Suppose Olympic basketball hadn't turned pro.
Imagine that in Munich, on April 7, 1989, FIBA, the international basketball federation, considered the future -- Magic, Bird and .. Michael vs. the world -- and voted down a proposal to allow NBA players into the Olympic Games.
In the name of fairer competition. In the name of amateurism. In the name of tradition.
There would be no Dream Team preparing for the Olympics, which begin July 25.
Amateur players only.
Close your eyes now and see it: The Daydream Team.
The Charlotte Observer sought the advice of college coaches, some who would've participated in the selection process, and pro scouts and hand-picked the 12-player team of collegians the United States could have sent to Barcelona.
* The starting lineup: At center, Louisiana State's Shaquille O'Neal. At forward, Duke's Christian Laettner and Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning. At guard, Ohio State's Jimmy Jackson and Duke's Bobby Hurley.
* The bench: Michigan's Chris Webber, Duke's Grant Hill, Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers, Kentucky's Jamal Mashburn, Tennessee's Allan Houston, Memphis State's Anfernee Hardaway and UCLA's Tracy Murray.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the coach. His assistants are Roy Williams of Kansas, P.J. Carlesimo of Seton Hall and Randy Ayers of Ohio State.
"It's an incredible team," Williams says. "I don't see any weaknesses. The only thing it could use is more maturity."
The team's major strengths are size, power, quickness and versatility.
Only Hurley, at 6-0, is under 6-6.
The starting front line is huge, yet agile. O'Neal is 7-1 and considered the NBA's next superstar. Mourning is a 6-10 shot-blocking specialist and Laettner a 6-11 inside-outside threat capable of beating opponents with three-pointers. They were the first three picks in the recent NBA draft. (And, Laettner's on the Dream Team.)
"It all starts with those three guys," says television analyst Dick Vitale. "You can apply really good pressure on the defensive end with Shaquille and Mourning inside to block shots. With those guys, some impressive components can really be put together."
As good as the trio is together, it may be most valuable apart. All three can play center, allowing one another to rest and creating some monster combinations.
O'Neal, for example, could team up front with Webber and Hill. Krzyzewski could take them out and sub Mourning, Rogers and Mashburn.
The versatility of Hill, Hardaway, Jackson and Webber gives Krzyzewski dozens of substitution possibilities. They're all superb athletes able to play at least two positions. They're good ball-handlers, defenders, passers and shooters.
Houston and Murray are the team's three-point specialists, absolute necessities in the international game.
Hurley is one of the best point guards on the planet, college or pro. He's quicker and penetrates better than many fans realize.
He's this team's quarterback.
There's a strong Duke flavor on the team, with Krzyzewski and three players. They're here because they're that good. Evidence: two straight NCAA championships.
Some good players are left off the team. North Carolina State forward Tom Gugliotta nearly made it but couldn't beat out Rogers and Mashburn.
Guards Harold Miner of Southern California and Walt Williams of Maryland have individual talent, but their ability to adapt to less starring roles in a team concept is questionable.
Now, the bottom line: Would the Daydream Team win the gold medal?
It helps that the once-powerful Soviet and Yugoslav teams have been divided into a combined five teams because of political upheaval.
Williams: "I think we would easily win the gold medal."
Trail Blazers scout Keith Drum: "If the old Yugoslavian team was together, I would not say the U.S. would win. But now, this team wins the gold medal without a problem."
North Carolina assistant coach Bill Guthridge: "It would be very hard for them to win because of their youth, the experience of the rest of the international competition and their not playing together except in the summer."
Vitale: "They'd have a tremendous opportunity."
The world will never know.