It was Koufax, Ruth, Ali and Brown, all in one WHAT A DREAM! BARCELONA 92


BARCELONA, Spain -- I can see the other side. The games were lopsided. The Dreamers stayed in $900-a-night hotel rooms and needed police-helicopter escorts. Is this the Olympics?

And, yes, it seemed the players grew most emotional not when they were defending an opponent, but when they were defending a shoe contract.

I get it. I understand.

And I don't care.

I love the Dream Team.

I love the idea of it. I love the feel of it. I love, as Chuck Daly said, the majesty of it.

This was the ultimate for anyone who's ever had a basketball jones.

I saw the Dream Team, and I thought of Sandy Koufax pitching to Babe Ruth. I thought of Joe Montana handing off to Jimmy Brown. McEnroe playing Budge. Ali fighting Louis.

Maybe the Dreamers are anti-Olympics, although I'm not sure they are. But it doesn't matter. It's Magic and Bird and Jordan on one team. I wanted to see it. Now, I can't imagine having missed this.

Will there ever be a better team? Let's ask Earvin Johnson.

"You guys won't be around to see it, and neither will we," he said. "If there is, we'd love to play 'em."

If there is, I'd love to see it.

I know the arguments against the Dreamers. I can appreciate the concept that the Olympics should be the ultimate moment in an athlete's career. Does Boris Becker need a gold medal? Would he trade it for a Wimbledon trophy?

The Dreamers train in Monaco and fight about clothing contracts. They don't stay in the Olympic Village, and some would have it that this means they are somehow removed from something called the Olympic spirit. I don't know exactly what that spirit is. But I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with housing.

It probably has nothing to do with shoe contracts, either. Yes, there was some arrogance at work here. Michael "Nike Owns My Soul" Jordan got his teammates to unzip their sweat suits on the medal platform so the jacket collar would cover the Reebok patch. Jordan, Barkley and Johnson wore American flags over the patch. Dumb? You bet. A travesty? Maybe.

Jordan said it was a matter of principle. Then he said: "When you hire 12 Clint Eastwoods to come in and do a job, don't ask them what bullets they're putting in their gun."

But there were other feelings at work. Let me quote Johnson again: "It was the most awesome feeling I've ever had after winning anything, especially when the national anthem was being played. The goose bumps just came all over my body."

They cared. They loved it. If they're rock stars, as some would have it, they're also the best basketball players in the world. Why shouldn't they be here?

For me, it matters less what the Olympics mean than what these guys mean. Did you see them? Did you see Bird and Magic together for a final time? (For the record, Bird seems to be leaning toward retirement; Magic toward a comeback.) And, if you care about basketball, meaning you must love these two men, did you care how they got together? All that matters is that they did.

We see the old Bird and watch him make the passes that made him magical. He doesn't care how many points he gets. No one here does. But if you watched the championship game against Croatia, you saw how Magic wanted desperately to get the ball to Bird. Jordan, who insists on leading the NBA in scoring, is averaging under 15. Only Charles Barkley is averaging as many as 18, and that's because no one in the rest of the world has any idea of how to stop him, other than extraditing him back to the States. Did you see him?

Charles is the clown prince and power forward of the '90s. And yet, after the game, he said he wanted to send his gold medal to his high school in Leeds, Ala., "to show a small, fat kid could make good."

OK, the games weren't always good. We didn't come for the games. We came for the music. We came for the moments. We came for Malone to Pippen to Jordan. We came for Magic no-looking to Bird to Barkley for a hanging jam. We came for a Bird three. We came for a Magic baby hook.

The moments were what mattered. Of course, the Dreamers won. They won easily -- the last one, a 117-85 win over Croatia. More than easily, they won beautifully. They won with relentless beauty, and some said it was boring. But I never did. Of course, I can sit in front of the Mona Lisa for a month.

Will it ever be this way again? Maybe not. You won't have someone like Magic facing down a deadly disease. Maybe you won't have someone like Bird, fighting the pain in his back. And there's Jordan. He probably won't be back.

"You will probably see other teams of professionals," coach Chuck Daly said. "But I don't think you'll see a team quite like this. This team has a mystique that has been built over 15 years. Magic and Bird and Jordan. This was a majestic team."

The pros will be back in '96 -- the best of that group. But right now, it doesn't matter what's to come. It's what we had. It was good. Some say it was too much. I don't know -- I just know I loved it.

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