The U.S. Olympic basketball team, which might have found itself all dressed up with nowhere to go because of the U.S. boycott of this summer's Olympic Games in Moscow, will play a five-game exhibition series in June against pros from the National Basketball Association.
The "Gold Medal Games," as the series will be known, are scheduled for The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., June 16; Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, June 18; the Kingdome in Seattle, June 20; New York's Madison Square Garden, June 22, and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, June 23.
The professional opposition at each stop on the tour will be provided by three or four members of that city's NBA team, plus eight or nine other NBA players, some of whom live in or near the host cities during the off-season.
At least two of the games, which are intended to give recognition and competition to those basketball players selected to the U.S. Olympic team, will be televised nationally on a syndicated network.
Financial details of the series were not disclosed, but "a large part" of the proceeds will go to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), according to Chuck Neinas, chairman of the Amateur Basketball Association of the U.S.A., the national governing body of amateur basketball.
The 1980 Olympic team also will play a game late in June in Greensboro, N.C., against the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
The "Gold Medal Games" are being organized jointly by the Amateur Basketball Association, the NBA and the NBA Players Association, all of which were represented at a press conference yesterday in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.Y.), a member of the U.S. basketball team that won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and later an all-star forward for the New York Knicks, is honorary chairman of the series and presided over yesterday's announcement.
Basketball is the first sport to announce concrete plans for alternative competition for U.S. Olympians in the wake of the USOC's decision last weekend not to send a team to the Moscow Games.
The "Gold Medal Games" are an off-shoot of plans, under consideration since last November, to have the U.S. Olympic team prepare for the Moscow Games an anticipated showdown with the Soviet Union for the gold medal by playing an exhibition series against NBA players.
It has not yet been decided whether the games will be played under international or U.S. collegiate rules. They will not be played under NBA rules.
The 12-man U.S. team will be selected at Olympic trials at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, May 18-23. Invitations will be sent to between 40 and 56 candidates, and probably will go out late next week, according to U.S. head coach Dave Gavitt.
The U.S. team will be stronger than the one that would have gone to Moscow because athletes who have agreed to professional contracts will be eligible to play, as long as they have not yet received money. The NBA draft is June 10.
Under Olympic rules, no player who had agreed to a professional contract would be eligible for the games. But since no international competition is involved in this series, only International Basketball Federation (FIBA) regulations will apply to the U.S. team, and these are much more lax on amateur standards than the Olympic rules.
"I would assume that this would encourage some additional top players to try out," said Neinas, who predicts "a good, close series because the Olympic team will have a certain enthusiasm and will look upon this as a real challenge."
After the trials, the Olympians will have what Gavitt calls "an intensive 3 1/2-week camp" of two-a-day workouts. they will spend approximately 10 days at Providence College, where Gavitt coaches, and the rest at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The five cities were chosen primarily because of the availability of arenas and the proximity of NBA players to provide the opposition, according to Larry Fleisher, general counsel of the players association.
Among the NBA players who have agreed to play, according to Fleisher, are Elvin Hayes, George Gervin and Randy Smith in Los Angeles; Larry Bird and Rick Robey in Indianapolis; Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins in Seattle, and Gus Williams in New York.
George Johnson of the New Jersey Nets, who attended yesterday's press conference, said that NBA players "look at this as an opportunity to play a little bit in the summer, and to see some of the people who will possibly be coming into the league . . . I don't think we'll have trouble getting players to participate; we may have to turn some away."