OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Worlds apart: the two faces of modern Olympic man: Michael Jordan: Professional basketball player

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The Independent Online
THE Olympics are a vacation for Michael Jordan. They do not demand that he perform at a surreal level, which he often does while playing for the Chicago Bulls, nor that he lead his team with the sheer force of his personality. For surrounding him on the US basketball team in Barcelona will be an array of other superstars from America's professional ranks capable of doing both.

Jordan is relaxed, then, as he heads towards the Olympics, relieved of the burdens he bore in June while leading his Bulls to their second consecutive NBA title. At the recent Basketball Tournament of the Americas, where the US team went through the motions of qualifying for the Games (they won their six games by an average of 51.5 points), he played as much golf as basketball.

Jordan's outlook was hardly that of the typical athlete preparing for the Games. 'I'm just having a good time with the other guys, joking around with them, getting to know them socially. I'm just really taking the load off.'

This is the first Olympics to which the Americans have been able to send a full- strength professional team. Until the rules were changed by the international basketball authorities three years ago, the American team was usually made up of college players. Given the incentive of revenge for defeat by the Soviet Union in the Seoul semi-finals, all the best Americans agreed to go to Barcelona.

They do not expect to fail. 'We know,' Jordan said, 'that the expectations for us are to dominate. That's the purpose of having the best on this team, to go over there and kill the other guys. To remind everyone where the game was created.'

Jordan can be expected to display some of his stunning skills, notably his ability to hang in the air. They have made him his game's greatest player, have transformed him into something more than a mere star or celebrity. 'This Jordan,' Alexander Gomelsky, the former Soviet coach, said, 'this Jordan is not a man. This Jordan is a god.'

Jordan may or may not be the most talented sportsman at this Olympics. He almost certainly is the richest and is arguably the most conspicuous example of the movement away from the amateur ethos. He earns some dollars 3m a year from the Bulls, who are generally thought to be getting a bargain, and at least dollars 20m more annually from endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade, McDonald's among others. He cannot walk the streets without attracting a mob.

Jordan demurred when first asked about joining the Olympic team. He went to the 1984 Games, where he led his country to gold, and so he needed neither that experience nor the pressure. 'My concern at the time,' he said, 'was how much relaxation I could get. Would I be in a demanding situation?

'In '84 we practised two times a day, and if it was going to be like that, no way was I going to be here. But Chuck (Daly, the US coach) reassured me. 'Hey. Bring your golf clubs. You can play golf during the day and come out and play basketball in the evening. You won't have any problems.' That's what I've been doing. I've been abusing the golf course (in Portland, site of the qualifying tournament). I've been playing 36 holes, then coming out and playing basketball.'

Have you checked out the courses in Barcelona yet, someone asked him.

He smiled. 'Oh, yeah. A nice golf course,' he said. 'Right on the Mediterranean Sea. But I think there'll be a better focus in Barcelona. You may not see the laughter you're seeing here. Well, you may see it, but the competition will be a lot stronger.

And now he offered up a final, impish smile. 'I may just have to play 18 a day.'

(Photograph omitted)