IT'S A RED, WHITE AND BLUE DREAM: the five players who grace this week's cover playing together, determined to restore America's lost basketball dignity, in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
What's the chance of this dream coming true?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
With Olympic basketball competition now open to pro players as a result of a ruling made in April 1989 by the sport's international governing organization and with the U.S. committed to a team drawn primarily from the NBA, SI has selected what it believes to be America's ideal starting five. And here's the dream-come-true part of it: Each of these players has said that he is at least strongly considering participating in the Games. Of course, a lot could happen between now and 1992, when the team will be selected by the Olympic subcommittee of USA Basketball, the body charged with running the American Olympic basketball effort.
The interest from NBA players has been, according to the league's commissioner, David Stern, "overwhelming," but commitments could soften as the day of decision draws closer. After all, the Olympic qualifying round will begin the last week of June, right after the conclusion of the 1991-92 NBA season. Any Olympian whose team makes the NBA finals will have been playing basketball continuously for 10 months by the time the Barcelona Games close on Aug. 9.
But that doesn't seem all that daunting a prospect to our starters. Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone has been enthusiastic about the Olympics for more than a year and has declared himself a candidate for the U.S. team. Ditto for Philadelphia 76er forward Charles Barkley, who told SI, "I positively, positively, positively want to play." Knick center Patrick Ewing, a gold medal winner in the 1984 Olympics, says he is definitely interested. And point guard Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers says, "I've got everything else so why not a gold medal? I want to play."
The iffiest member of our fivesome is the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, a teammate of Ewing's on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. Jordan has myriad summertime commitments (many of them involving a tee time) and was frankly disinterested when the subject of NBA players in the '92 Games first came up. But he changed his mind after visiting Europe last summer on a promotional tour. "I saw firsthand the interest in basketball over there, and it made me reconsider," says Jordan. "Nothing is final, but I'm certainly considering playing."
Cynics might say that Jordan's decision will have nothing to do with red, white and blue and quite a lot to do with green. That is, if he feels he can profit personally from the Olympics through added endorsements, he'll play. Well, let's not kid ourselves—of course that is part of his motivation, maybe the primary part. Business is never far from Magic's mind, either. He, too, toured Europe for a company last summer and even shot the ceremonial first basket in the Palau San Jordi, Barcelona's newly built Olympic basketball venue. Johnson has an endorsement contract with a Spanish meatpacking company that is tied to his participation in the Games. Yes, he can see the lure of the gold medal in front of him, but he can also hear the distant ring of the cash register. This is the 1990s, after all, and millionaire pro athletes cannot be expected to give up 2½ months of their free time to play for the Olympic stipend of zip, zilch, nada.
Though it has been widely reported that at least eight NBA players will be on the 12-man Olympic roster, the subcommittee actually has set no quota. Sources close to USA Basketball indicate, however, that the breakdown will probably be 9-3 or 10-2 in favor of the pros. SI's educated guess is 9-3.
We project that the reserves—and we apply that term most advisedly—will be San Antonio Spur center David Robinson, Detroit Piston guard Joe Dumars, Portland Trail Blazer guard Clyde Drexler and Golden State Warrior forward Chris Mullin.