BARCELONA, Spain -- The shoe wars erupted before a TV audience of 3 billion people. And it looks like Nike won. Or, at least, Michael Jordan did.
Jordan, the centerpiece of Nike's promotional efforts, had balked at wearing the official United States Olympic Committee awards-ceremony uniform, which was made by Reebok and featured a Reebok patch on the right shoulder.
When the U.S. basketball team took the medal stand yesterday after beating Croatia, 117-85, for the expected gold medal, all 12 players -- half work for Nike -- had unzipped their jackets so that the collars obscured the patch. Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson took the extra precaution of carrying an American flag over their right shoulders.
And so, as the national anthem played, there was no Reebok patch in sight.
"Everyone agreed we would not deface the Reebok on the award uniform," said Jordan, who had been saying for weeks he wouldn't wear the Reebok uniform. "The American flag cannot deface anything. That's what we stand for. The American dream is standing up for what you believe in. I believed in it, and I stood up for it. If I offended anyone, that's too bad."
Jordan, who makes millions a year from Nike, said he wished 12 flags were available because all the players had wanted to join in the effort. From the beginning, Barkley had said he would do whatever Jordan did. Apparently Jordan persuaded the others to follow his lead.
No U.S. athletes from the other sports seemed to have the same objections the basketball players did to wearing the Reebok victory sweat suit. And, in fact, the basketball players were already wearing uniforms designed by another Nike athletic-wear rival, Champion.
But the Dream Team players seemed to adopt Jordan's cause as their own. Apparently, discussions between the USOC and USA Basketball on this issue had taken place for more than two years without being resolved.
"They could have come to us and treated us like men and talked this thing out," Johnson said. "Instead they had to be the big shot, be the big man."
Jordan put the debate in even more direct terms, saying, "When you hire 12 Clint Eastwoods to come in here and do a job, don't ask them what bullets they're putting in the gun."
The bronze-medal winning Lithuanians took a different approach, wearing their own individual, non-athletic wear. In fact, they came out looking less like athletes and more like leftover hippies, or fans of the Grateful Dead.
That was no coincidence, because their red, green and yellow tie-dyed outfits were designed by someone associated with the Grateful Dead. The band donated $5,000 toward the less controversial, but certainly more entertaining, medal platform wear.