BARCELONA, Spain -- Watch closely, U.S. players tell themselves, this could be the last of Larry Bird.
Until yesterday, all the Olympics had seen of him was a creaky old man with a sore back, but for a brief and shining moment he was Larry Legend again, scoring 19 points, hitting three three-point baskets and tossing blind passes as the U.S. team routed Germany, 111-68.
"We joke about it all the time," Michael Jordan said. "But one of the reasons I'm on this team, I never had the opportunity to play with Larry, except for All-Star Games.
"This might be his last hurrah. I think everybody should realize that. We as players cherish the time we spend with him."
L Bird, pained at his injury limitations, jokes about it, too.
"I've been retired for four years," he said recently, "and nobody knows it yet."
The Germans scored the first basket, but the United States went on a 47-10 run to settle what issue there was before halftime.
Of course, the United States wasn't at its best.
The Americans were out of point guards, with Magic Johnson resting his strained right calf and John Stockton still limping.
Jordan, the new point guard, was coming off 18 holes of golf in thenear 100-degree heat.
Jordan's average is 27 holes before a game. He handled point guard without a problem.
"Well, who didn't know that?" coach Chuck Daly asked. "The man can play any position."
The Germans were tall, but that's all. They had Detlef Schrempf and three players 6 feet 11 or taller, but they said freely beforehand they knew they couldn't win this game.
"We were scared in the beginning," said guard Henrik Rodl, a senior at North Carolina. "The longer the game went on, the more we settled down. For me, it was an honor to play against them."
The Americans' only problem was getting excited.
They bristled before their first game when they heard that Angola's coach said they couldn't play defense.
In their second game, they wanted a piece of Toni Kukoc, who once inconvenienced Scottie Pippen, sort of.
They didn't know anything bad about the Germans and were forced to play without malice in their hearts.
If you suspect this offense-taking is deliberate, you're right.
"We love that," Johnson said. "We need that. Sometimes you need to get ruffled a little bit."
Good news: Brazil, their next opponent, actually insulted them in Portland, where guard Marcel Souza said they ought to stop playing golf the day of the game and get serious.
"Somebody gave me wrong information," Karl Malone said. "I thought it was Oscar Schmidt. I've been telling everybody Oscar said it.
"At this point, it doesn't really matter, We're going to act like everybody said it."
NOTES: Johnson is still listed as day to day, but Charles Barkley says he thinks Johnson will sit out tomorrow's game. "Magic hasn't improved as much as we'd like," Barkley said. "I wouldn't rush him back. It's more important to have him next week." . . . . Daly, on finding backups for Jordan at point guard: "We were considering using Charles, but he doesn't know enough about the offense." . . . Learning the international game the hard way, Barkley drew a warning against hanging on the rim. In the two previous games, the new Phoenix Sun had been called for an elbowing foul and had received a technical foul for talking to the crowd.