SI Vault
Jack McCallum
November 02, 1987
In the first match between the U.S.S.R. and the NBA, the Bucks romped 127-100
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November 02, 1987

In Your Face, Comrades!

In the first match between the U.S.S.R. and the NBA, the Bucks romped 127-100

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Pity that he could not leave behind his two best players, Aleksandr Volkov, a 6'9" forward, and Sharunas Marchulenis, a strong, 6'4" lefthanded shooting guard who looks as if he had walked off a Southern California playground. They were two of the Soviet players who participated in last summer's tour. After playing with Marchulenis, Atlanta star Dominique Wilkins said that Marchulenis could start for the Hawks. But, as Sunday's game showed, he couldn't. Not yet, anyway.

From the moment they stepped off the plane in Milwaukee, on the night of Oct. 21 after an eight-hour flight that followed a 26-hour fog delay at Moscow International Airport, the Soviet players were the focal point of the tournament. International competition and increasingly open news coverage of all things Soviet have demystified them somewhat, but an air of the unknown still swirls around any U.S.S.R. team.

Had the Soviets perhaps discovered a new phenom to replace their celebrated center, 7'2" Arvidas Sabonis, who has been dogged by frequent injuries—most recently to an Achilles tendon. Would their other oft-injured giant pivotman, 7'2" Vladimir Tkachenko, who has a bad back, make the trip? The answer to both questions was no.

But the Soviets did bring along another 7-footer, 30-year-old veteran Aleksandr Belosteni, who had reportedly been prohibited from leaving the country because he was in disfavor with Soviet authorities for an improper customs declaration. Backing up Belosteni would be potbellied, twig-armed 6'11" Victor Pankrashkin, the owner of perhaps the worst body in the history of international hoops. He is something of a cult hero in the U.S.S.R., in the same sense that 7-foot Henry Finkel of the Celtics was once a cult hero in Boston while backing up Bill Russell and Dave Cowens.

As it turned out, Belosteni went down with an ankle injury in the first two minutes of Saturday's game against Tracer, and Pankrashkin played reasonably well with 11 points and seven rebounds. He was outmatched against the Bucks, however, and played only 22 minutes before fouling out with six points.

While the Soviets didn't exactly revel in the attention given them by the promoters and the press, neither did they find it distasteful. Strange, perhaps, but not distasteful. Following their practice one morning, they took center stage at the obligatory feeding frenzy at McDonald's and then visited Kohl's, the department store owned by Bucks owner Herb Kohl. There they were given sweatshirts—red, of course—jean jackets and teddy bears (Gomelsky politely refused his). That night they saw Fatal Attraction at the West Point movie theater.

Only once, when loud talking disturbed him during a Friday practice, did Gomelsky lose his patience. "Quiet! Please!" he shouted in irritation. And for just a moment Dick Vitale actually lowered his voice. Later, Vitale, who did color commentary on ABC's telecast of Sunday's game, interviewed Gomelsky. Talk about new Soviet openness!

The only coach who closed a practice to the media was Del (No glasnost) Harris, who was more than a little uptight as he prepared for Tracer. One could hardly blame him, because he was being asked to carry the Stars and Stripes with a second-string lineup. "It will be perceived as a giant game if we lose and just another game if we win," said Harris.

The Italians, meanwhile, seemed resigned to their third-class status in the tournament. "The Bucks are the Bucks, of course, and we know that everyone in America is interested in the Soviets," said Dino Meneghin, Tracer's 6'9" center, who is considered the best Italian player ever. "So we are just glad to be here. It's like a dream come true for us to play the Bucks." Meneghin, 37, whose best years are behind him, has met several NBA players and once even scrimmaged against Moses Malone—"He did not talk very much," said Meneghin—but this would be the real thing. Italians follow the NBA closely—50 of the league's games were televised last season in Italy—and Milwaukee center Jack Sikma is a popular player there (he's known as l' angelo biondo, or the Blond Angel), particularly in the Meneghin household. "My son told me I should learn to take that jump shot like Sikma," said Dino.

McAdoo was taking the game more in stride, as befits a former NBA Most Valuable Player (1974-75 season) and three-time scoring champ (or goal king, as they say in Europe). At 36, McAdoo seems happy with his life in Milan, where he lives with his wife, Charlina, and four-year-old son, Ross, while reportedly collecting the equivalent of $300,000 a year from his employer, Phillips Electronics, the parent company of Tracer, which markets razors. McAdoo doesn't have to speak Italian—most of his teammates speak English—and Lord knows that in the Tracer offensive system he doesn't have to pass the ball once he gets his hands on it. McAdoo is still a master at getting off the jumper with a hand in his face, and, sure enough, he scored 37 against the Bucks on Friday and 41 on Saturday against the Soviets.

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