Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Conversation With Jordan

OLYMPICS; Let the Trashing Game Begin

Michael Jordan, he thought, had gotten the benefit of too many calls.
"Just like Chicago Stadium," Johnson whined, walking about the court as play was stopped for a free throw. "Like they picked up Chicago Stadium and moved it to Monte Carlo."
Jordan, never one to miss an opportunity to talk trash no matter what the competition might be, parried with a subtle, yet piercing, tweak.
"It is," he said, "the 90's."
There can be no disputing that it is Michael Jordan's era, and it was Jordan's team -- Jordan, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone -- that won today's United States Olympic team's game-conditions scrimmage, 40-36. Steamy, Urban Playground
In this land of princes, high rollers and Mercedes Benz taxis, the Dream Team has created for itself a steamy, highly charged urban playground. The question is whether it will experience anything remotely close to that level of stimulus in Barcelona beginning Sunday, when the United States begins the Olympic tournament, against Angola.
Jordan said that he thought most of the players were hoping for a challenge, just to have the best brought out in them. The Catch-22 of such a wish, according to Coach Chuck Daly, is that given its superior personnel, the United States would have to set itself up for a close game.
"I've been saying all along that only we can beat ourselves," he said, adding that he is not about to let that happen.
Of course, that couldn't be prevented today. Johnson's squad -- himself, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, David Robinson and Christian Laettner -- jumped to a 14-2 lead, but at that point committed a grievous strategical error.
Johnson told Jordan that he had better "get into his show" or the outcome of the scrimmage would soon no longer be in doubt. Living for the Challenge
"I don't know why I said it," said Johnson. Yes, he did. Players at this level live for such challenges, and, as Jordan immediately demonstrated, welcome them, too.
"Michael just kind of took it over for the next couple of minutes," said Johnson. A few dunks and jump shots later, the score was close and a riotous battle ensued, with no player or official immune to the baiting and the taunting. According to Johnson, there were titillating subplots to this theater, including Barkley mano-a-mano with Malone, Ewing with Robinson and so on.
"It was like, Charles went down and dunked on Malone, and they said, 'You can't let him do that to you,' and they gave the ball right to Malone, and he went down and, boom, turnaround jumper, and then Michael came down on me for a 3-pointer, and then I went down and scored on him!" said Johnson, all in one breath.
As for the notion that Johnson, Jordan and the rest were playing to the news media, who were allowed into the gym for the last few minutes, it was quite the contrary. According to the sidelined John Stockton and Clyde Drexler, they said the trash had earlier been flying even more. Enjoying the Party
"Something you don't realize you enjoyed until it's over," said Barkley.
"Probably as much fun as the actual Olympics," said Johnson.
The primary explanation for today's fireworks was the displeasure Daly expressed after Tuesday night's 111-71 exhibition thrashing of France. Against an average European team that did not even qualify for the Olympics, the Americans committed the two no-no's that might allow one of the better European teams to challenge them in Barcelona. They started slowly, trailing by 16-13 seven minutes into the game, and defended poorly against the 3-point shots, surrendering 17 to their 7.
"The one thing we have been stressing is that we can't be sluggish at the start," said Lenny Wilkens, one of three assistant coaches. "If you fall behind against these teams, they'll work the clock and look to shoot the 3." Daly Delivers the Message
In Daly's suitcase is a film of the recent European Olympic qualifying game between Lithuania and Croatia, the best teams after the United States. Daly hasn't decided whether to show his players this game, but he has watched it enough to know that the good European players flock to the 3-point line like homing pigeons. If his players fall into their National Basketball Association habit of collapsing their defense into the paint, the Lithuanians and the Croatians are capable of making them pay.
Daly's address to his team before practice today delivered the message that the Riviera party was over and that it was time to pick up and guard. As usual, Johnson quickly absorbed the message and recruited Jordan by issuing the challenge.
Just one problem, said Johnson: "I'm telling myself, 'I got to stop him,' but in the back of my mind, I know that I can't."

Do What You Do      Hallelujah Hollaback      ...blackhercules21...

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