Dream Team yawn broken by spasms of controversy

ROGER SIMON

July 31, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

The Dream Team is aptly named: Watching it is a snore.

How dull are the Dream Team's games?

So dull that NBC has stopped showing them in their entirety on its regular broadcast.

NBC cut away from the U.S. men's basketball game against Croatia with about 10 minutes to go in the second half.

And you know what happened to the TV ratings when NBC switched to swimming?

They went up.

And so during the next Dream Team game against Germany, NBC didn't even wait for the second half. It left the game in the first half.

"I don't know about you, but we are convinced the U.S. has the game well in hand and we are going to break away," Bob Costas said.

But wait a second, Bob. We knew up front the U.S. team was going to win every game. The United States packed it with NBA pros to make sure of that.

The public, however, was supposed to love watching the beauty and wonder of their play.

But, as it has turned out, there is no beauty or wonder.

There is only the barren, passionless, robotic motion of a sure thing.

Which, now and again, is interrupted by spasms of controversy.

Like whether Michael Jordan, who has a reported $20 million endorsement contract with Nike, will refuse to take the winner's stand and get his medal because that would mean wearing a warm-up suit advertising Reebok.

Such is Olympic sport among our Dream Warriors.

And let us not forget Charles Barkley's elbow.

The U.S. men's basketball team's first game was against Angola, an African nation that has a population of about 10 million.

But, as Bob Costas informed us, there are only about "250 serious basketball players and only two modern indoor basketball courts" in the entire country.

The Dream Team got off to a quick start and soon scored 29 consecutive points. Then Charles Barkley drove in for a layup, made it, and extended the streak to 31.

After which Barkley calmly walked over to Angolan player Herlander Coimbra and slammed his right elbow into Coimbra's chest right over the heart.

Yo! Take that, you skinny non-American!

The refs called a technical foul on Barkley, and Angola hit a free throw.

"Angola breaks the string!" Marv Albert, the play-by-play announcer, shouted.

So the Dream Team would score no more than 31 unanswered points this night. Damn! Why did that Angolan's chest have to get in the way of Barkley's elbow?

"He hit me; I hit him," Barkley said after the game. "You guys don't understand that. It's a ghetto thing."

Maybe. But Barkley's excuse was a lying thing. NBC reviewed the videotape. And no Angolan hit Barkley or came close to it.

Just outside the basketball arena, however, there is something called the Olympics.

And there we can see something better than winners. We can see champions.

We can see champions like Anita Nall. Nall wept when she won only a bronze medal in swimming on Monday. But on Wednesday, when she was beaten again and won a silver, she smiled and reached over and congratulated the Belarussian woman who won the gold.

And when asked if she was disappointed, Nall said: "I am proud to be here and represent my country."

Should Charles Barkley lose and get only a silver medal, will he shake the hands of the victors? Will he say he was proud to represent his country?

Yeah. Right. Hold your breath.

As our basketball team records empty victory after empty victory, I keep thinking back to Angola:

Only 250 people in the entire country who really can play basketball. Only two courts where you can get in out of the rain and heat and away from the bugs.

Nobody made the Angolans come to the Olympics and play basketball. They could have skipped it. But they did not. They came and played the U.S. team on worldwide TV.

The Angolans got beaten, they got elbowed, they got crushed. But they never got humiliated.

And that's because the Angolans have what thousands of other athletes in Barcelona have: character.

The U.S. men's basketball players will get their gold medals.

But character?

That they can only dream about.

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