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Living out dreams

This team is a dream.

Names aren't as familiar and wealthy as some (Barkley, O'Neal, Pippen, Hardaway, Miller, Olajuwon), but this is a U.S. Olympic basketball gold-medal favorite (Swoopes, Edwards, McClain, Leslie, Bolton, Staley) that is easier to get to know, less complex with which to deal, not nearly so crusted with arrogance and, in some ways, more fun to watch.

America's hoops women landed a 101-84 Sunday punch on Cuba, but nobody in coach Tara VanDerveer's party would depart the 5,000-seat Morehouse College venue in a limo or in the greaseball company of sports agents or without signing every autograph that was requested.

Maybe it's less taxing to be a red-white-and-blue hoops woman, rather than a celebrated D.T. guy. You know what those initials mean, but I'm personally swearing off using "the term" in Atlanta.

To me, Barcelona was the Dream Team scenario. That was four years ago. It was Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan. In 1996, these Games get a deeply talented NBA copy that simply should be identified as the U.S. men's Olympics basketball team.

Enough about the fellows.

Dawn Staley scored just four points for Sunday's heroines, but the 5-foot-6 former University of Virginia point guard would use passwork from Globetrotters World to light the Yanks' fuse.

Earvin Johnson was in the stands. Magic stood and roared after Staley flicked a Johnsonesque no-look pass to Leslie for an easy layup. Scottie Pippen was there, too, with D.T. sidekicks Gary Payton and Mitch Richmond. They managed to grin.

"Thank God I've got teammates with great hands to handle anything that flies their way," Staley said. "It's instinct stuff for me, developed back home on North Philadelphia playgrounds, but I do try to make exotic passes only as they fit the game's flow."

Cuba blitzed to a 20-13 lead as the United States got off to a fidgety beginning. VanDerveer's victors then took control with a 10-nil spree. Staley was at the heart of the flurry with multiple explosions of assist artistry.

Dazzle Dawn hijacked a Cuban pass, dribbled left-handed behind her back, then executed a flawless no-look feed to Katy Steding who was trailing the play. As the layup fell, the Morehouse house almost came tumbling down from the tumult. A bellowing Magic Johnson was again on his size 14 sneakered feet.

"I used to play with the boys when I was a kid," Staley said. "We would choose up sides at the rec center on 25th and Diamond, which is a pretty tough section of Philly. I usually got picked early because those guys from the 'hood knew I wouldn't shoot much and would dish them some nice passes.

"My hero was Maurice Cheeks, who was with the Philadelphia Sixers at the time. He performed his great work kind of quietly, which is what I like to do. I just love playing this game."

Staley's roommate on the U.S. women's 14-month basketball odyssey in search of Atlanta has been Lisa Leslie, proving that opposites do attract. Leslie is 11 inches taller than Dawn at a stately 6-5. Lisa is pure West Coast, Staley is East Coast to the core.

Shorty can't touch the rim, but her lanky roomie is the only female on Earth who effectively can dunk a basketball. Dawn, despite her electric passes, is a low-key person. Leslie is flamboyant, talkative and as outgoing as Magic Johnson.

"There were Olympic jitters at the start," said Leslie, a towering Los Angeles fashion model who scored 17 of her 24 points in the second half. "We are a dozen women who've long been searching for Atlanta. At last, the Games begin. It no longer matters that our record was 52-0 on the way here. But, for me, it would take a hard Cuban knock on the head to serve as a wake-up call."

As Cuba dominated early, Leslie struggled. She labored for defensive rebounding position. An elbow from Havana power-conked the noggin of the former University of Southern California center.

"It gave me a headache that never went away," Leslie said. But, from that painful moment, after a few minutes of bench rest, Lisa would put a heavy hurting on the Cubans.

"I've not been able to sleep since getting to Atlanta," Leslie said. "My eyes didn't close until 2 a.m. to get a little shut-eye before this opener against Cuba.

"We've been playing so much in Europe and Asia to toughen up for the Olympics, so it's wonderful to now be playing before our home Olympics crowd with all those American flags waving."

Like I said, they're a dream.

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