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There is more truth in advertising than you might think. In a
Visa commercial in which members of the men's U.S. Olympic
basketball team are employed to plug the credit card, Houston
Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon takes the podium at a huge
banquet for what are supposed to be Olympic basketball teams
from around the world. Acting as host, Olajuwon announces that
he and his U.S. teammates are going to "treat these guys for
lunch." Mortified, one of Olajuwon's teammates, Chicago Bulls
forward Scottie Pippen, whispers to him that he was supposed to
declare that the U.S. squad would "eat these guys for lunch."

Truth is, Olajuwon did not misspeak. The Dream Team, which
begins its march to an almost certain gold medal tonight against
Argentina at the Georgia Dome, is, in fact, on a dual mission in
these Games: to demolish the competition and to do so in a
gentlemanly manner--in other words, to dominate but not
celebrate, at least not in the unseemly fashion that some
members of the 1994 edition of the Dream Team did. That squad
won the gold medal at the world championships in Toronto but
tarnished its achievement with taunts, crotch-grabbing and other
demonstrations of boorish behavior. It was with that
embarrassment in mind that C.M. Newton, president of USA
Basketball and a former member of the Olympic selection
committee, vowed that the Dream Team the U.S. sent to Atlanta
would be a squad with "character, not characters."

The committee made good on Newton's promise. The 1994 Dream
Team, particularly center Alonzo Mourning and forwards Derrick
Coleman, Shawn Kemp and Larry Johnson, was a glaring, sneering
bunch, so defiant that Johnson proudly declared them the
All-Principal's Office team. The current edition, with such
solid citizens as Olajuwon, forward Grant Hill of the Detroit
Pistons and center David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, is
overwhelmingly populated with players so well-behaved they could
be the Hall Monitor All-Stars. Membership on the '94 team was
seen largely as an audition for this year's squad, but the only
holdovers from two years ago are guard Reggie Miller of the
Indiana Pacers and center Shaquille O'Neal, now of the Los
Angeles Lakers.

"I think the message is clear that the NBA and USA Basketball
want to win and win big, but they want to do it in a certain
way," says Robinson, who was also a member (with current Dream
Teamers Pippen, forward Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns and
forward Karl Malone and guard John Stockton of the Utah Jazz) of
the original Dream Team, at the 1992 Barcelona Games. "It's not
for me to judge other teams or other players, but I think that
some of the behavior that might be acceptable when you're
playing pickup with your friends isn't acceptable when you're
playing in international competition in front of the world."

Those are exactly the kind of words officials from the NBA and
USA Basketball want to hear. "People ask if we have talked to
these players about avoiding the kind of behavior that drew
criticism in '94," says Rod Thorn, the NBA's senior vice
president of basketball operations and chairman of the Olympic
selection committee. "But if you look at the roster, you realize
that we have the kind of players who don't need to be cautioned
about that."

This is the rare team whose standard of behavior may be set by a
rookie, of sorts. The Nigerian-born Olajuwon, nicknamed Hakeem
the Dream, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1993 and is
representing his new country for the first time in international
competition at the Atlanta Games. In a sense, this really is
Dream's Team. "These are Hakeem's Olympics in a lot of ways,"
Miller says. "He's the best player in the league who hasn't had
the chance yet to wear USA on his chest. Playing in the Olympics
means a lot to all of us, but I'm not sure anybody appreciates
it more than he does. I'm sure that, in a sense, we're all going
to follow his lead."

For those who are concerned about the U.S. team's image, it
helps that Olajuwon happens to be perhaps the most widely
respected player among his peers for his dignity and
sportsmanship. "Every team has a player or two who sets a tone,"
says U.S. Olympic coach Lenny Wilkens of the Atlanta Hawks. "If
one of those players is Dream, as I expect it will be, then
we'll be in excellent shape."

If Olajuwon had not been held in such high regard, the NBA and
USA Basketball might not have gone to the lengths they did to
ensure his Olympic eligibility. Olajuwon played for a Nigerian
junior team in the All-Africa Games in 1980 before coming to the
U.S. and enrolling at the University of Houston later that year,
and FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, has a
rule that prohibits players who have represented one country in
international competition from switching to play for another
country in the same sport. A second rule states that an athlete
who changes nationalities must go through a three-year waiting
period after he officially informs FIBA of the change before he
can play in international competition. Although Olajuwon became
a U.S. citizen on April 2, 1993, he did not inform FIBA of the
change until September of that year, which means the Olympics
will begin before that three-year period is over. But more than
a year of lobbying by the NBA and USA Basketball persuaded FIBA
officials to grant Olajuwon special permission to play.

"It is the most wonderful feeling," Olajuwon said after he was
declared eligible. "It makes me feel like I have completed my
journey. I try to imagine what it is going to feel like the
first time I walk onto the floor wearing this uniform. I close
my eyes and try to hear the music when they play the U.S.
national anthem at the Olympics."

Olajuwon's desire to play in the Olympics is the kind of story
NBA and USA Basketball officials hope will humanize the Dream
Team a bit and convince the public that they are not just a
group of multimillionaires who interrupted their off-season golf
schedules to mop up the court with the rest of the basketball
world. The Games do mean far more than that to many of the
players, especially guard Mitch Richmond of the Sacramento
Kings, who as a collegian (along with Robinson) settled for a
bronze medal as a member of the 1988 team that lost to the
Soviet Union; Stockton, who played very little in Barcelona
because of a broken right leg suffered a month before the start
of the Games; and Hill, who had hoped to play in the 1992 Games
as a collegian before the decision was made to turn the Games
over to the pros.

Still, it won't be easy for the players to avoid being seen as
pampered prima donnas. They are housed at the Omni Hotel in
Atlanta instead of in the Olympic Village with most of the other
athletes, which USA Basketball officials insist is more of a
necessity than a privilege. "The simple fact is that the Angolan
runner can function in the Olympic Village better than the NBA
player," says Craig Miller, USA Basketball's assistant executive
director for media relations. "Sometimes that gets interpreted
as elitism or pampering, but it's not. These players are such
stars that they cause a major scene with autograph seekers and
hangers-on wherever they go. Having the players stay outside the
Village makes things run more smoothly for all involved." The
players will be gently encouraged, however, to attend other
Olympic events and to occasionally make themselves visible in
and around the Village.

Olajuwon will have more than enough help in setting a
sportsmanlike tone for the Dream Team, not only from some of his
teammates but also from Wilkens, the low-key but highly
respected coach who holds the NBA record for most lifetime wins
(1,014). "Lenny's not the kind of coach who has to yell at you
to get you to play hard," says Malone. "He's more like a father
figure. He makes guys want to behave themselves so he won't be
disappointed in them."

In the past some current Dream Teamers have demonstrated
disappointing comportment. Miller, for instance, is a master of
trash talk and the trash gesture. His placing of his two hands
around his throat in a choke sign to film director and New York
Knicks fan Spike Lee in the 1994 playoffs is legendary. Pippen
is notorious for refusing to reenter a tied playoff game with
1.8 seconds left because the final play was not designed for him
to take the shot, and he once threw a chair onto the court in a
dispute with a referee.

And then, of course, there is Barkley, the hands-down favorite
as the U.S. player most likely to create an international
incident. In one of the more memorable moments in Barcelona, the
muscular, 252-pound Barkley elbowed slender Angolan forward
Herlander Coimbra for no discernible reason. The bad news for
Coimbra, who is again on the Angolan team (which plays the U.S.
on Monday night), is that Barkley hasn't mellowed. "I'd hit him
again, just like last time," says Sir Charles with a smile. "My
way of saying, 'Welcome to the States.'"

But Barkley realizes that such mayhem is less objectionable when
it is done with a twinkle in the eye rather than a sneer on the
lips. That is a subtlety some members of the 1994 Dream Team
apparently never grasped. It was Kemp who grabbed himself
following a dunk, and Coleman, Johnson and Mourning kept up a
steady stream of trash talk while humiliating their opponents.
Several teams didn't take kindly to the behavior of some U.S.
stars. Johnson and guard Orlando Vega of Puerto Rico nearly came
to blows in one game, and after a loss to the U.S., Australian
forward Andrew Gaze expressed what undoubtedly were the
sentiments of many teams. "I don't know if vile is the right
word, or disgusting," said Gaze, who had been a standout at
Seton Hall. "There should be at least some pleasure in playing
the game, some dignity."

But the U.S. players were unapologetic. "I didn't come here to
make friends," Johnson said during the tournament. "I've got
enough friends. We came here to kick some behind, and that's
what we're doing. We're basically taking a lot of countries to

But the rest of the NBA players may have learned the most
important lesson: The Olympic selection committee has such a
vast pool of stars to choose from that the troublesome ones need
not apply. It is a foregone conclusion that every Dream Team's
medal is expected to be made of gold. From now on, the members
of those teams will be the players who treat the U.S. image as
something equally precious.

COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS The Nigerian-born Olajuwon hears "The Star-Spangled Banner" in his dreams. [Hakeem Olajuwon in front of U.S. flag]

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID LIAM KYLE (3) The mild-mannered (from top) Robinson, Hill and Wilkens (with Stockton), head a cast with character--not characters. [David Robinson; Grant Hill; Lenny Wilkens and John Stockton]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The fun-loving Barkley, sneaking up on a TV reporter in Chicago, is still incident-prone. [Charles Barkley behind reporter]