But if you make a public display of that friendship?
"You're in trouble," says Radja. "Back home, you're in deep trouble."
If any member of that 1987 world junior championship team could be expected to hold a grudge, it's Teo Alibegovic. Twice in this century numerous friends and members of his family have been slaughtered: once during World War II, by radical Serb Chetniks, and again several years ago, by Bosnian Serbs, or so witnesses say. (Those Alibegovic family members are still officially listed as "missing.")
Teo and his wife, Lejla, were married on Mount Igman in the very hotel—a building that now lies in ruins—from which the Yugoslav juniors ran to that infernal ski jump. Today one of Teo's uncles, once a general in the Yugoslav army, remains under house arrest in Belgrade for refusing to lead soldiers against his own people. Such is the fate of the Bosnian Muslim. "Those guys [Serbs and Croats] are lighting over our backs, and we're suffering the major loss," Alibegovic says. "They suffer too. But we suffer the most."
Yet no one is more resolute about holding his old friends blameless. "We are lost lambs." Alibegovic says of himself and his erstwhile teammates. "I still keep in touch with all of them, I still kiss them when I see them, same as before—shake hands and kiss." Once a child violinist so gifted that his mother wanted to send him off to conservatory in Vienna, Alibegovic today is the nomadic leitmotif that runs through this story, its Fiddler on the Roof.
He will not be in Atlanta because the country for which he now plays, Slovenia, did not qualify for the tournament. But he will be watching on TV, as he was watching during last summer's medal ceremony in Athens. "It made me sick to my stomach," he says. "For three years the Serb players said they didn't want any part of politics, all they wanted was the right to play. And then after they won, they showed their three fingers, their symbol of this war. The other thing that made me sick was the Croats' not being sportsmanlike enough to swallow it, to be proud and stand there with their bronze medals.
"Maybe my values are wrong. Maybe my father was wrong when he taught me that if you're going to be a sportsman, be a sportsman, not a politician. But you can't hate someone because he's something—some nationality or race. You can't hate all American guys because some American guy once slapped you. There's 250 million Americans. You can't hate them all."
Berlin, where Alibegovic lives and plays, is the Rorschach test of cities: a place that's either the cradle of the ethnic hate to end all ethnic hate, or the home to a reunification so improbable that it gives hope to even the most far-fetched dreams of reconciliation. Alibegovic prefers to see it as the latter. It is there that he and Pesic cling to their twin hopes: the wisp of a possibility that the team might be brought together again, and a notion perhaps even more fanciful—that their Deferred-Dream Team could beat a U.S. Dream Team.
On the latter prospect, hear Alibegovic out: "They're an All-Star team; we know how each other breathe. They don't know how we play; we know how they play. They are individualists; we're very team-oriented. Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever, and Charles Barkley is my biggest idol, but they're not pure shooters. They've forgotten how to play against zones. The American team, by names, is the better team. But the American team, by international rules, is not superior. Or if so, maybe by five percent."
Perhaps Alibegovic is so fond of his memories that he has unwittingly empowered them to play tricks. In any case, the wolves are not likely to grant the pleas of the lost lambs that such a game take place. While Tudjman and Radja were touring the Krajina, Croatian soldiers reportedly engaged in a spree of killing and plundering that has drawn the attention of investigators looking into war crimes. And only weeks before, Bosnian Serb gunners laying siege to Sarajevo celebrated Yugoslavia's victory in Athens by lighting up the night sky with tracer bullets, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander indicted in early May for genocide, hailed the Yugoslav players' "fighting spirit."