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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Dream Team Gets Scare--Off the Court

Basketball: Players evacuated after package found at hotel, then they defeat Brazil, 98-75, to reach semifinals.

July 31, 1996|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — At long last, the Dream Teamers got into the spirit of these Games. They were evacuated.

Asked to abandon their hotel while security personnel investigated a suspicious package, they milled around for 30 minutes on the crowded sidewalk--"like cattle at an auction," Karl Malone said--but regrouped Tuesday night and beat Brazil, 98-75.

The Americans thus advanced to the semifinals--big surprise, huh?--where they will face Australia.

The bomb scare turned out to be another of the false alarms that have become common, if unacknowledged, occurrences at this nervous festival. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Tuesday ran a story about bomb scares in New York City but made no mention of the one that closed its own MARTA subway system.

Tuesday morning, security personnel at the American basketball team's hotel, the Omni, which is across the street from Centennial Park, became suspicious of a Federal Express package and asked everyone to leave.

"I was eating," Malone said. "They told us, 'Scuse me, we're going to have to ask you guys to come outside.'

"I watched enough movies to know what that's about."

Malone, alone on the team, has already sent his wife and children home. Most of the players were downstairs, getting ready to autograph each other's memorabilia, when they were told. They then ran upstairs to rush their families out.

"It's tough," said Mitch Richmond, who has his wife and two infant children in the hotel, "but we can do it. Don't worry about clothes or nothing, just get out of there."

After that, everything calmed down. The game was another non-event, enlivened only by the challenge of shutting down Oscar Schmidt, Brazil's 38-year-old ultra-gunner, the leading scorer in Olympic history.

The Americans put Scottie Pippen, one of the NBA's top defenders, on Oscar, who proceeded to put on a show, shooting almost every time he touched the ball, forcing up shots from all angles, distances and postures.

By halftime, Pippen had tried getting rough with Schmidt. Pippen was spelled by Grant Hill, another tough defender, and Oscar had 19 points.

By then, the U.S. was ahead by 16 points and once again, boredom became the great problem. This time, boredom won. Oscar finished with 26 and the U.S. with a mere 23-point victory.

"I like it that they played the hard defense against me," Schmidt said later. "It is the greatest respect they can show to a player. I am very proud of this. . . .

"Today we lost by 20-something so I am very happy about this. All these idols together are too much for anyone."

Lenny Wilkens, the U.S. coach, refused to discuss the evacuation--"I really don't want to talk about it, we're here for basketball"--but he lives in Atlanta and may be thinking of his town's image.

Everyone else talked about it, however. Everyone else has had it with this burg.

"That right there keeps you on pins and needles," Malone said. "Every time you hear a different sound, you're kind of looking. It's just one of those things. I'll be glad to get it over with.

"It's just crazy. People just don't like to see people have a good time, which is unfortunate. You don't want to wimp out and leave, but you want to be smart too.

"I know this is my last Olympics and I wanted to enjoy being an Olympic athlete. I wanted to go to some events. Then all of a sudden, when all that happened, now it's like I've turned into a hermit and I don't care to go anywhere but my hotel room.

"You say to yourself, you're an American, this don't happen here and it's not supposed to happen here but it does. So instead of going out and taking a chance, I'd rather just stay in the confines of my room and when it's over with, I'm gone."

Said Richmond, "It's a great experience, coming to the Olympics and being here and being part of something that's so exciting as this, but we're definitely counting the days down."

Charles Barkley said he would like to have played the three games Tuesday and split.

Penny Hardaway says it has been nice but weird.

"On my birthday, Shaquille [O'Neal] goes to the Lakers," Hardaway said. "Then you have the bomb, and the bomb scare this morning. So it's been kind of weird."

Some Olympics, it goes like that.

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