We noticed that O'Neal, Payton, Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller and Jazz guard John Stockton kept fielding questions about their free agency. We wondered what all this had to do with winning a gold medal. We checked the Olympic schedule and discovered that the U.S. team's first game is on July 20 against Argentina, a nation that hasn't even participated in Olympic men's basketball since 1952. The game starts at 10 p.m., so we joked with Bulls forward Scottie Pippen about how it should be over at roughly 10:06. Security was summoned again.
We figured that the Dream Team's stiffest competition would come in its own scrimmages and from the ghosts of the past. Dating back to 1936, the U.S. has an overall record of 93-2 (.979) in Olympic play. In winning the 1992 gold medal, Dream Team I defeated its foes by an average margin of nearly 44 points. We have been led to believe that all Dream Team outings might as well be accompanied by Sweet Georgia Brown. So before Saturday's contest we asked Select Team coach Mike Montgomery about his game plan. Said he, "I just hope we don't get shut out."
Lucky for him the Dream Team was in Dream Land, playing listlessly and falling behind by 12 in the first six minutes. When the collegians shifted into a zone defense late in the first half, the Dream Teamers appeared befuddled and found themselves on the embarrassing end of a 20-2 run to close the half. It was the first time any Dream Team had ever trailed at halftime. We hadn't seen anything like this since Ralph Sampson met the Chaminade Silverswords.
The Dream Team did rally in the second half but didn't take the lead for good until Robinson sank two free throws with 6:28 left. When it ended Wilkens looked like Apollo Creed at the end of Rocky. Ain't gonna be no rematch. Afterward Tulsa guard Shea Seals, who led the Select team with 20 points, wandered around the Dream Team locker room getting his sneaker autographed. "In warmups a lot of our guys were big-eyed and awed," said Seals, still somewhat big-eyed as O'Neal inscribed his sole. "But once the game started, you could see the surprised looks on the [Dream Team] faces."
"Today we weren't the Dream Team," said Malone. "In fact, for a while we were the Nightmare Team. We got our wake-up call, and now it's time to start making a statement. It's time to teach Brazil a lesson."
That they did, employing a harassing defense that provoked 30 points off turnovers. "There was a sense of urgency today," said Magic guard Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway afterward. "We had to show that we still had it."
So let's not get mental about this. We know the Dream Team is still the best hoops outfit on the planet, right? We know these guys are a cinch to wear golden necklaces in Atlanta, right? So we only have one final question: Is it too late to get Jordan?