This article appeared in Newsday on July 23, 1992.
By Jan Hubbard
Monte Carlo — Those who thought rich NBA players would approach the Olympics with a casual attitude should have been at the U.S. practice yesterday. An intrasquad scrimmage of the best players in the world was about as intense as Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The media was permitted in the arena for about the last 10 minutes of practice in the otherwise empty 3,500-seat arena. You could hear everything, and a lot was said.
Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson – on opposite teams – were engaged in some very serious trash talking. Johnson’s team took a 14-2 lead, but Jordan brought his team back for a 40-36 victory.
Jordan and Johnson were going at it non-stop. Magic was complaining about referees’ calls and said, “We must be in Chicago Stadium,” insinuating Jordan was getting home-court calls.
Jordan responded, “This is the ’90s,” reminding Magic that his reign of titles ended in the ’80s.
After Jordan’s team (Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird and Karl Malone) beat Johnson’s (Chris Mullin, David Robinson, Christian Laettner and Charles Barkley), Jordan strutted to the sideline where he grabbed a can of Gatorade, lifted it, smiled and delivered the familiar commercial line, “Sometimes I dream.”
“Once you put them in a competitive situation with a clock, the juices get flowing and they start to really perform,” said Olympic coach Chuck Daly. “It got very competitive today.”
Jordan and Johnson even continued mouthing off at each other for a couple of minutes after the practice. But by the time interviews were conducted, each was smiling.
Magic was laughing later. “It’s competitive,” he said. “I want to win everything. I was mad. But this was our best practice. This is where we want to be. This is probably as much fun as the actual Olympics. I’m not lying, this is some of the best basketball I’ve ever been involved in.”
Johnson said Daly drove the team hard in practice because he was unhappy with the way it played Tuesday in the 111-71 win over the French National team. The Americans seemed apathetic, suffering, perhaps, from jet lag, boredom and the late-hour diversions of Monte Carlo.
“I’m ready to get this over with,” Barkley said. “I’m ready to play some serious basketball. This socializing stuff has to go. You can only gamble so much, play so many exhibition games and practice against each other. Now it’s time to play some real games where you’re trying to achieve something.”
Still, the spectacle was impressive yesterday. It was the ultimate playground game. And, again, Jordan showed he was the ultimate player.
“We let him know about it when we were up 14-2 and that he better go into his show or it’s going to be over,” Johnson said. “I don’t know why I said that. All of a sudden, he said, ‘I’m going to bring us back.’ And he did it, single-handedly. We pushed him to his level, the highest that he can go. You never know. Some game, you might need him to go to that level. I didn’t like it at the time, but, at the same time, I did enjoy it.”
Hardly sounds like guys who don’t care. The U.S. is preparing for the Games by playing itself. That’s what you call world-class preparation.