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September 14, 2000
Mighty Dream Team could fallAndy O'Brien
Even though bookmakers are giving odds of 50 to 1 for the US Dream Team to sweep through the Sydney Olympics undefeated as they have done at the past two Games, you money isn't all that safe. According to some experts, the mighty Dream Team could actually lose a game at the Olympics.
One of the reasons why an upset may be near is because other teams have been studying the US game. Writes one NBC basketball commentator: "It is going to happen, maybe this year, so you may as well be ready for the day when the Dream Team loses an Olympic basketball game.
"Don't snicker. Basketball insiders know that no team is unbeatable."
It is true. The aura of invincibility that cloaked the first Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992 has worn thin. Teams that once were happy just to share a rectangle of hardwood with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson are no longer in awe of the NBA. Other teams come not just to participate but to win Dream Team centre Alonzo Mourning said when this year's edition of the Dream Team was first assembled. "It's not just a shoot-in," the Miami star said. "A lot of teams are preparing themselves to dismantle the US. With our collection of talent we should get the job done, but it's not going to be easy. We can't lay down and expect them to just give it to us."
The Dreamers saw just how difficult it will be at these Games, when last Saturday night in Melbourne they played an exhibition against the Australian national team. Any idea that the Boomers, as the Aussies call their team, would be in awe of the Americans evaporated just 36 seconds into the game when Andrew Gaze, whose American basketball career peaked 11 years ago at Seton Hall, and Toronto Raptor star Vince Carter nearly got into a fist fight. Led by Gaze (who will carry the Australian flag at the Opening ceremony in Sydney) NBA centre Luc Longley, and a cast of players most Americans have never heard of, the Boomers held the Dreamers to 34 first-half points, and early in the second half were just two points behind, 36-34.
The final score of U.S. 89-Australia 64 looked like a blowout, but it was more the result of the underdogs missing shots and allowing the game to turn into a track meet. Gaze -- who will be playing in his fifth Olympics and whose father played in the '60, '64 and '68 Olympics and then coached in "72, '76, '80 -- said the US team does not have the same aura as the original Dream Team of 1992.
That 1992 team included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, three of the game's all-time greats. The 1996 team included Shaquille O'Neal, John Stockton, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.
"In years to come, I'm sure these guys will have that same mystique and that same reputation," Gaze, the good bloke of Australian sport and the second-highest point-scorer in Olympic history, said. However, NBC basketball commentator Doug Collins says that at best other teams can only "try to think of beating" the Dream Team.
"If I were an opposing coach attempting to beat the U.S. Olympic basketball team, I would have to find a way to attack the U.S. team's defence. To do that, a team will have to shoot lights-out from the three point line."
Wonder if there will be a team to shoot their light out of the Americans?
The man who'll switch on your TV coverage to the opening ceremony
THERE is probably no greater honour in television than to be asked to direct an Olympic opening ceremony. On Friday evening, Peter Faiman will flick the switch - or push a button - that will begin the three-and-a-half hour television coverage of Sydney's Olympic opening ceremony. It is expected to attract an audience of as many as four billion viewers worldwide. Faiman's mission will be to craft a captivating marathon television programme from the spectacle that Ric Birch, SOCOG's director of ceremonies, has created.
For Faiman it will essentially be an exercise in interpreting what he sees as a piece of gigantic live theatre with its almost biblical phalanx of performers on the main arena of the Olympic stadium. "The opening ceremony is the biggest show on earth that comes around every four years," he says. "It's nothing short of very major. We've talked about it so often, we've planned it so often, I just want to get in the ring and hear the bell go. I just want to get on with it."
In his Australian television days, before he left for the US, Faiman worked for Kerry Packer's Nine Network. He went on to direct Crocodile Dundee, the movie that was the biggest Australian hit in Hollywood.
Shame is the aim in media focus
Aboriginal health groups are planning to capture the global media's gaze during the Sydney Olympics to shame the Federal Government into pumping more money into indigenous health programmes.
Although they have rejected violent protest or disruption, it is understood they are hoping to use the Games to heighten both local and international media awareness of the perilous health of much of the Aboriginal population.
Ted Wilkes, of Perth's Indigenous Health Service, told this correspondent he would be in Sydney later this week for the Games. "Now I don't know what is going to happen on Friday and certainly I don't intend to do anything radical myself but if I can wake up this country as to what is happening with Aboriginal people certainly I'd like to use the Olympics to do that," he said.
The life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians is 20 years less than the national average and there is a much greater incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure.
Prime Minister John Howard has been accused of not taking seriously these and other long-term indigenous health problems. Substance abuse also is a problem. In some areas, 80 per cent of the population smoke, while alcoholism among indigenous people is up to two-and-a-half times the national average. And a report last month sparked national shock when it revealed some indigenous mothers used petrol-soaked rags to comfort their babies.
"We again think this (the Olympics) is an ideal opportunity to say to the Prime Minister of this country it is about time you really started to take Aboriginal health properly, and let's stop kidding around," Mr Wilkes said.
"In particular we are asking John Howard to grow up and show that he's a real man.
"If we don't (get it), Aboriginal people will continue to die and suffer in this country and we certainly need to impress on the rest of the world that we certainly aren't getting a proper fair share of what we call the lucky country."
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