Were the Olympic basketball competition a one-on-one event, like that David and Goliath thing awhile back, some modern-day slingshotters would have a chance. If the gold medal were given for excellence in three-point shooting, Croatia's Drazen Petrovic might beat America's representative, say, Chris Mullin. If it were given for a one-on-one game between big men—make-it-take-it, call your own fouls—Lithuania's Arvidas Sabonis might outmuscle Patrick Ewing or David Robinson on a given evening. And perhaps Germany's Detlef Schrempf knows enough tricky shots to beat Michael Jordan or Larry Bird in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
But three-point-shooting contests, one-on-one and H-O-R-S-E have nothing to do with Olympic success. For the Davids of basketball to prevail in Barcelona, they'll have to beat the U.S.'s best professionals in standard five-man games played by international rules, and that's a tall order.
"All you can do is hope to play a close game with the U.S. and count it as a moral victory," says Hansi Gnad, a forward for Germany. "And everybody knows that moral victories don't matter in the Olympics."
"They should just give the U.S. the gold medal and get it over with," says Dino Radja, a forward for Croatia.
"The United States is going to win every game in the Olympics by 25 or 30 points," says Radja's teammate, guard Toni Kukoc, "and if the Americans have a bad day, maybe they'll win by only 15."
Hey, what happened to that game's-not-over-till-the-final-buzzer attitude that's supposed to reign, free and pure, over athletic competition? How about you, Bill Wennington, center for the Canadian national team? You played against the Dream Team in the Tournament of the Americas, the Olympic qualifying event in Portland, Ore., which the U.S. utterly dominated, and before that you played in the NBA. Do you agree there's absolutely no chance? "The world will end before the U.S. is beaten," says Wennington.
Yes, for unadulterated nonsuspense, there has rarely been an Olympic event like this year's men's basketball tournament, 99 parts coronation, one part competition. The U.S.'s performance in Portland seemed to remove any doubt that this first team of NBA stars to play in the Olympics can be challenged in any given game, let alone be defeated for the gold medal. "If you were hoping to sneak up on us, you can forget about it," says Dream Teamer Karl Malone. Most have, Karl. Any number of facts, including a 51.5 average margin of victory in six games in Portland, point to U.S. dominance, but let's focus on just two:
•Worrywart Dream Team coach Chuck Daly did not deem it necessary to call a timeout in any game. In fact, when informed that timeouts during one televised game had been increased from 1:20 to 1:50, Daly replied: "I can't think of anything to say now—what the hell do I do with an extra 30 seconds?"
•The prevailing theory that well-drilled opponents might bother the U.S. with zone defenses went out the window as soon as Magic Johnson & Co. started running—it simply became too difficult for teams to match up and cover the court in transition situations. The idea that man-to-man defense might be the best way to stop Michael Jordan and his pals is truly frightening, but that might be the case.
What else could produce an upset? How about the much-discussed international three-point line, which is more than three feet closer to the basket than the NBA line. Doesn't matter. Mullin, Jordan and Bird (if his back is healthy enough for him to play) can shoot it as well as any other players in the world, and the U.S.'s aggressive, run-at-the-shooter defenders, notably Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Scottie Pippen, will discombobulate the opposition's three-point shooting. Injuries? Maybe, but as Pip-pen says, "We could probably win the gold with five guys." Horrendous refereeing? Nah, the caliber of officiating has risen considerably over the past few years.