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THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 12 : They Came, They Saw, They Tried . . . but the Soviets Won

Danny Manning might have to get used to losing--after all, next time he wears a uniform, he will be a Clipper--but just the same, when somebody asked him if this was the most disappointing day of his basketball life, Manning picked up his chin, looked the guy in the eye sadly, gave a eyelid blink as forlorn as Bambi’s, and said in a whispery voice, “Yes. Oh, my, yes.”

The United States might have to get used to losing, too--unless we start bringing Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to the party, as even the Soviet Union’s charming coach was anticipating after Wednesday’s back-breaking, glasnost -shaking, 82-76 Olympic victory over the red, white and extremely blue.

Every 20 years or so, the United States manages to take an Olympic basketball game from the Soviets. We beat them in the 1960s, so maybe we can do it again in the 1990s. Perhaps by then, Soviet center Arvydas Sabonis will be so enthralled with his existence as a Portland Trail Blazer, he will change uniforms and play for us .

We might need our National Basketball Assn. stars pretty soon, because this is getting to be a trifle embarrassing.

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U.S.S.R. ACTION--It’s Fan-tastic!

We simply were not up to stopping Rimas (Magic) Kurtinaitis, who scored 28 points, or Sharunas (The Human Highlight Film) Marchulenis, 19 points, or our coming-to-America comrade Arvydas-Romas (The Round Mound of Rebound) Sabonis, who got 13 points and cleared 10 rebounds against our heroes. No wonder the NBA wants some of these Runnin’ Russians. We’re surprised Jerry Tarkanian hasn’t recruited a couple.

John Thompson, who is more popular this morning in Soviet Georgia than Atlanta, Ga., turned out to be a real big disappointment. About 6 foot 10 inches, 300 pounds. No Pan American Games gold medal, no Olympic gold medal, but hey, big guy, at least we did whip Egypt. Can we talk to the players now, John? Huh? Can we?

Our kids took it hard.

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Dan Majerle stopped for a moment on his way out of the Chamshil Gymnasium, started to speak, said, “It’s hard, it’s hard,” shook his head and left.

J.R. Reid wiped a hand across his perspiring forehead and said: “We picked the wrong time to have a bad game, that’s for sure. We lost. Anybody would be bitter about that. Coach Thompson told us to keep our heads up, but it’s tough, tough when you let everybody down.”

Manning, who a few months ago reached the heights of amateur basketball in the United States, winning the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship with Kansas, went away impressed with the winners. He said: “We knew they were capable individuals. They’re a very well-coached team. They’ve been together a long time.”

Being together helps, no doubt about that. So, maybe instead of sending Magic and Michael and Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas to Barcelona in 1992, maybe we had better send a bunch of guys who have worked together for years as a unit--say, the Lakers, or the Celtics, or, what the heck, since you never know how much the world will turn in 4 years, maybe the Clippers. It’ll be Spain, so maybe we should send Chicago. Make the Soviets run with the Bulls.

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They sure did run over our Olympians. At one point they were ahead by 14 points. Our last lead: 4-3, a little more than 2 minutes into the contest. We were dead in the water before Thompson even got his towel wet. Somewhere in America, Doug Collins and Tom McMillian and Jim Chones and the other 1972 guys must have been watching and nodding and saying to themselves, “This sure looks familiar.”

About the only chance the United States had to win this game was if the referees put 3 seconds back on the clock a couple of times until we could make the winning basket.

What was our problem out there? Too many future Clippers? Did Thompson get outcoached? Who’s that Russian coach, anyway--"Red” Auerbach? Commie Heinsohn? Lenin Wilkens? Whoever it is, he sure knows what he’s doing. For all of America’s superior talent, our guys went out there and played like, oh, Northwestern or something.

You hate to see it. You hate to see bad things happen to Americans. Yet, fair is fair. The Soviets came to play, as they say. It was 1972 all over again, except this time, everything was on the up-and-up, fair and Red square. They beat us. We’re tough; we can take it. Our guys can take it. Thompson can take it.

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“They’re disappointed, I’m disappointed,” Thompson said. “But there’ll be life after.”

In other words, let’s not get too up-tight about this 2-game losing streak to the Soviets. No need to notify our NBA guys tomorrow about the 1992 trials. And also, no need to vilify the guys who played on this year’s team. They came, they saw, they tried.

“They gave all they had to represent their country, and that’s all their country can ask of them,” Thompson said. “I would think the American public is a little more sophisticated (than to disown these players). I think they’ll let us back in the country.”

Yes, we will. Just tell Sabonis to be on the same plane.

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