INTERPRETING AMERICA'S `DREAM TEAM'

From the day it was conceived, American basketball's Olympic "Dream Team" was at the eye of a year-long media circus. It began with the nationally televised roster selections and ended with the inevitable gold-medal celebration in Barcelona. A substantial press corps, largely made up of National Basketball Association "beat" writers on extended assignment, drained their word wells dry describing the NBA's historical entry.

Despite the exhaustive coverage, two books now relive the experience. One, "America's Dream Team: The Quest for Olympic Gold" (Turner Publishing, 224 pp., $24.95), amounts to the company line, since Chuck Daly, the team's coach, wrote it with Alex Sachare, an NBA vice-president. The other, "The Golden Boys" (Pocket Books, 288 pp., $22), stands at the opposite pole. Freelancer Cameron Stauth bills his work at the "unauthorized inside look."

Daly's book is an invitingly quick read. The emphasis here is clearly on the package - large typeface, double-spacing, and loads of wonderful color photos, including many taken away from the court.

The text neatly lays out the facts, but provides little in the way of fresh information. Daly doesn't bare his soul (he's still coaching in the NBA, after all), but occasionally he does offer an interesting observation. For example, he says that other teams didn't seem to play the Dream Team the same way they played each other. "Maybe they were too much in awe of us, but they didn't compete like I'd seen them against other teams," he writes.

"The Golden Boys," a photo-poor work, at times seems to compensate for this shortcoming with questionably "colorful" words.

Like its more visually stunning counterpart, "Golden Boys" spends a lot of time profiling individual players, based on Cameron Stauth's city-hopping travels to interview the Olympians. Much is common knowledge in NBA circles, but Stauth does dig deeper at times and finds, for example, that despite his bluster, Charles Barkley may have been the most compassionate player on the US team. He was the only Olympian, Stauth states, to befriend Christian Laettner, the token college player on the Dream Team.

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