Nobody knows for sure anymore what the Olympic spirit is. Small
grace notes remind us, whole symphonies sometimes, and then we
forget again when the music is drowned out by, well, the Dream
Team. You remember the Dream Team, some guys on their summer
vacation who get together to do some barnstorming every four
years. If the Olympic spirit is some grand orchestration, these
guys are the boom box on the beach.
Early on, their natural noise overwhelmed sweeter strains. The
day they whacked Argentina in prime time, better news was
obscured. You had American swimmer Angel Martino apologizing for
winning only the bronze in the 100-meter freestyle and then,
backstage, placing her medal around the neck of a friend
struggling with cancer. In basketball, you had Lithuania beating
Croatia in double overtime, a likely gold medal game in a Dream
Team-less world. The big story: U.S. 96, Argentina 68.
No fault of the Dream Team. It is the world's best, and this is
where the best belonged. Never mind that its players are the
best paid: That is more a reflection of their nation's economy
than any perversion of the Olympic ideal (for that matter, there
were a couple of millionaires in the Lithuania-Croatia game).
All the same, the Dream Team's dominance no longer seemed the
pleasing curiosity it had been four years ago in Barcelona.
Shaquille O'Neal's posting up against some South American whose
team last qualified for the Olympics in 1952 did not really look
like fair play.
So for all those who chafe at the sight of NBA All-Stars riding
roughshod over countries with near-zero basketball tradition, we
offer a corrective suggestion, one far less drastic than you
have in mind: patience. Yes, the Dream Team beat Argentina. But
there was also this matter of a mere two-point lead at the half,
during which the Dreamers looked like a bunch of guys groping
for the snooze button.
Nobody in the USA camp needs to panic, of course. The world is
at least a few Olympics away from matching up with these guys;
developing programs do not come with 6'9" point guards right out
of the box. Still, it's just a matter of time--these things
always are--before some announcer in some language is wondering
whether you believe in miracles. You do, don't you?
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO In a game of gold medal caliber--if, of course, there were no Dream Team--Lithuania beat Toni Kukoc and Croatia in double OT. [Toni Kukoc flanked by Lithuanian players]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Charles Barkley & Co. hung in and eventually dismissed Argentina 96-68 as the U.S. began another stroll through the field. [Charles Barkley hanging from rim]