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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS / The Countdown: 19 Days To The
Games | MIKE DOWNEY

Dream Team Might Need Diplomatic Immunity

June 30, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

We have added another real charmer to our Olympic basketball team, in naming nasty little Seattle guard Gary Payton to replace Glenn "Big Greedy Dog" Robinson on the roster of "Dream Team III."

This is the same Gary Payton you might recall from his collegiate days at Oregon State, the punk who threw a chewed piece of gum at an Oregon cheerleader and drop-kicked a ball the length of the court at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. He was a cocky, mouthy kid whose role model was his father, whose personalized license plate read: "MR. MEAN."

Our new star-spangled band will assemble this week in Chicago to begin training, then has exhibition games scheduled in places such as Auburn Hills, Mich.; Phoenix and Indianapolis. By the time they get to Atlanta for the opening ceremony July 19, I suspect one of our red-blooded Americans will have already head-butted a Russian or blind-sided a referee.

We have a strange habit of not caring what kind of character our hand-picked national basketball team possesses, as long as it can run, pass and shoot.

Once again, for example, our dream of a team includes that bad-act Charles Barkley, whose "Sir Charles" sobriquet remains one of basketball's most objectionable misnomers, he being the same prince of a fellow who spat on a child, punched out fans in bars, elbowed an opponent from Angola and makes such delightful jokes as: "I hate white people." (A joke that would have gotten a John Stockton or a Chris Mullin banned, had the shoe been on the other foot.)

One of the reasons we put Barkley on our U.S. basketball teams is that it's the only way this guy's team ever gets to win anything. Dream Team selectors feel sorry for him. Barkley's college teams never won a championship, his pro teams never won a championship and he is about to abandon his current teammates to go lose with somebody else.

The only difference between Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman is that Dennis is a winner. Rodman is the one who ought to be on our "Dream Team," not Barkley.

Because attitude is clearly not a factor in selecting a Dream Team player, this team could have used Rodman's rebounding more than Barkley, whose chronic back ailment will probably flare up again any day now. Of all the collegians they could have chosen last time, the coaches took Christian Laettner, another A-plus player with a D-minus personality.

Just before the last Olympics, Barkley said of our foreign opponents, "Why don't they just take their . . . whipping like men and go home?"

It was Chuck Daly, the coach of our original Dream Team, who recalled how Barkley sat on the team bus wishing the games could be doubleheaders and wrapped up in one week instead of two, so he could go home. Of charming Sir Charles, Daly said: "The guy is fun. As long as you don't have to deal with him every day, he's great. He's an MVP candidate, but he also could probably start the Third World War."

Yes, that's what we want from an Olympian.

Maybe at the U.S.-Russia exhibition game July 11, Barkley can call Boris Yeltsin a name and make Chernobyl jokes to the opponents while they take their whipping.

We already amputated some of the sorer thumbs of "Dream Team II," notably Larry Johnson and Shawn Kemp, two of the players who did more trash-talking than the rest during a tournament in mid-Olympiad. Our current roster includes such upstanding individuals as Grant Hill, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Penny Hardaway, who refreshingly said in a recent interview: "When the day comes that I take the floor for our Olympic team, I'll be the proudest basketball player in the world."

Part of the thrill is getting to experience the Olympics for the first time, something Hardaway, Hill, Payton, Mitch Richmond, Reggie Miller and Shaquille O'Neal will do. We also get to witness the official coming-out party of Hakeem Olajuwon, U.S. citizen.

Payton was added to the team (over Kemp and others) because the coaches felt we needed a full-court defender, Stockton and Hardaway being better at half-court defense and Pippen being worn out and sore.

I only hope that in going for international success, we have no international incident. You can't pay a fine at the Olympic Games if you embarrass your whole country and make a fool out of yourself.

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