The second gold medal John Stockton will bring back to Spokane glitters just the same as the first.
But this time the silver medal seems a little brighter.
It belongs to Yugoslavia but also to the world, which inched a little closer to the United States in the matter of men’s basketball at the 1996 Olympic Games - though you might wonder how the 95-69 score that gave the U.S. the gold medal Saturday night gives the rest of the planet much hope.
“We had to work to win,” said Stockton, a member of the 1992 team which didn’t much have to, “and it feels good that we had to work.”
It had to feel a lot better in the second half, when the U.S. broke open a onepoint game with a 28-8 siege, than it did in the first. With San Antonio Spurs castoff Zarko Paspalj tossing in 16 points from a variety of angles, the Yugoslavs had the largest basketball crowd in Olympic history - 34,600 - mystified, and the Americans in a hole.
But the depth of talent on the U.S. bench made all the difference. As first Paspalj, who finished with 19 points, and then Vlade Divac, the new Charlotte Hornet, got into foul trouble, the second wave of Americans - David Robinson, Anfernee Hardaway and Stockton in particular - turned up the juice.
From the bench, Robinson had 28 points, Hardaway added 17 and Stockton - in his best Olympic performance - led all players with seven assists as the U.S. won its 11th gold in men’s basketball.
It meant more to some than others.
Mitch Richmond, who as a collegian played on the 1988 U.S. that had to settle for a bronze, kissed his medal after it was looped around his neck. For Robinson, Stockton, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone, it was a repeat performance - all having been on the original Dream Team in ‘92.
Malone, Stockton’s Utah Jazz teammate, even shaved his head for the occasion.
“This is my look from now on,” he said. “I came into Utah with a full head of hair and I’ll leave with none.”
Did he offer his razor to Stockton?
“I draw the line at that,” Stockton said.
Though he was able to play more in this Olympics than in ‘92, when recovery from a stress fracture limited his time, Stockton still maintained that “You can’t match the first one.
“That will be special no matter what lies ahead of us. This one is also special, because of different circumstances. Nobody laid down for us. You have to give these teams a lot of credit - Yugoslavia came in here feeling like they had a chance to win, and I respect that. But at this stage, it’s still too much.”
But it’s less than it was. The Dream Team’s average victory in 1992 was 44 points. This time it was down to 31, and there was a lot less awe and posing for Polaroids.
Dream Teamer Michael Jordan’s assessment was that the world needs 10 more years to start taking the U.S. down to the wire. Stockton won’t put a number on it.
“It’s not that far away,” he cautioned, “provided that whoever plays for the United States the next time doesn’t have a large opportunity to play together.”
The U.S. seemed frustrated early by the shooting of Paspalj, the caginess of Divac and the vagaries of international officiating. The Americans fell behind by as many as seven points, and trailed 34-29 with 5:37 left in the half.
But then Paspalj picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. The U.S. pulled even with some free throws and took the lead for good on a Hardaway 3-pointer 2:34 before halftime. And when the Yugos went 6 minutes with just a single field goal in the second half, the game was over.
And after picking up his fourth foul just 3 minutes into the second half, Divac got nailed with a fifth barely a minute later and was lost.
The rubber stamp was applied by Stockton, who leaped out of bounds to save a tipped ball in the Yugoslav end, then twisted and lofted a shot-put pass to Reggie Miller for a breakaway dunk that pushed the score to 75-58.
More highlights followed until the end, when Stockton dribbled away the final 27 seconds and wrapped his arms around the game ball.
“It feels great,” Stockton said. “I have a nice grin on my face and I intend to keep it there awhile.” , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo