Majestic in a different way were the Olympic accomplishments of Croatia, Lithuania and the Unified Team. It might be difficult for the American fan to understand the emotional baggage that players from those war-torn and politically volatile nations lugged into the competition, but it was heavy.
What American could fully appreciate the joy that the Croats felt last Thursday when they beat the Unified Team 75-74 to gain a berth in the gold medal game, or the sense of triumph that center Stojko Vrankovic, a Boston Celtic by trade, expressed when he tossed the ball far up into the stands after the final buzzer? "I was thinking about my people of Croatia," said Vrankovic, whose hometown, Drnis, is in ruins because of the civil war. "We made the best present from us for our people."
Can any American understand the sadness that the Unified's Alexander Volkov felt when his team lost that semifinal? Volkov had been the leader of a team that had been more or less thrown together, yet had performed surprisingly well throughout most of the competition. But Volkov, who missed the front half of five one-and-ones in the final four minutes of the semi, was as responsible as anyone for the loss to Croatia. Then he compounded that failure by fouling out with 9:10 left in Saturday's 82-78 loss to Lithuania in the bronze medal game.
Finally, can any American realize the relief that guard Sarunas Marciulionis felt when the competition was over and his Lithuanian team had gotten the bronze? Marciulionis had worked at a feverish pitch before the Games to organize efforts and generate funds for the Lithuanians, never mind his burden—team captain, playmaker, scorer, defensive stopper—once he got to Barcelona. "I am very tired," said Marciulionis last week, a wan smile on his face. "I am tired of being salesman and basketball player. It is very hard, you must understand, to hand out slips of paper saying, "Come to the Lithuania basketball fair.' "
Where Are the Players?
Pro scouts digging for discoveries among the foreign Olympians came away largely disappointed, but here are two dark-horse possibilities: Ma Jian, 22, a 6'6" forward from China who is headed for UCLA in the fall; and Eddie Casiano, 19, of Puerto Rico, a lightning-quick southpaw shooting guard who says he has had several offers from American colleges.
Clearly, though, the best foreign players are the ones we already know about: Drazen Petrovic of Croatia and the New Jersey Nets; Detlef Schrempf of Germany and the Indiana Pacers; Marciulionis of the Golden State Warriors; the might-be Chicago Bull, Kukoc; the probably-never-will-be Portland Trail Blazer, Arvydas Sabonis of Lithuania; the probably-never-will-be-Celtic, Dino Radja of Croatia; and ex-Atlanta Hawk Volkov, bound for the Italian league.
Kukoc and Radja both received something memorable from the gold medal game. The former got an affectionate rub on the head from Magic, a sign that his strong effort (16 points, nine assists, five rebounds) had been noted and appreciated. And Radja got the shirt off Barkley's back, literally. Radja had asked Barkley before the game if he could have his number 14 warmup jersey, and Barkley gave it to him with a smile and a slap on the back.
A Daly Portrait
The nattily dressed U.S. coach did a pretty good job of meeting his two pre-Olympic goals: to not call a timeout and to not rise from his seat during a game. As to the former, Daly's performance was perfect—he did not call a single timeout. And on only a few occasions did emotional moments or differences with a referee's decision compel him to stand and pace the sideline.