SI Vault
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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The Olympic three-point line is 20'6" from the basket, 3'3" closer than the NBA's and well within the range of almost any NBA guard or forward, much less the players on this team. Heck, Ewing can hit the 20-foot fadeaway.

So, there they are. Three-point shooters, rebounders, fast-breakers, defenders, ball handlers, dunkers. The richest and best-known basketball players in the world. Isn't it just plain common sense to believe that this outfit—or one similar in composition to it—will turn the tide of America's recent international basketball embarrassments, which include a third-place finish in the 1988 Olympics and another third-place finish in last year's world championships?

Absolutely not, says Al McGuire, the NBC commentator and former college coach: "An NBA all-star team will not win an Olympic gold medal."

Says Lyons, "You cannot overestimate the value of team chemistry and how strong these foreign national teams are simply because they play together a lot. Sure, our talent might win out ultimately, but not necessarily."

And even Larry Joe Bird, who over the years has evinced a rather low opinion of European basketball, says, "The reason a team of superstars doesn't always win is because the game isn't always played at the highest level. Sometimes a less talented team brings the better team down to its level. It happens a lot, especially in the Olympics."

Maybe so. But never in the history of international basketball will such a talented group of players be assembled on one team, and that talent alone will get the Americans past every team in the world save two: Yugoslavia, the gold medalist at the Seoul Games, which might itself be stocked with NBA or NBA-caliber players like Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja; and the Soviet Union, which might—depending on the political situation—have those two worthy Lithuanians, Sarunas Marciulionis, who plays in the NBA for Golden State, and the highly rated center, Arvidas Sabonis. The U.S. will have to perform as a unit, not like a bunch of superstars, to beat those teams.

Will the NBA stars be willing to do that? And even if the spirit is willing, is there enough time to forge them into such a unit? "Before I coached in the All-Star Game, I wondered how much superstars would be willing to sacrifice for the good of the team," said Daly. "And the answer is a lot. I couldn't believe how focused they were on a team effort. And an Olympic gold medal should give them even more focus."

Says Magic: "The timetable isn't perfect, but it's good enough. I think a team like ours will only need a little while, maybe a week or so, to start playing together. And we'll get better and better as the competition goes on."

If Daly and Johnson are correct, there is simply no way that the U.S. can lose. That is clearly the opinion of the Celtics' Kevin McHale. "At some point, this becomes simple math," says McHale. "If guys like Michael, Charles and Patrick are getting 35 over here, against this competition, then they can get 50 points in the Olympics. I know it's not simply a matter of scoring, but I think the top five NBA teams would beat the top European teams. It'll be no contest."

That's the way it looks from this perspective, too. But what if the Americans do assemble NBA superstar talent and still come up short?

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