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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | BASKETBALL

Italy Irritates Despite Another U.S. Basketball Blowout

September 20, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Here's what Vince Carter is up against in these Olympics.

He was booed during the introductions Tuesday, cheered when he grabbed an errant alley-oop pass off the backboard for a reflex dunk, then booed again after he sent Italy's Alessandro Abbio to the floor with a mild forearm shove.

The crowd of 8,368 at the Dome wanted to be entertained. But when the U.S. men's basketball is involved, let's face it, there are only a few entertainment options.

One is the threat of a close game. But buona fortuna with that. After leading by 10 at halftime, the U.S. beat Italy, 93-61, dispatching with ease a team that won the European championship and was coming off an upset of Lithuania.

Another option is almost as obvious: The crowd wants a reprise of Carter's performance in the NBA slam-dunk contest.

"It's high on the demand list for me, I know that," said Carter, who led all scorers with 13 points but seemed more interested in passing. "I'm just playing, and people have a dunk count."

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility is this: The fans would relish some incident--an elbow to an Angolan a la Charles Barkley or another Carter affront to Australia's Andrew Gaze.

The American players understand that, and they try to resist a confrontation.

A player from another country could set fire to an American's uniform, someone said, "And if you spit on it, they're going to call it on us," Gary Payton said with a laugh.

Italy's Abbio was an irritant to Payton and Carter most of the game with his leaning and pushing, then ended up on his backside after a shove from Carter late in the game.

"I don't know why they always pick on me, man," Carter said, feigning indignation, then adding his critique of the international game: "You know, there's a lot of flopping."

The Australian fans already hold Carter in disdain for standing over Gaze and glowering at him after a pre-Olympic tangle, and they look for any opportunity to boo him.

Let Carter make a spectacular play, though, and they're with him again, fickle as fate.

"That's how it goes," Carter said. "As far as me caring about the booing and whistles, I don't pay attention to that at all."

Payton was mildly amused.

"For them, entertainment is for him to dunk. So they want to see that, but if he plays any other way, if he growls and all this, they don't want to see that. He's trying to get somebody off of him who's fouling him, so he gets booed.

"We can't win with that, so we should just play basketball."

That, for the most part, is what they did, using a 14-0 run that started about five minutes into the second half to turn the game into a rout. Alonzo Mourning added 12 points, and Allan Houston had eight in his debut after sitting out the opening game because of a sore wrist.

Carlton Myers scored 11 to lead Italy. Andrea Meneghin, whose three-point shot beat Lithuania, went two for 16. "For me it was a normal game, but it was funny to say, 'You take Carter, or you take [Tim] Hardaway,' " Meneghin said.

Abbio? He led the Italians in getting under American skin.

"Just trying to be a bully, that's it," Payton said. "If he was in the NBA, he'd have fouled out in about five minutes. But he knows how he can play with these referees out here, he can do that little stuff and try to bait us to hit him.

"His job was to come out there and get us hyper. He was doing stuff, hitting us, then when we hit him back it would be a foul on us.

"If he came to the NBA, I think Tim, Jason [Kidd], myself, we'd have 30 on him every night because he can't guard nobody."

Is that what Payton, the noted trash-talker, said to the Italian? Not exactly.

"I told him he better quit it," Payton said. "You can't say nothing to him, because they think you're saying something bad to him anyway, even if you say something good.

"But you can't take our game from us. You're trying to tell us that because we came to the Olympics we should be quiet? That's not our game. We've been playing like this for 20-something years. That's like telling Vince Carter to stop dunking."

That's just basketball, Carter said.

"I think sportsmanship, or the lack of sportsmanship, is when it gets out of hand. When you don't shake hands after the game, or you're still taunting and talking, that's when I think it's out of hand. They're playing to win, and that's how we play."

The fans are paying in hopes they'll slip up.

"There are a lot of people who want to see somebody beat us," Payton said. "We've got to understand we're going to have that. That's what we have to deal with."

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