Selectors take high-percentage shots U.S. to announce roster tomorrow

September 20, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

Judging by the first 10 players widely reported as being chosen for the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team, there was little risk-taking by the selection committee of college coaches and NBA officials.

Eight of the 10 Olympic nominees were All-NBA selections last season -- all but Utah Jazz guard John Stockton on the first two teams.

The dream five of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley all accepted invitations to play in Barcelona, Spain, next July, as did second-team all-NBA Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.

Forward Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, who was not an all-NBA choice this past season, also was selected.

The three players on the first and second teams -- guards Kevin Johnson of Phoenix and Clyde Drexler of Portland and forward Dominique Wilkins of Atlanta -- appear to have been overlooked. But there is strong sentiment to add Drexler since the Americas qualifying tournament will be held in Portland, June 27-July 2.

But the selections, which become official during an NBC telecast at 5 p.m. tomorrow, were not free of controversy. They have triggered considerable debate because of the absence of guard Isiah Thomas, who led the Detroit Pistons to consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

The obvious question is how can Pistons coach Chuck Daly, who will coach the Olympians, not include his team leader.

Daly has the best alibi for slighting Thomas since he was not given a vote in the selection process. But as a USA Basketball official said, "I'm certain that Daly had considerable input" into whom he'd be coaching in the Olympics.

Countless theories are being offered to explain Thomas' absence from the team. The most popular is that Jordan, the centerpiece of the team, had let it be known he would not play if Thomas was selected.

This reportedly was a carry-over from a feud dating back to Jordan's NBA All-Star debut in 1985, when he accused teammate Thomas of initiating a "freeze-out."

A more plausible explanation is that the selection committee that included Wayne Embry of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jack McCloskey of the Detroit Pistons, Donnie Walsh of the Indiana Pacers, Billy Cunningham of the Miami Heat and Jan Volk of the Boston Celtics, simply felt they had chosen four better guards in Jordan, Johnson, Stockton and Scottie Pippen, who played a vital role in the Chicago Bulls' championship season.

A stronger case might have been made for Joe Dumars, Thomas' backcourt partner in Detroit. Dumars was a third-team All-NBA choice this past season. And Thomas had already been an Olympic pick in 1980, the year President Carter elected to boycott the Moscow Games.

With neither Dumars or Thomas chosen, Daly and McCloskey might have felt it would be easier to soothe egos when the NBA season opens Nov. 1.

Two Olympic spots appear to remain open. Drexler or Indiana Pacers three-point specialist Reggie Miller are favorites to fill one of the slots, with the remaining one earmarked for a collegiate player. The favorite for that spot seems to be LSU center Shaquille O'Neal.

There is strong sentiment to choose two college players after the NCAA Final Four next April, giving collegiate stars more incentive to strive for an Olympic berth.

But after repeated embarrassments in international competition the last five years, including the recent ouster from the Pan-American Games in Cuba, the United States is determined to gain revenge by employing a team of NBA All-Stars.

Still, Daly, who has spent the past summer scouting the competition, takes a cautious approach. In a conference call from Barcelona Monday, he said, "The foreign teams have certain advantages and understand the international rules very well.

"Everyone has to understand one very important point. This is not a 48-minute NBA game. This is a 40-minute international game. Anything can happen in a shorter game against good clubs who shoot well. They will shoot 20 to 30 three-pointers. We will have to be able to react to that."

The U.S. Olympic team will begin practices June 20 in San Diego.

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