Green even better than gold in these corporate Olympics

July 19, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

ATLANTA -- And the first gold medal goes to . . .

Planet Reebok!

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, meet Shaquille O'Neal.

L Welcome to the land of the fee and the home of the depraved.

The founder of the modern Olympics might not have approved of the seven-year, $120 million contract O'Neal signed on the eve of the opening ceremonies, but there could be no more appropriate kickoff to these Games.

Swifter, higher, stronger . . . wealthier.

There's your new Olympic motto.

Colombian swimmer Diego Perdomo sat at the foot of the stage where O'Neal made his little announcement yesterday, clutching sandals and sneakers his national Olympic committee (NOC) purchased from Reebok.

"How many does Shaq get?" one of his teammates asked.

"As many as he wants," Perdomo replied, smiling.

This was just over an hour after O'Neal made it official that he was joining the Los Angeles Lakers -- he had declined to comment at a Dream Team news conference earlier, saving himself for the big show in the Reebok Ring.

Like it or not, such is life at the Centennial Olympics.

What did you expect, a Marxist-Leninist revival?

Enough with the hand-wringing -- if corporations can attach their names to games and arenas, if advertisements can appear on backstops and hockey boards, then the Olympics represent just another marketing opportunity.

Purity of the Games, you ask?

Please.

For years, the Olympics were full of hidden agendas, both political and economic. Now the principal agenda is making money, and everything is out in the open.

Well, almost everything, thanks to the masking agents available at your local pharmacy. Those secrets won't last much longer, either. The next logical step is for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, to feature an official steroids supplier.

Whatever, the International Olympic Committee knew what it was getting when it chose Atlanta -- everything chief organizer Billy Payne promised, give or take 20 degrees on the thermometer.

Not to get picky, but if the average July temperature in Atlanta is 77, then Shaq is still an amateur. Then again, what's a little fib when told in the name of good old-fashioned American ingenuity?

IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch won't mind sending his sweat-drenched suits to the dry cleaners.

He's got Nike Park, Coca-Cola City and a gazillion dollars from NBC.

Volunteers at the airport hold placards listing the various heavy hitters -- Home Depot, AT&T, Sara Lee. They greet the sponsors with a hearty "How Y'All Doin'?" then point them toward the corporate orgy downtown.

It's nothing you haven't seen at a Super Bowl or Final Four, but since this is the largest peacetime gathering of nations in world history, it's a little, uh, excessive.

Depressing?

Go drown your sorrows for $2.50 a pop at Bud World, then buy a $55 Budweiser sweat shirt to stay warm in Billy Payne's Cool-lanta.

The foreigners -- Europeans, in particular -- might think we're vulgar, but half of them want to live here, and the other half do.

William Amakye, a member of the Ghana men's 4 x 400 relay team, gave a detailed analysis of the O'Neal signing in the Reebok Ring.

Why not?

He has lived in L.A. since 1980.

"There'll be a lot of pressure on him," said Amakye, who attended Southeastern Louisiana, and is competing in his third Olympics. "He's got to deliver the goods."

African runners, Yugoslavian basketball players, Cuban defectors -- they're coming to America.

"The whole world, it's everybody's dream," Amakye said.

Little do they know, this is hardly a perfect society, not when poverty exists only a few blocks from the Olympic Stadium, not when racial tension and economic inequity remain major problems, not when Budweiser thinks nothing of using images from the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany as part of an Olympics ad.

But the world keeps getting smaller.

And the role of the corporations cannot be ignored.

Reebok outfits seven different national teams, including those old Eastern bloc fashion rivals, Poland and Russia. It also supplies 44 smaller countries under its emerging markets program, charging them below cost for merchandise.

"That way, because they had to spend some money on it, you know they're going to wear it," Reebok spokesman Dave Fogelson said, as if the future of the republic were at stake.

Whatever, athletes from Colombia, Ghana, Tonga and Kenya mingled happily in the air-conditioned Reebok Ring yesterday afternoon, with the Brazilians expected at 6 p.m.

Shaq's entourage, of course, is bigger than the delegations of many of these countries. Tonga, an island nation in the South Pacific, sent all of five athletes.

One of them, super heavyweight boxer Paea Takaunowe Wolfgramm, knew all about O'Neal's contract.

"I'm speechless," he said.

Swifter, higher, stronger, wealthier.

@4 Let freedom -- and those cash registers -- ring.

Sports cents

Highest salary packages by total guaranteed value, not including possible performance bonuses. List does not make distinction for money deferred without interest:

Baseball

Barry Bonds 6 yrs., $43.75 mil.

Basketball

Shaquille O'Neal 7 yrs., $120 mil.

Football

Troy Aikman 8 yrs., $50 mil.

Hockey

Mario Lemieux 7 yrs., $42 mil.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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