PORTLAND, Ore. -- What a world, when the best player on the planet can play 36 holes of golf and then knock down four straight three-pointers in an Olympic qualifying game. What a world, when your backup point guard is Michael Jordan.
Reeling from the loss of John Stockton, the U.S. men's basketball team survived another nailbiter last night, edging Panama, 112-52. Larry Bird didn't play either, but Jordan suddenly got interested, scoring 15 first-half points and chasing Panama's point guards back to the Canal Zone.
Jordan shot a 75 in his first round of golf yesterday, an 86 in his second. His only complaint about substituting for Magic Johnson at the point is that it leaves him exhausted. "I hustled for a half," he said, smiling, "and I was tired."
Hustled? Well, for a few minutes anyway. The Dream Team actually trailed 15-13 at one point, then scored 16 straight points to end the suspense. Jordan replaced Johnson early in the spurt -- he hadn't come off the bench since high school -- and the United States outscored Panama 45-15 the rest of the half.
Jordan hit all five of his shots during that stretch, including the four threes. Chris Mullin added 17 of his team-high 19 points, hitting seven of eight shots, four of five from three-point range.
So much for the Dream Team getting strangled by zones.
The game decided, Jordan spent the rest of the night refining his stand-up act, with Panama's Reginald Grunald serving as his comic foil. It wasn't enough for Jordan to hound Grunald the length of the court. Late in the first half, he even shadowed him during a foul shot.
Grunald walked away to receive instruction from Panama coach Jim Baron, and Jordan followed. Not that the eavesdropping did him any good. "They weren't even speaking English," Jordan said, crushed that his spy mission failed.
Anyway, his banter with Grunald and Panama's other point guard, Eddy Chavez, continued the entire game. Chavez said Jordan was talking about his golf. Grunald said it was all in fun, but when play would resume, "It seemed like Jordan was playing the NBA final."
"We had a deal after I harassed him in the first half," Jordan explained. "I told him, 'If you want me to take it easy on you, I'll take it easy.' He said, 'OK, take it easy.' So, he came down one time and took me to the hole. I said, 'That's not fair, you're supposed to take it easy, too.' "
It was a welcome distraction, for the U.S. sideshows in the Tournament of the Americas are far more interesting than the games. Last night's celebrity guest, Bill Cosby, sat in on Panama's pre-game huddle and later told a joke to Patrick Ewing on an inbounds play.
Let's see, we also had Christian Laettner's warmup pants coming unbuckled and falling to the floor during his pre-game introduction, the poor Dukie the apparent victim of a practical joke.
There was Johnson clapping along with the Portland Memorial Coliseum crowd to "Shout!". There was Barkley throwing the ball at a referee. And Bird, again sidelined by mild back discomfort, eliciting a roar from the crowd when he faked removing his warmup jersey.
This just in: The Dream Team (3-0) can qualify for Barcelona tonight with a victory over Argentina. The matter would have been decided last night if Cuba defeated Argentina, and the U.S. players reportedly were livid when Argentina won and they couldn't pop the champagne.
Problems, such problems. Barkley compared the tournament to "summer vacation," and Bird deadpanned, "Once we head toward Barcelona, we're going to get more focused, and some of us will have to cut our golf down from 36 holes a day to 18."
Not Jordan, of course.
He plays 36 as part of his deal.
Actually, Jordan's concern over his relaxation was the main reason he expressed his initial reluctance about playing for the Olympic team. He played 82 regular-season games, then 22 more in the playoffs as the Chicago Bulls won their second straight NBA title.
"In '84 we practiced two times a day," he said, referring to his previous Olympic experience. "If it was going to be like that, no way I would be here. But Chuck [Daly] reassured me. He said, 'Bring your golf clubs, play basketball at night.' That's what I've been doing."
Jordan is so relaxed, he left his razor at home, and is growing a goatee. "I don't have to get up and shave. I don't have to do nothing," he said. "There's no tension, no pressure. And my wife loves it."
Hotel operator, this is Michael Jordan.
Wakeup call for 6 a.m., please.