Maybe you've been seeing sitcom stars on local TV talking about
their desire to see the Dream Team lose. Maybe you've harbored
those very thoughts yourself. Sorry, folks. It's not going to
The U.S. men's basketball team, a.k.a. the Dream Team, did it
again last night, before a mostly mellow crowd of 34,069 at the
Georgia Dome. Last night's victim was Australia, 101-73.
Tomorrow night's victim, in the gold medal game, will be
Yugoslavia. Afterward the medals will be distributed. The
players will go home. And the debate will continue: In the
spirit of competition, should the U.S. send an NBA All-Star team
to the Olympics?
Last night there was at least a hint of competitiveness. In
fact, with 5:32 left in the first half, the teams were tied at
36. Australia made six three-pointers in the first half, and for
a while the game looked like Georgetown playing Princeton in the
first round of the NCAA tournament. You could even see the
Americans showing some signs of frustration. Charles Barkley,
the leading scorer for the U.S., with 24, was clawed at by the
Australians, and he responded with more elbows than he might
throw in a garden-variety NBA playoff game.
In the second half Australia's shooting went icy and the
Americans reestablished their rhythm. But the Australians were
never intimidated, and when Karl Malone shoved Aussie big man
Tony Ronaldson, Ronaldson got right in Malone's face. For a
moment it seemed as if there might be a full-blown fight, and it
was right then, for the first time, that the sellout crowd was
truly engaged in the game.
The Americans had sauntered into the Dome midway into the
opening semifinal, in which the Yugoslavs defeated Lithuania
66-58. If there is any Olympic basketball team that can give the
U.S. something resembling a game, it is Yugoslavia, which is led
by Miami Heat guard Predrag Danilovic and Charlotte Hornets
center Vlade Divac. But in terms of speed, height, strength,
stamina and a few other basics, Yugoslavia matches up poorly
with the U.S. One thing the Yugoslavs do have, however, is
immense heart. When you're representing a country ravaged by
war, when you're truly connected to the citizenry at home, it
makes you reach for a little something extra.
The Americans have too much skill and talent to have to reach
for anything extra. During last night's game the U.S. coaching
staff sat on its cushioned chairs for most of the game. What,
exactly, are the coaches supposed to tell these players, who
know better than anybody what they need to do to win?
In the final minutes last night it seemed the Americans knew
they were in danger of not scoring in triple figures. They don't
like that. Shaquille O'Neal dunked big in the closing minute to
bring the total to 99. Then Anfernee Hardaway made a deft little
layup with no time on the clock to push the total to 101. A
28-point margin of victory. The Americans in triple figures. A
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Even with Gary Payton's 2-for-11 shooting night, the U.S. still won by 28.