One after another the men's and women's teams from Victims International were dragged kicking and screaming into the Olympic venue for the alleged competition in basketball. This was otherwise known as the Official Ennui of the '84 Games. Just as summarily they were carried back out under heavy sedation. For what these poor unsuspecting wretches found there amid the din and dimness of the Fabulous Borum was hardly the same game they'd been training for in Beijing and Sydney and Montevideo and all those other hotbeds of roundball. The home sides were so much more skillfully prepared, so much smarter, quicker, stronger, better, that they didn't even need the oppressive U!S!A! U!S!A! crowds or the refs who seemed as intimidated by the Yankees' reputation as the opposition was outclassed by flesh-'n'-blood defense.
Olympic basketball—a "demonstration" sport here if there ever was one—might have been laughable if it hadn't been so monotonous. Compared to this, U.S.-Grenada was a two-pointer. Label it what it truly was. Synchronized Overkill, and keep it out of here next time unless the Soviets show up. Or the Celtics.
Moreover, the exhaustively disciplined troops of men's coach Bob Knight and women's coach Pat Head Summit were so nearly perfect in their execution, it called to mind the feeling of a critic who once wrote of actress Rachel Ward that she was so exquisitely beautiful "it made you mad." Why this reaction in Los Angeles? Possibly because of what we had been led to expect. Knight and Summit long ago joined with the hypologists who warned us of impending Olympic doom. (Footnote: At least these Games buried forever the canard that Al McGuire knows something about basketball. Ol' Aircraft Carrier had been absurdly predicting the American men's defeat for at least two years. Sea urchins and baboons to you, Al.)
Summit, for example, said "we might have to platoon." Following this hilarious pronouncement came the women's opening 83-55 nail-biter over Yugoslavia. The Summiteers won their remaining five games by an average of 32.6 points. Whew! For his part, Knight had touted the Italians and pointed out that the Yugoslavs were defending Olympic champions and had beaten the Soviets in an exhibition game. Wow! Abandoning that smoke screen upon reaching the gold medal game against none other than powerful Spain—and the rematch everyone had been awaiting for so long, or at least since six days earlier when the U.S. squeaked out a 101-68 thriller—Knight had the gall to say the Americans had come through "the toughest draw." The draw without Italy or Yugoslavia. Yo, Bob. Draw this. Knight neglected to mention that the Soviets had whipped Spain by 27 points in the Games' European qualifying tournament in May. Now wait just an Olympic moment....
August 19, 1984
But first a word from our losers. Italian coach Sandro Gamba said his stars, Dino Meneghin and Antonello Riva, would be "no question, outstanding in the NBA." Question: The Natural Baloney Alliance? Italy lost to Yugoslavia 69-65 when the refs heaved Meneghin from the game after he shoved a Yugoslav player, and to Canada when he fouled out and Riva scored but eight points. Arrivederci. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia blew a 10-point first-half lead and was upset by Spain 74-61 when the driving Drazens drifted into dreamland. Veteran Drazen Dalipagic missed 13 of 21 shots, and rookie Drazen Petrovic, the erstwhile Notre Dame recruit who Gamba had said would "become mentally unbalanced" in tough games (sounds like a born Golden Domer), got just two baskets in the second half before fouling out.
As if it mattered who played against the United States of Basketball, anyway. In the round robin the Americans' victory margin was 39.2 points, and they held the rest of the world to 38.7% shooting. Against Uruguay the U.S. made 15 shots in a row. "Maybe we have chance playing seven against five," said the 'Guays' coach, Ramon Etchamendi, no relation to Sergio Mendes. Against France, America scored 220 points, or was it just 120? "You are like vultures on a carcass," French coach Jean Luent reprimanded the press. Well, there was a stench. Luent had suspended three of his better players from this game, if something that ended 120-62 can be called that, for having been caught drinking wine after curfew. Which left the obvious inquiry: Is it red or white with carcass? In their prelim meeting the U.S. forged a 44-16 rebound margin over Spain, a team that nevertheless was just three points behind early in the second half. The home forces ran away to win by 33—without Michael Jordan, who scored 18 points in the first half but sat out the rally with a twisted ankle.
Christian Welp of West Germany by way of the University of Washington echoed much of the opposition's attitude toward Knight's wrecking crew. "We knew we were going to lose. We just didn't want to get beat by 50 or 60," he said. So the terribly tall Teutons held the ball, packed in their zone, put the crowd to sleep and frustrated the Americans into fits of errors, losing by only 78-67. An angry Knight refused to bring any of his players to the postgame press conference. "We're trying to understand why...this lack of concentration," he groused. Move over, Rick Carey.
In truth, tender was this Knight relative to his previous international episodes. Oh, he pursued his ritualistic ranting at officialdom—"You don't know how to——count!" he screamed at one timekeeper—and once he got into a tiff with assistant coach George Raveling over just who was supposed to ream the refs. But mostly Knight waited for his guys to achieve their 30-point leads and then shuffled off to the locker room, sometimes carrying the ball bag. It was difficult to place this Knight in the same Top-Siders as the man Wayman Tisdale was thinking of when he said, "When I get back to Oklahoma, I'm going to hug every mean person I used to think was mean." Of course, Tisdale had been privy to the U.S. team's practices.
All the same, lacking the Soviets while desperately searching for historical significance or absolute perfection, or both, Knight seemed a forlorn figure, "Don Quixote without his windmill," in one Los Angeles Times story. But as Retton found Szabo, as Thompson found Hingsen, Knight found Marie Holgado, a pretty Parisian émigrée who served as the LAOOC interpreter in the interview room. Their fling, if one can call it that, started after a U.S. Olympic Committee official tried to get the required postgame press conference translations into French (the other official language of the Olympics) dispensed with. "Mais non," the LAOOC said.
Knight then seemed to be trying to embarrass Holgado by sprinkling his answers to questions with his favorite three-letter word describing the human posterior. The first time he used it, she blushed and didn't bother to translate. Three days later he tried the Spanish term for the same thing, culo, on her. "You mean ass?" she snapped back. "The French word is derri√®re." It was love at first smite. "I want to take you home," said Knight. "Nice man, big mouth," said Holgado, who in real life does voiceovers on Smurfs cartoons, and so is accustomed to blue language. "I was upset at first," she said. "I'm not used to being treated like that. But I think Knight respected me when he found out I wouldn't take any of his s——." Not to mention, would speak his lingo.
From then on the two exchanged quips and gifts like Mr. and Mrs. Hart—flowers, candy, a dictionary, clacking plastic teeth and, on gold medal night, champagne and a stuffed puppy. The writers sat back on their, uh, duffs and ate it up, some humming the theme from the French film A Man and A Woman whenever the two shared the podium.
If Knight, as is his wont, overshadowed the play and all his players, including the spectacular Jordan, he couldn't diminish the vibrant glow of the one outstanding individual basketball star of these Olympics, Cheryl Miller. Though the 6'3" Miller is from just across the freeways in Riverside and attends Southern Cal, she approaches the game from an entirely different place: planet show biz. To put it mildly, this chick can dance. She's cast in the image of Michael all right, but more Jackson than Jordan, and she alone lit up the Forum on those rare occasions when the spectators put aside their Old Glories to watch the action.
The American women could boast of Janice Lawrence's inside work—Lawrence was rumored to be carrying on a Village romance with one of Knight's guys whose identity will go unrevealed here. Also, there was Lynette Woodard's defense and selflessness and Kim Mulkey's sassy braids and breakaways. But Miller led her team in points per game (16.5), total rebounds (42), free throws (25), assists (25), steals (19) and shimmies. By the time the U.S. reached the final—another rematch, against South Korea—she had commanded the court as no other woman ever had, and all that remained was to guess who of the enemy's triple-names might stop her: Park Chan-Sook, Lee Mi-Ja or Kim Hwa-Soon—as in hwa soon will this 85-55 embarrassment end? Miller had 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 23 minutes, a performance that nearly transcended the event and placed her in the Lewis-Louganis league of domination in her sport.
Obviously, the American men had their division dominated even before it started; one shudders to envision the carnage had Knight bothered to fire the majority of his weapons. Jordan (17.1 ppg) was unleashed for only brief spasms; Patrick Ewing was subdued throughout, possibly because of his excess of pine time; Chris Mullin and Alvin Robertson were never allowed enough minutes to go on their characteristic shooting and stealing streaks; and Tisdale, who'll score, oh, maybe 12 zillion points once he gets to the pros, became a robot pick-and-screener. We're talking future immortals here, but to the boss they were mere spokes in a wheel. Knight did single out as the "most cognizant" Olympian, the wondrously steady Sam Perkins.
After the U.S. beat Canada 167-127 in two games, Canada's coach Jack Donohue was asked for a scenario in which the Americans could lose the gold. "Terrorist attack," he said.
That is precisely what Knight had contrived for the entire Games. Before Friday's final, Spain's coach, Antonio Diaz-Miguel, who spends a week every winter studying under the master at Indiana, asked "my good friend, Bob, if he want my whole team in trade for Pat Ewing and Michael Jordan. He no want."
Maybe that would have made it a game. As it was, the Americans rolled to a 52-29 halftime lead and then to 77-44 with 11 minutes to go. Then Juan Antonio (Syllables) San Epifanio, the best foreign player in the field, fouled out with only two baskets. Even as the champs romped home 96-65, Knight verbally ripped into his pet flunkies, Leon Wood and Tisdale. "Fussin' at us right to the end," Tisdale said.
But when it was over the players, all of them, Wood and Tisdale too, draped the net around Knight's neck and carried him off on their shoulders. And as he was swept through the singing, flag-waving masses. Knight looked up and waved and for just an instant his eyes brimmed with tears. Overkill or not, Soviets or no, boredom be damned—he had won the Olympics the only way he knew how. It sure looked worth the effort now.