Take heart, Angola.
O.K., maybe it's too soon for folks to start doing the hokey-pokey through the streets of Luanda, but much of the globe should find hope in Dream Team Ill's apparent mortality. The United States 22 & Under Select Team—a bunch of college boys, for heaven's sake—nearly staged a coup at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday, leading the Dream Team by 17 points at halftime and eventually losing by only 96-90. Sanity was restored the next day at Cleveland's Gund Arena when the energized Dream Team thumped Brazil 109-68. But Saturday's near upset was by far the closest shave for an American squad since, oh, way back in '88 when they called these guys the United States Olympic men's basketball team.
Suffice it to say, we weren't expecting this. Last week we were dispatched to Chicago to scout Dream Team Ill's five-day training camp, which led into its five-game exhibition schedule. We were sent to determine whether the squad is indeed the greatest basketball team in the world or, as the locals were suggesting, nothing more than the second-best team in the Windy City.
The Dream Team's week began with a roster move. Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton replaced Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, who was suffering from inflammation in his right Achilles tendon. Dream Team (and Atlanta Hawks) coach Lenny Wilkens explained that he chose Payton because he desperately needed a guard who could play full-court pressure defense. We thought: Get serious, Lenny. You could have added Pauly Shore and your team would still eat South Korea for lunch. After all, Wilkens's troops had made a combined 68 NBA All-Star teams. Plus they sounded pretty confident. "We [the United States] might not make the best cars in the world," said Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley, which made him exceedingly popular in the Motor City, "but as far as basketball, that's something that I and we can control."
We learned that the Dream Team has only three plays. We asked what they are. Security was summoned. But as best as we can figure, the offensive options are as follows:
Play 1. Shaq dunks.
Play 2. Somebody else shoots.
Play 3. Shaq dunks.
We thought this was sound. After all, we weren't aware of anybody in the world who could guard Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal, listed at 7'1" and 301 pounds (that's 216 centimeters and 137 kilograms for our Croatian readers). And Wilkens was even plotting a way to play all three of his 7-foot centers—O'Neal, the Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon and the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson—at the same time, which must be considered some sort of violation of international law.
We attended practice at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute on July 3 and searched for weaknesses. Finding none, we sought a more discerning eye—specifically that of movie critic (and Chicago Bulls season-ticket holder) Gene Siskel, who just happened to be loitering around. "Well, they don't have Michael Jordan, but they still get a thumbs-up from me," said Siskel. "I'd say this Dream Team is like a low-budget thriller. Let's call it Bulldozer. It would star Charles Barkley as the construction-crew chief and [ Utah Jazz forward] Karl Malone as the shop steward. Of course, Shaquille O'Neal"—he of the woeful free throw percentage—"would play the bricklayer." Good one, Gene.