BARCELONA SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- Pity Angola, the U.S. opponent on the first day of the Olympic men's basketball tournament.
Suddenly, the Dream Team is frisky.
"I don't know anything about Angola," Charles Barkley said. "But Angola's in trouble."
Barkley was his usual outspoken self yesterday at an hour-long news conference inside a crowded 1,200-seat auditorium at the Olympic press center. But for once, he wasn't the only Dream Team member who was ornery.
Magic Johnson responded sharply to criticism of the team's inclusion in the Games and his own participation despite testing positive for the AIDS virus. Others defended the team's decision to stay in a hotel and not the Olympic Village.
Coach Chuck Daly, growing increasingly concerned about security, said the players were mobbed by other athletes while visiting the village on Friday. He labeled the episode "a stampede," and the most frightening experience the team has faced since its formation more than a month ago.
The players eventually retreated to their bus, where they invited several U.S. gymnasts aboard to take pictures. They then returned to the hotel reserved for their exclusive use in Barcelona.
"Unless you travel with us, you don't understand," Daly said. "It's very much like traveling with 12 rock stars."
To further explain his team's refusal to stay in the Village, Daly asked 7-foot-1 David Robinson and 7-foot Patrick Ewing to stand.
"Please find me a room they can fit in," he said.
Utah Jazz guard John Stockton was equally adamant, saying, "The Olympic spirit to me is to go out and beat other athletes in the rest of the world, not to live with them.
"We have a saying in Utah that the Indians didn't live with Custer. We're not intending to make a lot of friends. We're going out to win the gold medal."
Stockton, by the way, will not play today because of the fractured right leg he suffered in the Tournament of the Americas. He said, however, that he will return "very shortly."
Larry Bird, questionable because of the sore back that forced him to miss all but one game of the qualifying tournament, cracked, "I was feeling pretty good until I came in here and listened to all this."
Many of the questions yesterday evoked chuckles. One foreign reporter asked Michael Jordan, "How do you feel to be called a god?" Another asked Robinson, "What do you expect of Angola?"
The mood, however, was broken on several occasions, most notably when Johnson addressed other U.S. athletes upset over the Dream Team's grabbing the Olympic spotlight, and Australian officials who initially questioned his right to play.
About the athletes' criticism, Johnson said, "If people feel like that, that's too bad. We're not here trying to take anything away from any other athletes. I think we only help the situation by bringing more media here, giving them more exposure."
Johnson's remarks about the Australians were even more pointed. "It's either we're going to win by 50 with me or 60 without me," he said. "Either way, we'll beat them. We're going to take care of them."
The United States will face Angola, Croatia, Germany, Brazil and Spain in the first round, and cannot meet Australia until the quarterfinals.
"I hope and pray we get to play them," Barkley said. "I really do."
As for his condition, Johnson said, "Everything's going great. I'm going to answer all these questions when I hit that court tomorrow [today]. You'll find out directly."
He's frisky. They're all frisky.
"If our hearts weren't in it, we would have stayed back in the USA," Ewing said. "But we're here to win the gold medal.
"We're all paid a lot of money to play for New York, Chicago, San Antonio, whatever. But our hearts are in it. Come tomorrow, you'll see our hearts."