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Lords of the Rings
Jack McCallum
February 18, 1991
With NBA players eligible for Olympic action in '92, SI picks a powerhouse five: from left, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley
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February 18, 1991

Lords Of The Rings

With NBA players eligible for Olympic action in '92, SI picks a powerhouse five: from left, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley

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Why Ewing over Robinson? Both shoot, rebound, block shots, run the floor and intimidate the opposition. SI likes Ewing's ferocity, his unquenchable thirst for the tough action. Let's give Ewing the starting role but divide the playing time equally between him and Robinson, the best second-stringer in the history of the planet.

Should Barkley, per our wishes, start at small forward, he will undoubtedly provoke some anxiety. What if he pats a foreign referee on the backside, as he so often does on home turf, and the ref misunderstands the import of the gesture? What if, during the player introductions, he suddenly pulls down his shorts to reveal a red, white and blue jockstrap? What if he off-handedly insults the mother-in-law of the assistant coach of the Brazilian national team? Dare we wheel a loose cannon onto the court?

Absolutely. Barkley will do just fine in Barcelona. He missed the Olympics in 1984, when he was clearly one of the top players at the trials. Unfortunately, he clearly was not a Bobby Knight kind of guy, and Knight was the coach of that team. Barkley wants to play, and he'll be as affected by the spirit of the occasion as anyone. That's just how he is.

Furthermore, Barkley's game is tailor-made for the Olympics. The international key is funnel-shaped, flaring out near the basket, and, consequently, post-up players find themselves farther away from the basket than in the American game. "Barkley is the perfect forward for the international game," says Roger Lyons, who over the past two years has had considerable success coaching World Basketball League teams in international tournaments. "You want forwards who are comfortable out on the floor and can drive the ball to the basket."

For that reason, the choice of Malone as the other forward is questioned by some NBA observers. Can Malone and Ewing—both are confirmed low-post players—coexist? Malone, after all, is accustomed to playing with a center, Mark Eaton, who knows his place in the Utah offense: out by the three-point line where he rarely touches the ball. Some observers feel that Bird, bad back and all, would be the ideal U.S. power forward because of his shooting ability. Those observers include one William Laimbeer, who has never been quick to praise Bird. "You need that forward with real perimeter shooting ability in the Olympics," says Laimbeer, the Pistons' center. "Bird would be perfect."

Well, Bird won't be playing, but there's no need to worry. Don't forget Malone has other strengths. He can run the floor, which is a must on a team that has Magic, and he's a bulldog of a rebounder. And if things get rough, as they often do in international competition, who wouldn't feel more comfortable with The Mailman around?

The reserves must be team players willing to accept their lesser status. With the exception of Robinson, whose situation as backup center is clear, the subs need to be versatile two-position types, to maximize lineup flexibility, and each must be uniquely proficient in one major aspect of the game, so he can serve, in effect, as a role player extraordinaire.

Dumars can replace Magic at the point or Jordan at two-guard, but his trump card is defense. He does an excellent job of containing Jordan, after all, so he should be even more effective against any other guard. That gives Dumars the advantage over Piston teammate Thomas and the other talented backcourtmen left off our team.

Drexler can swing between guard and small forward, but, more important, his height (6'7") and agility enable him to contain bigger people. Thus the team would not need Rodman, whose offensive skills are anything but Olympian. That, of course, is not the case with Drexler, who might well be able to win both the NBA slam-dunk and three-point shooting contests.

Mullin, like Drexler, can swing between shooting guard and small forward, but he would have one clear role on this team—to be that perimeter shooter from the forward spot that Laimbeer talked about. Mullin's presence would obviate the need to include on the team a stand-still three-point shooter, the type of limited-role player that some observers say is a necessity.

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