MONTE CARLO, MONACO -- It's Tuesday with the Dream Team, so this must be Monaco. Is that Princess Stephanie or Princess Caroline waving to Michael Jordan? I get them a little mixed up from time to time. This must be the place, because every third car is a Rolls Corniche, because the nightclubs of any consequence don't open until 1 a.m., and because a 10-ounce can of Coke costs $4.50. As training camps go, this isn't exactly Carlisle, Pa. Joe Gibbs would curl up and die. You want to talk distractions? How about a pool full of topless lovelies upstairs, and a casino that would steal James Bond's heart downstairs. Oh no, there's Charles Barkley, getting ready to address Prince Albert.

Barkley, first, has an announcement for his friends in the U.S. press, who have to write about something to justify their presence here in heaven to their newspapers. (Note to the accountant reviewing my expense report: If you think the $4.50 for a soda was bad, wait until you get to that bowl of Rice Krispies for $7.50.) "I'm announcing that I'm quitting the Dream Team to join the swim team," Barkley said, keeping quite the straight face. "As long as those babes are laying out there with no tops, I'll be at the pool. You'll think I'm Mark Spitz by the time this week is over."

There's Patrick Ewing, in his third hour at the craps table. The rumor from his laughing teammates is that another 10 minutes of losing and Ewing'll be handing over his shirt to the dealer. Earlier, Jordan had attacked the blackjack table as if it were a basket, which is to say, greedily. "I told you you couldn't win at that table," he told Ewing, reveling in his scouting report.

Barkley, meanwhile, has been compiling a scouting report on Prince Albert, who was scheduled to attend Monday's practice, but couldn't. It was rumored he had to tend to a "state emergency," which given the nature of Monte Carlo probably was something like an acute shortage of Bain de Soleil.

"You can't touch him and you've got to call him 'Your Majesty'," Barkley said of royal protocol. "I haven't called anybody 'Your Majesty' since {76ers owner} Harold Katz. And you gotta stop eating when he stops eating. Now I don't know about that. Suppose he had a snack before he came and ain't hungry, but I'm starving. Does that mean I gotta eat fast?"

These and other pressing issues were there for the Dreams to ponder during their six-day stay in the Principality of Monaco. What about two-a-days, you ask? Sure, 18 holes before practice and 18 after. One problem. It's tough to find a caddie in a land of trillionaires. Hey, the maids in the hotel where we're staying wear pumps when they're cleaning your room. Rich doesn't begin to describe the place, but decadent might. A prefered nightspot called Jimmy Z offers a retractable roof (take that, SkyDome) and beer for $20 a pop. At nearby Paradise, a rum-and-coke will hit you up for $36. "If you're an alcoholic," Barkley said, "this is the place to make you give it up. Can you imagine Boones Farm and Ripple, that stuff brothers drink in the 'hood? It'd be $200 a bottle. Couldn't carry that in no paper bag. Guy said to me, 'Mr Barkley, champagne is $500.' I said, 'Thank you, not tonight. I'll be holding out for one of those cheap, domestic brands.' "

There's never been a better fit than the Dream Team and Monte Carlo. Forget soccer, forget track and field, forget gymnastics. Some of us have been thinking all along that the Dream Team was largely NBC/U.S. hype and would become just another Olympic story amidst 80-point blowouts in a country where basketball is still in its adolescence. Dead wrong. Europe has the fever too, and it's sicker than we imagined. The people who run the Loews Monte Carlo couldn't understand why so much security had been arranged for a bunch of basketball players. After all, Monaco is host (or "home," on their 1040 forms) to some of the richest and most famous people in the world. Movie stars come and go, dressed or undressed, with nary a whisper. Basketball players? Who would care?

Everybody. Eurotycoons who've never seen a basketball game line up outside the hotel like peasants to sneak a peek. One driver was so busy trying to catch a glimpse of the team as it boarded the bus for Tuesday's exhibition game with France that he forgot to hold the brake and knocked a Mercedes station wagon through the hotel window. Jordan and/or Magic currently appear on the front of at least a half-dozen European newspapers or magazines. The French players, after a rather respectable 111-71 loss in front of Prince Rainier, Prince Albert and about 3,500 people, retired to the interview room where they collected autographs from the Dreams.

Jordan had 21 points, as did Barkley ... but that doesn't matter. The larger picture here doesn't involve the score, it involves the changing face of sports as we know it. For the longest time, Jordan kept telling sportswriters about the international basketball explosion and we kept saying to him, "Uh, right." After the exhibition against France he said, "I could sense, two years ago when I was here for Nike, they were awaiting it. I knew it would be larger than anyone expected or even dreamed about."

David Robinson, who'd been making mental notes about basketball's rise in each of his trips overseas, said, "It's amazing, the level of interest now generated. NBA players are much more well-known than five, six years ago. It's really unbelievable."

"They're as big as movie stars," Coach Chuck Daly said. "I hope it doesn't take away from the rest of the Games."

Ewing added, "You can tell by the people outside our hotel waiting that it's almost like home, as far as the level of interest. The only difference is you can't understand what they're saying."

Ah, but adulation has a certain universality to it. This is the deal: Basketball is about to become the first U.S. sport to achieve world acceptance. Football's coming, but it's still in the two-steps-forward, one-step- back stages. Baseball can't yet be picked up by radar. Every night these guys spend in Europe represents one more step basketball is gaining on soccer, which it should eclipse as the world's favorite game by the end of the decade. It's almost a shame the lack of a challenge will prevent us from seeing just how out-of-this-world the Dreams are. This bears absolutely no resemblance to the camps run by Bob Knight in 1984 and John Thompson in 1988, or for that matter, anything in Olympic history. "It's not about making a lot of demands, screaming and hollering," Daly said. "It's more managerial." It's easy, of course, to take that approach when you're managing the greatest team, any sport, ever assembled.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the place where all this greatness is reconfirmed isn't in games, where the opposing players often rejoice in just getting the ball across midcourt or getting off a shot. It's in practice. It's the most remarkable thing you've ever seen, like they're all playing Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Players diving for loose balls, flying over each others' backs for rebounds, cussing referees. "It's been that way every day," Daly said. "They don't want to be embarrassed by anyone."

Asked about the almost incomprehensible level of competitiveness in practices, Ewing (who had his thumb dislocated in one of the early sessions) said, "It's personal."

Barkley said, "That's why we're here and the bad players are at home."

Monday's scrimmage pitted Magic, Michael, Barkley, Mr. Robinson and Christian Laettner against Bird, Ewing, Malone, Clyde, Pippen and Mullin. (John Stockton is still out with his injured leg.) When Barkley got to running off at the mouth too much, Magic reminded him he had no championship rings to back it up. Bird said to his new best friend Ewing, "You don't set picks anymore, all you do is shoot. I call pick-and-roll, and you don't roll." Ewing shot back, "You're going to shoot anyway. Go to the hole, for what?"

Yes, it is personal. The practice gym could just as well be in Indiana. The allure of Monte Carlo never seemed further away than when the Dreams are in one of those rehearsal jam sessions, reminding us just how they got to be so dreamy. Prince Albert, who along with his father Prince Rainier, greeted the team later in the evening, doesn't know what he missed.

Daly was asked about 1996, whether professionals would play again, whether Dream Team the Sequel could be assembled, whether this inaugural working vacation on the Mediterranean could ever be topped. The new New Jersey Nets coach thought it over for a second, then a devious little smile lit his face. "I've got it," he said, "we'll bring them to the Meadowlands."