In truth, only two countries, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, had a chance of giving the Americans a game, but neither one figures to do so now that both may be passing from existence. At full strength, Yugoslavia—with Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and a full bench of solid role players—would have been formidable. The Yugoslavians are much more comfortable with international rules and one another than their American counterparts and are unintimidated by the wattage of multimillionaire superstars because, well, a few of them are multimillionaire superstars. But with Croatia under assault by Yugoslavian federal troops as a result of its declaration of independence, we'll probably see two Balkan teams in Barcelona.
Many of the Soviet Union's best players are from Lithuania, which expects to field its own Olympic team in '92. Led by Rimas Kurtinaitis, Valdemaras Khomichus and Golden State's Sarunas Marciulionis, three of the top outside players on the U.S.S.R.'s '88 Olympic gold medal-winning team, Lithuania promises to have plenty of shooting, speed and ball handling. Nonetheless, after 7-foot Arvidas Sabonis, the Lithuanians won't have frontcourt depth.
What's more, the U.S. players will be so focused on winning the gold medal to avoid humiliation ("If we lose, it would be the biggest upset in basketball history," says Barkley) that they will not allow themselves to be destroyed by petty jealousies. "We're going to Barcelona fully loaded," Jordan said last week.
Then, too, there is the lure of lucrative foreign endorsements and more worldwide fame. Jordan says the companies that are already paying him millions did not pressure him to play. "Magic said he'd give me $1 million to play, and so did Charles, so I figured that's $2 million right there," said Jordan jokingly. Perhaps only he and Magic truly understand the earning potential that a spectacular Olympic performance would guarantee.
Yes, but the saddest thing for all those who were not selected—and Isiah realizes this—is that they will not be missed.