BARCELONA, Spain -- The Dream Team-Croatia gold-medal basketball game became one of the year's best international hustling events.
The parking lots outside the arena were full last night of ticket searchers and ticket scalpers.
Undercover policemen made arrests, and the "honest" scalpers were talking about the low morals of the "crooked" ones.
Tickets prices ranged from as high as $750 a pair three hours before the game to as low as $125 for one just minutes before tip-off.
Face value: $95 a ticket.
Highest offer heard: $1,000 a pair three days before the game.
Worst lie told: $1,000 plus your first-born child for a ticket.
"This is a hustler's paradise," said David Apathy, 40, a native of Los Angeles who is living in Hungary and was outside the arena looking for a ticket.
"But there is one universal language everyone understands. 'Hey mon, you got a ticket?' "
Greeks were selling to the French. The Hungarians were buying from the Spaniards. And the New Yorkers were hustling the Californians.
"Let me tell you something," said Mario Whitmire, a travel agent and professional scalper from Dallas. "The world's corporate monsters got all the tickets for this game and didn't use them. Somehow they filtered down to us, the scalpers, and we're selling them to the average guy who couldn't get his hands on one."
Whitmire says he was out scalping to cut down on traveling costs. He brought his wife and three kids to Barcelona.
He made no reservations.
"All the scalpers know each other," he said. "We're all at the big events. Look me up if you need tickets for the Super Bowl. I'll be staying at the Hyatt."
But the Super Bowl is low rent compared to this event.
"We have seen Magic, we have touched Magic, and he is magic," said Fernando Montero, 14, of Barcelona, who was outside the arena last night. "They're good. Everyone wants to see them because they are the best in the world. I love Michael Jordan, too."
John Grayson, of Michigan, said: "I went to the same high school as Magic Johnson. I'm living in England now for a short while, but I came here to watch Magic play one more time. It may be his last game."
Even young kids were outside trying to buy tickets.
Mark Ortego, 14, said he was from Carey, N.C. He also said he came to Barcelona with a group called Encounter for Christ.
He was a very good hustler.
"Fifty dollars max, that's all I've got," said Ortega. "This price has worked to get me into the gymnastics and swimming finals. I once got into a swimming event by giving the security guard an American pin."
When asked where his father was, Ortego replied: "On the other side of the stadium trying to hustle himself a ticket."
Bernard Nouvelett is a volunteer worker at the Olympic Games. He says he gets complimentary tickets, but no money to pay for housing. So, he sells his tickets.
The bottom line is a making and, perhaps, saving a dollar.
"They know the average person can't afford to pay $5,000 a year in advance for Olympic tickets," said Kenny Bria, 28, a student at San Diego State who bought a ticket for $125 last night, and then celebrated by buying a large glass of beer.
"The average person takes a chance, comes here with no tickets and hustles to get inside. Hey, I've watched Carl Lewis run and John Smith wrestle. It only cost me $25. I'm broke now, but I've already seen two of the world's best athletes. Now I'm going to see the world's best basketball team."
But it wasn't all fun, games and ticket sales outside.
Barcelona's police department had young undercover agents arresting scalpers and a number of counterfeit tickets were being sold.
"How do you like that?" said Whitmire, the professional. "They shouldn't be ripping people off."