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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | BILL PLASCHKE

Don't Pinch This Team, They're Still Dreaming

July 30, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

ATLANTA — It was 30 minutes after her team had knocked another one silly and Dawn Staley was still in full uniform, standing in a hallway jabbering, two giant bags of ice melting into her socks.

"C'mon, guys, give her a break," teammate Teresa Edwards said as she walked past, dressed for a leisurely evening at the Olympics.

Staley ignored her, kept talking. After years of bad gyms, boyfriend-only crowds, and basketball in the dark, who needed a break?

"This is our dream," she said, hopping on both tiny feet. "This is my dream."

There's that D-word again, as overused here as the Coke logo.

But pay attention to the U.S. women's basketball team as it begins medal-round play and you'll see that, for once, in a different sort of way, it fits.

Not as in Dream Team.

But as in dreamers' team.

The women are the only group here for whom a gold medal would not be an end, but a beginning.

It will mean little if they can't turn it into a successful professional women's league next year.

It will seem a waste if they can't convince young girls that there is a future in athletics for those who cannot afford a pool, a skating rink or parallel bars.

"Maybe soon, on career days, little girls will be saying they want to be a basketball player," center Lisa Leslie said. "That's what this is all about."

As opposed to the other U.S. basketball team.

Which is about nothing at all.

Even though both the U.S. men and women are unbeaten, and both should win the gold, only one is worth watching during the final games this week.

Hint: Their center wears lipstick, and is darn proud of it.

"I'd watch us," guard Staley said. "The Dream Team is just another bunch of guys. With us, we don't hold anything back. What you see is what you get."

The Dream Teamers often attend the women's games, as evidenced by the numerous shots of them sitting in the stands.

Few women have watched the men.

"I'm embarrassed to say that I have not watched them at all," center Rebecca Lobo said.

I'm embarrassed to say that millions of Americans have, while the women's team remains completely anonymous, thanks to NBC's decision to show only two of their games live.

Eight reasons why everybody has the wrong idea--one reason for each game each squad should win:

1. The women are a real team; the men are an exhibit.

The women have the same starting lineup each game, they run textbook plays, they throw no-look passes, and you can hear them shriek.

"You listen to us, you hear a little bit of everything," Staley said.

The dominant sound at men's games is that of flashbulbs.

2. The women play defense; the men snicker at it.

The women shout, "Help! Help!" when the opponent has the ball. Their sneakers squeak. They grab and lunge. The last time you had so much fun with something so basic, you were watching "Hoosiers."

The men guard only the three-point shooters, and only because that is the only guy they have heard of.

3. The women miss layups, turning routine plays into exciting, under-the-basket scrums you experienced in grammar school.

The men don't miss. Ever.

4. The women have a player with orange hair, Nikki McCray.

The men are so dull, their biggest ovation has been for an appearance by Dennis Rodman, and he's not even on the team.

5. The women cheer one another from the bench, hug one another coming off the floor, huddle during timeouts.

The men act as if they don't even know one another. The only consistent cheering occurs at the end of each game, accompanied by loud sighs.

"Well, they have only been together, what, a month?" Leslie said. "We've been together a year. We used to look like them."

6. The women still have a milestone to reach. Leslie, 6 feet 5, still wants to be the first female Olympian to dunk.

The men have done absolutely everything.

Said Leslie, "I hurt my hand on the rim dunking in practice, but I still want to do it."

Said U.S. guard Reggie Miller, "Sometimes it seems like we do the same thing over and over again."

7. The women are thrilled to be playing in public. After years of being paid to play in primitive overseas locales, they wave at security guards, dance for fans, and pose for fans with yellow disposable cameras.

The men complain because they can't get room service.

"You tell them they need to eat where the other athletes eat," Staley said. "It's fun."

8. The women are still dreaming it.

The men are hoping to get it over with.

"When the Olympic team lost in Seoul in 1988, everybody called for the pros," Miller said. "But now that we're here and beating everybody by 50, everybody says it's unfair.

"We just smile and say the right things to the media and go our way."

That's another difference. The women smile and say the right things and refuse to go away.

"We're glad you're here," Dawn Staley said.

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