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A Gold-Medal Vacation for the U.S. Team : Basketball: NBA stars unimpressed at being Tournament of the Americas champions after routing Venezuela.

July 06, 1992|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Ore. — Today the Americas, tomorrow the world.

Perhaps after that someone will find a way to inject some competition into the new world basketball order: Lithuanian citizenship for Michael Jordan? A team of its own for North Carolina?

In the meantime, the Dream Team soared on, closing out the Tournament of the Americas on Sunday with a farewell squashing of Venezuela, 127-80.

"I'm gonna wait for the real gold medals," Magic Johnson said when asked for his reaction.

"This (tournament compared to the Olympics) is like the CBA compared to the NBA."

Like the grateful Cubans, Canadians, Argentines, Panamanians and Puerto Ricans before them, the Venezuelans were simply happy for the opportunity to have their heads handed to them--only more so.

Venezuela started 1-2 and had to beat Mexico to reach the medal round. Along the way, the Venezuelans took a 47-point beating from Brazil and fought among themselves in the dressing room.

Their shocking Friday upset of Brazil won them their most fond wishes--a chance to meet Jordan and friends in person.

Until game time, the Venezuelans basked in the unexpected attention. Point guard Sam Shepard, the expatriate from Delaware State who had spent 17 years playing in Venezuela, told his story about the game in which play was interrupted when a fan threw a 10-foot boa constrictor on the floor.

"Let's not fool ourselves," said Coach Julio Toro before the game. "For ourselves, the silver is the gold.

"The U.S. is 200 light-years ahead of the rest of the world. You could take an all-star team of all the other teams in this tournament, give us a 30-point lead and the ball and we'd still lose."

The Americans, close to nodding off at mid-week, opened this game with purpose, taking a 15-0 lead in 4:36.

At that point, U.S. provocateur Charles Barkley yelled at the Venezuelans:

"Y'all ever gonna score?"

The Americans led by 41 points at halftime, their biggest halftime lead of the tournament, raising the possibility of a rout even worse than the 79-point bombing of Cuba in the opener. They stretched it 90-35 early in the second half but coasted in.

Afterward, Venezuelan players swarmed all over their NBA heroes, running back onto the floor with their cameras and asking them to pose with them for more pictures.

The Americans enjoyed themselves, too, none more than Johnson.

"Personally, it's done just about everything for me," he said. "Not just playing, getting back on the basketball court. Also hanging out with the guys. I went golfing with Michael. I can't golf, but I was like riding around with him and he didn't even tip me.

"Just hanging with the guys, being a part of it once again, playing with the world's greatest players. . . . It's just been fun all the way around. I've been calling my wife every day. I've been like a little kid. I tell her everything that happened in the day from the day I get up till the time I go to bed."

The U.S. players accepted their medals. Barkley had trouble pulling his over his head and was kidded again by teammates. After Barkley suffered his one-stitch cut in a game against Puerto Rico, NBA publicist Brian McIntyre had a bowling ball with a bandage on it put in front of his locker.

How much fun can one team stand?

"We had a great time," Larry Bird said to the crowd afterward.

"This is just a small step toward going to Barcelona, winning the gold medal and bringing it back where it's supposed to be."

A safer bet never existed.

Notes

Larry Bird played the last 2:04 after sitting out four games with his sore back. Actually, Magic Johnson threw him in, ripping off his leggings as Bird sat on the bench. "I had no plans to play," Bird said. "I was almost sleeping until the time Magic ripped my pants off." . . . With John Stockton out, Johnson was the only U.S. player to start all six games. Michael Jordan started five of the six. . . . Johnson on Jordan's low profile: "There probably will be a time for him to have to dominate--not that we're challenged, probably that he's challenged. He'll go, 'OK, let me show the world.' Just refresh your memory, so to speak." . . . The average margin of victory for the U.S. was 51.5 points. . . . Amid speculation he will return to the Lakers, Johnson says that's how he would figure it if he was a betting man. "Since I don't bet, I was just saying that," he added, laughing. Friends believe Johnson has made his decision but will wait to announce it. Johnson has begun talking again about playing a 60-game schedule, sitting out the second game of back-to-backs. Laker Coach Randy Pfund has said he would welcome Johnson under those conditions.

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