the NBA.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Miami Heat forward said he is not considering offers to play internationally during the lockout -- with one catch. He's committed to the 2012 Olympics and trying to help the U.S. defend the gold medal he helped win at the Beijing Games.
"I'm optimistic that we will have a season this year," James said. "Very optimistic."
He's working out twice a day, trying to erase some of the sting that's still there after the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
"Right now I've just been focusing on being a better player, working on my game every single day," James said at a news conference before the interview. "Like I said, the Dallas Mavericks were a great team and they deserved to win that championship. And I'll just use that as motivation coming into this season."
He's also trying to deliver on his vow to be even better whenever the Heat resume play, saying he's been in Houston at times this off-season to learn post play from one of the game's all-time greats, former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon.
"Just to see how he was able to dominate in the low post, for me as an individual, I just try to look at some of the things I feel I need to get better at and hit home at it," James said. "Our team becomes better if I continue to get better, and that's what it's about."
So even with signs of major trouble afoot in the NBA -- union chief Billy Hunter told a conference of attorneys in Baltimore last week that he would bet against there being a 2011-12 season "at this moment" -- James remains hopeful.
He said he understands why star guard Deron Williams would feel compelled to seek a deal overseas and why Kobe Bryant appears to be flirting with the notion. It's just not for him, he said.
The Olympics count as a motivating force as well. He hinted he might try recruiting some of his NBA pals in an effort to convince them to play in London next summer.