Him was Sabonis, and he never laid a mitt on the shot. Then the Americans had only to survive a Soviet rebound basket, a botched-up in-bounds play of their own and one final full-court, pass-dash-and-shot play, Khomichus to Valters to No-Chance.
Eerily, both of the Smiths, racing helplessly after the Soviet play, and Robinson, sitting on the bench, flashed at once on a moment they had only read about: 1972 Olympic final, Munich... U.S. team jobbed...Aleksandr Belov flinging in a gift bucket to give U.S.S.R. the gold. Could history be repeating itself?
Bogues, who was right where he had been all the sweltering evening, nipping at Valters's ankles, had everything covered. "The cat was way off-balance," said Muggsy. "I said, No way that's going in. This time it was our history."
Back on the home front nobody cares about Mundobasket or, more appropriately, DUNCCC—Dis- United Nations Chaotic Cage Classic—possibly because nobody understands what it is. Or because history tells us the U.S. tends not to win it. In fact, while American amateur basketball officialdom ranks the tournament down there between the Pan Am Games and the Alpo Invitational, the rest of the basketball universe considers the quadrennial world championships to be even more important than the Olympics, where team water archery and similar lounge acts clutter the landscape.
With the exception of the West German squad, which seems to have defected to Dallas, the competition in Spain—24 teams playing 90 games in seven cities—was far stronger than it was in Los Angeles in '84. Moreover, the Americans' 96-65 gold medal rout of Spain in L.A. may have given the U.S. a false sense of security. The Soviets weren't there, of course, and Jordan, Ewing, Knight, et al. were a special crew playing in a special atmosphere.
Back to reality.... "We've created this challenge, now we've got to meet it," said Olson. Of major concern was the U.S. record in the World Championships: 1 for 9, the only victory coming in 1954 when the Yanks whipped Brazil in Rio. This summer early NBA entry ( Chris Washburn, John Williams, William Bedford, Walter Berry), injuries ( Danny Manning) and disenchantment ( Pervis Ellison was sent home after a practice no-show) prevented Olson from fielding a devastating front line. And who knows how much the threat of terrorism in Europe diminished the interest of other players?
Early on, soldiers bearing rifles stood guard on the roof of the hotel where the U.S. players were staying, and helicopters circled overhead and followed the team's bus. "We can never forget the reasons for all this security," said Arizona guard Steve Kerr, whose father, Malcolm, was president of American University in Beirut when he was assassinated in 1984. "I can't wait for the tournament to be over so I can go home." Sorrowfully, Kerr went home early, his right knee having blown out after a splendid 14-point performance in the Americans' 96-80 semifinal victory over Brazil.
There were other memorable visions of the world championships to be sure:
?The Ivory Coast's "Committee of Animation." This 25-dude cheering section and party-animal squad wore grass skirts and animal-skin headdresses as they pounded drums and snaked through the stands while their team lost five games by a combined score of 460-322. This was partly through lack of Desire. While Desir� Bambara hung up a DNP in the 99-63 loss to the U.S., Desir� N'Drin looked ready to n'drop.
?The People's Republic of China coach, Qian Chenghai, whose team attempted 32 three-point shots against the U.S. When asked how long it would take his country to match the U.S. in basketball, Qian said, "As long as it takes U.S. to match Chinese in Ping-Pong."