(Reuters) – Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, one of the NBA’s most dynamic players, said on Friday he has withdrawn from consideration for the defending champion United States team for the Rio Olympics.
“After speaking with my family, I have decided to not participate in this year’s Olympics,” Westbrook, a member of the London 2012 gold medal winning team, said in a statement.
“This was not an easy decision, as representing my country at the World Championships in 2010 and the Olympics in 2012 were career highlights for me. I look forward to future opportunities as a member of USA Basketball.”
Hours after Westbrook’s announcement, Houston Rockets high-scoring guard James Harden also withdrew himself from the Rio-bound team.
“As a result of many difficult conversations with my family, the Rockets, and trusted advisors, I’ve notified Jerry Colangelo and Team USA that I will not be competing at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Brazil,” Harden said in a statement.
Westbrook’s fellow guard and National Basketball Association MVP Stephen Curry said on Monday he was withdrawing from Olympic team consideration to allow a knee injury time to heal.
The Golden State Warriors guard missed four games in their post-season run after spraining his right knee but has returned to action and the Warriors lead the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in the best-of-seven NBA Finals ahead of Friday night’s Game Four.
Prioritizing the NBA has also hurt Canada’s Olympic hopes, with the news Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins will not play for his country at the Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines in July.
“I understand my increased role with the Timberwolves and dedication to the upcoming season must have my total focus,” he said in a statement.
While hoops star Westbrook did not specify a reason for his decision, cyclist Tejay van Garderen last week withdrew from consideration for the U.S. Olympic team over concerns that the Zika virus outbreak could present risks for his pregnant wife.
U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.
The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,400 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in the mothers.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; additional reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both/Sudipto Ganguly)