Olympic Games: Basketball: A dream turns into sweet reality: Ken Jones watches while Michael Jordan and a cast of giants awake from a slumber and show their stature

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The Independent Online
Exhausted by gruelling preparation in the casinos of Monte Carlo and on a golf course in Barcelona, the United States were in trouble after being on court for only three and a half minutes in the Olympic basketball championship.

With the scoreboard showing 7-7, they were being held by Angola. The basket was not bulging. The coach looked anxious. Michael Jordan, that defier of gravity, exchanged shrugs with Magic Johnson. Charles Barkley testily protested to the officials.

By the end of the first period nothing much had improved. The millionaires were only 64-16 up on the paupers whose coach, Victorino Cunha, had twice called for time out to preach a passionate sermon. Loosely translated it was that the 'dream team' are not quite perfect. 'We can still keep them to a 40- points difference,' he insisted.

This is a neat way of looking at things when you are opposed by the most powerful sports team that has ever been assembled. 'Physically and intellectually, it is probably the most intriguing group ever put together,' said Chuck Daley, the American coach. 'They are very bright.'

Bright enough to realise that people sense farce in the team's Olympic assembly, luxurious quarters and the treatment to which they have long since become accustomed. Asked why they appeared to be ignoring the Olympic spirit by not sharing a village with the other competitors, John Stockton of the Utah Jazz, said: 'We aren't here to make friends. We are here to beat them. Back in Utah we have a saying, 'The Indians did not dine with Custer'.'

Custer was a shorter price against Sitting Bull than Angola were against USA. Cunha's players, the African champions - dollars 200 ( pounds 115) a month and meal allowances - had no chance at all. 'In Angola we are short of everything,' he said, 'even light. Sometimes we have to practise in the dark.'

At the Badalona Sports Palace in urban Barcelona it was the shadows cast by freakishly tall, powerful men in the US colours. Most of Angola's best moves ended up in a forest of thick arms. Fast breaks were foiled by even faster recoveries, and immediately punished by brilliant counter-attacks.

Angola tried but the impression was that they would have been happier lining up for autographs. Could the 'dream team' achieve an Olympic record, would they at least take their winning margin beyond 100 points?

On this basis, pulling wings off flies qualifies as an Olympic sport. The Boy Scouts would have given Liverpool more of a game.

The game USA were playing was one Angola had never come across before. 'On average, the US players are 10 centimetres taller,' Cunha added. 'They are not only taller, but heavier. Our only object was to play like men, and avoid being disgraced.'

By putting the entire salaries of the 'dream team' together you could give millions of starving Angolans a square meal. You could put fat on withered children. You could make it easier to bear pain. You could dramatically alter a bleak way of life.

You may think this is nothing to do with sport, but currently nothing does more to make a nonsense of the Olympics than the presence of performers who do not have to worry where the next million dollars is coming from.

Twenty years ago USA won and lost the basketball gold medal when the Soviet Union were controversially allowed a few seconds of overtime. Four years ago in Seoul, a team selected from the best college players was defeated by the Soviet Union in the semi-finals.

The USA were not about to let it happen again. Thus the 'dream team', unplayable, unbeatable, out on their own.

If, as Daley suggests, there will be harder games ahead, it will only be if a decent handicapper decides that the USA should turn out in blindfolds.

By full-time they had almost casually shown off their entire repertoire. Turn- around jump shots, intricate sleight of hand, dazzling dribbles. Once, Barkley was going up while four Angolans, clinging to his massive frame, were coming down. The Harlem Globetrotters did it better, but with them it was an act. This was supposed to be for real. The team supporters, and there are plenty here, believe that it is. They raised their cheers and banners, and gave their heroes a great ovation. Johnson said: 'Coming together with these players is a tremendous experience. We may never know what this team is capable of, but it is important that we put on a show.'

In truth it is all as meaningless as the final score, 116-48. Only Lithuania, seeded to meet the United States in the final, can hope to make a game of it against this bunch. The gold medals could be handed out now.

(Photograph omitted)

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