Dream Team's toughest battle is with USOC after latest rout

August 05, 1992|By Mark Heisler | Mark Heisler,Los Angeles Times

BARCELONA, Spain -- Any country out there need a Dream Team?

Disowned by its future president, entangled in controversy at every turn, running on empty emotionally, the U.S. men's basketball team squeezed by Puerto Rico, 115-77, yesterday to reach the semifinals of the Olympic tournament.

This may or may not have come as good news in the posh Victoria Hotel, where LeRoy Walker, incoming president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is staying.

Walker criticized the basketball players for staying in the posh Ambassador Hotel, adding: "I'm not convinced yet we had to have NBA athletes on our team. With all the college players we have, if we choose the right ones, we can still win.

"They should follow the same rules as everyone else. But if they don't want to and aren't here next time, I wouldn't care."

L The NBA athletes, of course, were delighted to get the news.

"The US -- is it OC? -- they haven't been working well together with us," Magic Johnson said. "It's been like a power struggle.

"We all should have a meeting, come together, try to work things out. All he has to do is come out when we leave for the arena and ride with us. . . . We go to play and people line up on both sides of the street.

"We're not trying to go against anybody. We're trying to help. We keep getting -- we're the bad guys."

Cooperation between the newly wedded NBA and USOC has been problematic since the Games started.

NBA officials complained that USOC officials denied them access to the team. Then they were angry at USOC publicist Mike Moran for publicly challenging Michael Jordan over his medal-stand wardrobe.

For its part, the USOC thought the NBA was throwing its weight around, saying, "This is one show the NBA doesn't run."

Amid public adoration and bureaucratic wrangling, the U.S. players went out yesterday to see if they could find their lost spark.

They did, but briefly.

With Johnson back in the starting lineup, they jumped to a 17-0 lead, then outscored Puerto Rico by a mere 100-77 the rest of the night.

For the first Dream Team game, Charles Barkley did not have his way. He was limited to six points in 10 1/2 minutes before fouling out. One of his fouls was a technical (you also get a personal under FIBA rules), whistled for banging the ball twice after being assessed a foul.

Barkley was not pleased.

"You can't take any chances with the officials," Barkley said disgustedly. "The guy was bad. If it's going to be this bad, any team has a chance."

Well, not really.

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