Dream Team's perks leaving others irked Some American athletes find only cons with pros BARCELONA COUNTDOWN '92

July 24, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- They may be rich and famous, but the NBA superstars who make up the Dream Team aren't universally loved by their new Olympic teammates.

Last night, as the Dream Team prepared to hit town, they were singed in yet another brush fire of controversy.

Call it jealousy, or backbiting at the Olympics.

"I think the NBA and the Olympics ought to be separate," said swimmer Mike Barrowman of Potomac, Md., the world-record holder in the 200-meter men's breaststroke.

"It's not like they get enough attention all year," Barrowman added. "It's a little frustrating. I can see both sides, I guess. If you have an Olympics, why not have the best athletes in the world? But it is frustrating. I mean, that's all you hear, 'NBA Dream Team.'

"You drive through Barcelona, Spain, and you see a 10-story Michael Jordan on a billboard. It's not like Michael Jordan doesn'thave enough publicity at home. This is the only chance for a Matt Biondi or a Janet Evans to get their exposure -- and we get Michael Jordan again? I know I speak for most American athletes. It's not a jealousy thing. It's frustration."

The grumbling against the Dream Team -- while by no means universal -- became so intense that it may have cost Magic Johnson the honor of carrying the American flag during tomorrow's opening ceremonies. Despite a lobbying effort on Johnson's behalf by 1988 flag bearer Evelyn Ashford, he lost in the vote of athlete representatives.

Francie Larrieu Smith, a five-time Olympian whose running career spanned Munich in 1972 and the boycott of 1980, will carry the colors around the track at the Olympic Stadium atop Montjuic.

The gripes against the NBA players are varied.

There is the hotel problem. While most athletes will stay in the Olympic Village, the NBA players will be housed in a downtown hotel through most of the Games. They will only appear in the village on the night before their games, and, then, only for security reasons.

"I'm not happy that the pro players aren't in the village," swimmer Jenny Thompson said. "That's the whole part of the experience. I feel they're half-Olympians."

Then there is the publicity issue. The Games normally give athletes who train in obscurity a chance to shine once every four years. But with the pros in Barcelona, the bulk of the pre-Olympic publicity has been dominated by Johnson, Jordan and Charles Barkley.

"I struggle with this," said rower Anna Seton. "I feel the NBA players are the best the country has, and that's the Olympic ideal. But there is also a part of me that resents hearing and reading that this is a big deal for them to go to the Olympics. They can't believe they're not being paid for it. That attitude is really hard to accept."

And, then, there is the money. The pros count theirs in millions. The Olympian wrestlers and rowers and modern pentathletes count theirs in hundreds.

"It's like a full glass of water," Dennis Koslowksi, 1988 bronze medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I believe the best should be in the Olympics, but the only thing that ticks me off is that it pulls away from someone like me. Do Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson really need more endorsements?"

Finally, there is the ideal of competition on an even playing field. Some athletes are simply uncomfortable with having a team loaded up with pros humiliating the Angolas of the Olympics.

"I question the validity of million-dollar basketball players trouncing on other people's dreams," rower Alison Townley told the Star Tribune. "It's like the United States dropping all of our Patriot missiles on a Third World country."

Of course, there are some athletes who are thrilled to share an Olympics with the Dream Team.

"It's going to be historic," said Mike Powell, the world-record holder in the men's long jump.

"To be honest, I think it's great," said modern pentathlete Rob Stull. "I think they're fantastic athletes. Great personalities. They're going to add a lot to the Olympics and a lot to America. For so many years, everyone else's pros beat our [amateurs]. Well, the Dream Team is here, and the world had better watch out."

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