It's hard to imagine a humbling experience for a group of players who have made hundreds of millions of dollars and 30 All-Star game appearances combined, had their likenesses plastered on magazines and souvenirs, and been admired and treated like royalty..
But to a man, the 12 men who make up Dream Team II experienced a special feeling last week when prior to a game at rTC the Charlotte Coliseum they received their uniforms with "USA" across the front.
"When they finally pulled out the uniforms, and it's got that 'USA' on the front," Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mark Price said after the team's first exhibition last week against Germany, "well, let's just say there's not a lot of people who can say they got a chance to represent their country."
The reason Price and the 11 other NBA players are a part of Dream Team II is simple -- to take care of business on the basketball court that the nation's collegians have been unable to do in recent years.
Starting tonight in Hamilton, Ontario, Dream Team II will look to win the World Championships, a tournament played every four years and last won by the United States in 1986.
In 1992, Dream Team I became the United States' first hired guns of basketball, with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan helping to win the gold medal in Barcelona. Although not as star-studded as the previous Dream Team, this year's team also is expected to wipe out the competition.
"All we have to do is go out and play our game, and everything will take care of itself," said Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller. "Nothing will matter, as long as we play our type of basketball. If this team has a weakness, I haven't seen it yet."
Through two tuneup games against Germany and the college players who made up the U.S. Goodwill Games team, the only apparent weakness seems to be team chemistry. Dream Team II has been playing together for only two weeks, not nearly enough time to comprehend the habits and styles of the other players.
Still, Dream Team II won both games by more than 30 points, which is a good indicator about how the games will go over the next 10 days. Even with the title pretty much clinched, none of the players is taking the tournament lightly.
"This world championship is important to us," said Charlotte Hornets center Alonzo Mourning. "We are representing our country and everything it stands for. It's also a pride factor. No one on this team wants to lose."
And that's on a team that, with its various starting lineups, might have Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Kemp, Dominique Wilkins and Derrick Coleman coming off the bench.
Coach Don Nelson has scouted the competition and sees Croatia (with Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc and Boston Celtics forward Dino Radja) maybe being the most competitive team. Competitive, in the case of the Dream Team, might be the difference between a 40- and a 25-point win.
"I'm not about to take anybody lightly," said Nelson, who will start a different team every night. "Until we beat them, we're just going to assume everybody's a quality opponent."
In fact, Nelson's biggest coaching task -- remember, Chuck Daly never called a timeout in Barcelona -- might be to keep all 12 of his players happy. The World Championships will be played in two 20-minute halves, leaving an average of 16.6 minutes per player. Playing on a world stage in which everyone wants to show his talent, there could be some hurt feelings.
"It's impossible to play 12 guys in a 40-minute game, so we'll have to figure out something," Nelson said. "I'll do my best to keep everybody happy."
Nelson, while keeping his team happy, is staying out of the debate about which team is better -- Dream Team I or Dream Team II. Dream Team I won its games in the Olympics by nearly 44 points a game, but Dream Team II members have continued to be vocal about how they would fare in a matchup.
"That was an old team; we're a young team," O'Neal, who enters his third NBA season in the fall, said yesterday. "We'd beat them -- best out of one, best out of three, best out of seven. We'd beat them."
Added Miller, changing his tune from several weeks ago when he said the current team would beat Dream Team I: "We'll never know. There are no comparisons. They were Dream Team I, and we're Dream Team II."
Detroit Pistons guard Joe Dumars was just excited to be participating in something big.
"This is absolutely great," he said. "We're probably the best basketball players in the world right now, and to be part of that is