USA Basketball puts together its Dream Teams thusly: Pick first, answer no questions later.
In that spirit, John Stockton asked none.
He didn’t need to know the rationale behind the decision to recycle him, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson from the original Dream Team to play on DT III next year in Atlanta. If he cared to, he - like the rest of us - could draw his own conclusions as to why Derrick Coleman and other young scoundrels of the NBA haven’t been invited to the Olympic party, in much the way Isiah Thomas was ignored in 1992.
“I thought they’d go with a completely fresh group,” said Stockton. “But when they didn’t, I didn’t worry about it.”
Or say no.
John Stockton has his gold medal, his home movies from Barcelona and the memories from being a part of the team we assembled to be the Judge Dredd of international basketball. He also has the X-rays from the only serious injury of his career.
Yet when the Utah Jazz guard was asked back, for the first time in his basketball life it never occurred to him to pass.
“I don’t know how you turn it down,” he said from his summer home on Priest Lake. “I feel privileged and honored to be asked.
“It’s something you hope for, for so much of your life as a kid, that you don’t really have the right to say no when you have the opportunity. Well, obviously you have the right. But to me, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘No, I don’t really feel like it,’ if that’s what you’ve wanted.”
Which is what USA Basketball a wholly owned subsidiary of the NBA counts on.
It also counts on its Dream Teams winning - and making a statement in the process. The statement Dream II made in winning the world championships last year - which, roughly translated, was “Yo mama” - is why only Reggie Miller and Shaquille O’Neal survived the turnover, and probably why USA Basketball figured some Dream I alums were needed.
Why these four is anybody’s guess, though the case for Stockton is uniquely compelling.
He did, after all, become the NBA’s all-time assists leader this past season. It’s reasonable to want to reward that accomplishment, especially since the player is still very much in his prime.
It’s also reasonable to want to give Stockton a crack at the Olympic experience injury free.
When he collided with Michael Jordan and suffered a fractured tibia in the first game of the Tournament of the Americas in 1992, Stockton became the closest thing to a tragic figure Dream I would produce. A hurry-up recovery still allowed him just spot playing time in four games in Barcelona - though whether that affected the thinking-out-loud in the back rooms at USA Basketball is unknown.
It certainly didn’t impact Stockton’s decision.
“I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove then or anything to prove now,” he said, “other than wanting to win the gold medal.
“Hopefully, I can be healthy and play a little more and enjoy it more - but having been injured the first time had no bearing on it.”
He’ll be the first to acknowledge it had no bearing on the competition.
Dream I won its eight Olympic appointments by an average of 44 points. The metaphor invoked most often by critics back home was killing ants with an Uzi, yet it was a command performance - the world voted in the NBA pros.
Stockton insisted that “it’s had a great impact” on the global game.
“Finally, a Toni Kukoc - a legend in Yugoslavia - comes over to play in the NBA, for instance,” he said. “The interest in Europe and Japan and other countries has skyrocketed and that can be nothing but good.
“The day will come when it’ll be nip-and-tuck who wins it with pros playing, just as it was for the college guys. At one time, we used to crush people with our college guys. Then foreign players started coming over here to go to college and closed the gap until we lost a couple. Eventually, that’ll happen here - or could happen. I won’t say ‘will.’
“Hopefully, we’ll keep getting better, too.”
One thing which can only get bigger is the marketing of this Dream - what with the Games being on our shores this time, and the likes of O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and Glenn Robinson aboard to appeal to the 24-and-under demographic.
Hype aside - and that’s where he prefers it - Stockton sees an upside to playing at home.
“We won’t have to qualify like we did in ‘92,” he said, “though the money part of it will probably make us playing as many (exhibition) games for TV anyway. But without the qualifying and the preparation time overseas, basically you’ve cut the time commitment in half.”
Stockton doesn’t have much invested in the Dream Team debate right now. He received his invitation a month ago; the Games are a year away.
More immediate is the next NBA season if there is one - and the lingering hangover of Utah’s first-round loss to two-time champion Houston in last spring’s playoffs.
It’s “easily” Stockton’s biggest basketball disappointment.
“Losers say it every year, but I thought we had the best team - and I mean throughout,” he said. “To not get it done was frustrating. Not frustrating even, just hard to take.
“To see them go on and win it, people thought that would make it better, but if anything it was worse. I hoped they’d continue playing as well as they did against us - just for the sake of people knowing - but it just affirmed what I felt. We had them closed out in the final game (of the series) and didn’t do it. There’s no guarantee we would have won it all, but it didn’t make me feel better.”
Dream III is no consolation prize. The context is vastly different, comparisons irrelevant.
Indeed, Stockton won’t even indulge comparisons between Dream III and the original which had “three legends (Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson) - and maybe more.
“We had such a good team that time - so much better than the other teams - that the accomplishment of winning wasn’t as great as the accomplishment of being selected.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.
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