As the final delirious seconds ticked off in Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on Sunday, Oscar (the Big O) Schmidt could stand the joy of it all no longer. The 6'8½" Brazilian forward crumpled to the floor, teary-eyed, and bellowed at the rafters. Led by Schmidt's 46-point long-distance marksmanship, Brazil had just gunned its way to the men's basketball gold medal on the final day of the 10th Pan American Games with an unbelievable 120-115 victory over the U.S., achieved after Schmidt's team had trailed by 20 points. In the stands a knot of hysterically happy Brazilian fans waved flags and rattled Hoosier maracas—colorfully adorned soup cans partly filled with Indiana corn.
The U.S. hadn't lost at basketball in these quadrennial games since 1971, and that streak seemed safe when the first half ended with the Americans leading 68-54. The 29-year-old Schmidt, who was once drafted by the NBA Nets and now makes a six-figure salary playing in Italy, had been held to 11 points in the first half by a U.S. defensive wall led by David Robinson and Danny Manning. But in the second half both Schmidt and his 6'7" gunnery mate, Marcel Souza, came out hitting bull's-eyes. Firing at will from everywhere, Schmidt poured in 35 points, including six three pointers, and Souza added 20 to finish with 31. "We have a saying," explained Souza, "that [the other Brazilian players] are the piano carriers and we are the piano players." The Brazilian Big O added with a good-humored shrug, "For us, any shot is a good shot anytime. We shot many balls that other times maybe wouldn't go in. We were much lucky."
The stunned Americans could offer no excuses. "They scored 39 points on three-point attempts," said U.S. head coach Denny Crum. "We scored six. That was the difference." Everyone acknowledged that it had been a rare and historic performance.
By contrast, the gold medal rematch in baseball between the U.S. and Cuba on Saturday was pretty much business as usual. On a gusty, threatening day, the Cubans arrived at Indianapolis's Bush Stadium under armed escort. They were determined to claim their fifth straight Pan Am Games title and, at the same time, to avenge a 6-4 loss to the U.S. the week before. The stands were packed, the atmosphere was tense and police officers were everywhere, hoping to keep the troubled Games calm for at least a few hours.
August 30, 1987
Rain delayed play for an hour in the first inning. Lightning shorted out the scoreboard. Once the game began again in earnest, both sides produced runs in clusters—with the Cubans belting four home runs. Then, with one out in the top of the eighth and the U.S. leading 9-8, a routine ground ball rolled between the legs of Georgia Tech second baseman Ty Griffin, the homer-hitting hero of the earlier American victory over Cuba. Suddenly, reliever Cris Carpenter of Georgia, who had been unscored upon in 18⅖ Pan Am innings, lost his concentration. He yielded a single, then a walk. Cuban centerfielder Victor Mesa, an eccentric type known to his countrymen as El Loco, blooped a two-run single to right that put Cuba ahead 10-9. Three more runs in the ninth made it 13-9 and sent another gold to Havana.
The young American team's silver medal qualified the U.S. for the baseball competition at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Catcher Scott Servais of Creighton said, "I played on the U.S. team last summer and the Cubans beat us five times. To them, we were just a bunch of punks. At least this time we earned some respect."
Respect was hard to come by for some other Americans—namely boxers. The Cuban team, always a powerhouse, was overwhelming in Indianapolis, coming away with 10 of 12 gold medals. One of the non-Cuban golds went to world featherweight champion Kelcie Banks of Chicago and the other was won by fight flyweight Luis Rolon of Puerto Rico. In general, though, Americans were on the ropes. U.S. backers were stunned when Cuban middleweight Angel Espinosa KO'd world champion Darin Allen of Columbus, Ohio, in the first round of their quarterfinal bout. Then flyweight Arthur Johnson of Minneapolis lost an unpopular decision in the quarters to Cuba's Adalberto Regalado, and the Americans were beside themselves.
There were happier moments for American athletes, who wound up the two-week long Games with 168 gold and 369 overall (compared with 75 gold and 175 overall for Cuba and 30 and 162 for Canada, while the remaining 35 countries combined for only 53 gold, 310 in all). Softball phenom Michele Granger wrapped up a gold for the U.S. women's team, finishing the Games with 61 strikeouts in 28 innings and a 0.00—as in zero—earned run average. Gymnast Scott Johnson of Lincoln, Neb., won four gold and four silver medals, and American women—led by Sabrina Mar, 17, of Huntington Beach, Calif. the daughter of Chinese-born parents—dazzled large Hoosier Dome crowds with a total of five of a possible six gold medals. Mar, who has overcome a congenital curvature of her spine, upset favorite Kristie Phillips, 15, of Houston to win the all-around gold.
In women's basketball the U.S., playing without star forward Cheryl Miller and point guard Kamie Ethridge, both of whom are recovering from knee surgery, blew out Brazil 111-87 in the final, behind the play of former Georgia teammates Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain. Ponytailed Hortencia Marcari of Brazil scored 30 points but was shut down in the second half by Edwards's scrappy defense.
Unfortunately, the final week of the Pan Ams was filled with as many dark episodes as stellar performances. Six athletes from five countries were disqualified after having tested positive for banned drugs. Among them were three medal winners, including hammer throw silver medalist Bill Green of Torrance, Calif., whose level of testosterone was nearly double the allowable limit. Members of the Cuban delegation continued to clash with Cuban-Americans and anti-Castro protestors. There were fights in the stands, and security was visibly increased at all events where Cuba participated. One equestrian competitor from Chile was served with a $10 million civil lawsuit for crimes against humanity (he was accused of complicity in the torture-murder of 72 people in his country). This happened after another Chilean, shooter Francisco Zuniga, reportedly a participant in scores of horrifying human-rights violations, had been denied entry to the country by the U.S. State Department—despite the promise of the Pan Am Organizing Committee to uphold the Olympic charter, which states that all athletic delegates would be welcomed.
There were repeated accusations of biased officiating. A basketball coach not named Bob Knight (Pedro Espinoza of Venezuela) threw a chair onto the court in frustration over refs' calls. A team handball player from Cuba, furious over the officiating in his team's overtime loss to the U.S., started swinging at a referee.
In short, these Games had the tension and ill will endemic to Pan Am competition. Indianapolis and its 37,000 volunteers were as hospitable as could be imagined, yet their best intentions couldn't overcome the harsh realities of international politics. The fact is, a lot of people in Central and South America don't like the U.S. Even though the Americans were beaten in boxing, baseball and basketball, their staggering haul of medals underscored the overwhelming athletic imbalance among nations in the Western Hemisphere.
This has raised the question in some quarters of whether the U.S. should continue to participate in these games. Many people see no merit in sending an American team to a competition that is viewed by many U.S. athletes as little more than a warmup for the Olympics or various world championships. Yet with the 1991 Games scheduled to be held in Cuba, an American pullout at this time would be unsporting if not, in view of the strains in U.S.-Cuba relations, impolitic.
At Sunday night's closing ceremony, when the flag of Cuba was raised in the Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis was more than happy to pass the torch of this troubled event.