BADALONA -- He'd been cut in 1984, deep in the trials, late enough to imagine how the gold medal would feel around his neck. So after he fractured his right leg in a collision with Michael Jordan in the the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, Ore., John Stockton, would-be Olympian, grew sick to his stomach in his hotel room, thinking he might be an asterisk, a footnote, in Barcelona.

"It was a pretty sick moment for me," he said Sunday, recalling that feeling five weeks ago. "I thought when it first happened, sitting in my room, that I might be replaced. It was pretty much the same feeling as being cut in '84. Your stomach feels, well, bad."

By Stockton's own account, he must have consulted with five doctors and/or team trainers. He kept getting the same answer: The injury won't get any worse but you'll feel pain for six weeks, several days past the Olympic gold-medal game in Spain. There was talk, though never from Chuck Daly or the coaching staff, of Mark Price, of Kevin Johnson, of Tim Hardaway, of Isiah. The sick feeling wouldn't go away.

If there were some hint the U.S. Olympic basketball team would be threatened, even for a single game, a move to bring in a replacement might have been made before the rosters were finalized on July 15. But with Magic, Scottie Pippen, even Jordan available to play the point, why make John Stockton sicker by dispatching him? Former teammate Tyrone Corbin called and told Stockton to hang in and play, so did Utah Jazz teammate Mike Brown. Even Larry Miller, the Jazz owner, the person with more to lose from this risky business than anybody except Stockton, called with explicit support. "They all felt the right questions were being asked and answered," Stockton said.

There was also the practical consideration of what to do about all the merchandise that had been sold and produced. What would they do about those jillion Dream Team T-shirts, stick a Mark Price decal over Stockton's mug and keep moving? Besides, you could really tell the team was suffering without him, right, winning by a mere 40-plus per game?

The team might not have been struggling but Stockton was, until Sunday night when with 9:55 left in the first half against Spain, he checked in at the scorer's table and -- at last -- made his Olympic debut. "I wanted to start giggling, but that wouldn't have been appropriate," he said. "I felt a quick rush, a lot of adrenaline. It helped me deal with my apprehension about the leg. In a competitive game, I don't know if I'd have played."

Almost certainly he wouldn't have. In his six minutes on the floor, Stockton looked, well, pretty bad. Gimpy, uncertain. He wore a protective sleeve on his right leg. For a month he also wore what he called in lay terms a "bone healer," a stimulant that puts an electrical field around the bone area to accelerate healing. Later, fluid had to be removed with a balloon and ice was applied. Little wonder he couldn't push off, or didn't bounce off the right leg. "He showed a lot of heart by being out there," Jazz and Olympic teammate Karl Malone said. "But that's not the Stock I play with every night in Utah. I'm still worried about him. He's dealt with it great, but I know he's not 100 percent, and you just never know."The petty, uninformed goofballs who say the NBA players are here only for money, that they don't really care about the Olympics, never stop to think about Stockton, a man whose station in life won't change one iota because he's a member of this team. John Stockton limped onto the floor Sunday night because about the only athletic honor that would affect him in any way, besides winning an NBA title, is to play in the Olympics. Some people would disagree with that, given Stockton's remark at the beginning of the Games that the Olympic spirit, in his opinion, should consist of "beating other countries," not living in the Olympic Village with them. While that "Just Win, Baby" attitude plays in the United States, the tone seemed distinctly out of place here. You can view Stockton's comments as calculating, but everything about him is too plain and simple for that to be the case.

If you took a poll here, probably 90 percent of those asked would guess that Magic has led the NBA in assists every season for the past decade. They would be wrong. Yes, Magic is the league's all-time assist leader, and unquestionably he's the greatest playmaker ever. But in about three years, John Stockton will wind up passing Magic in assists.

In basketball genealogy, Bob Cousy absolutely begat Stockton. He, not Magic, led the league in assists in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991. Nothing about him dazzles. His passes are from the chest, with two hands, always looking. In the offseason, he lives in a house next door to the one he grew up in in Spokane, Wash. Stockton always was the guy about whom opponents said, "I can take him," but couldn't. You think he has five assists, you look at the box score and he's got 15.

It's laughable that he was cut from the 1984 team -- he made the final 20 -- while Bob Knight kept his own limited player, Steve Alford, to play the point. But as you'd expect, Stockton doesn't show the slightest trace of bitterness. "Eighty-four was a stepping stone for me," he said. "It was far more positive to get cut when I did {he moved up in the draft, and up in salary slots} than to get cut earlier. It was a tremendous boost for my career."

So now, even if Stockton never plays another second, he's an Olympian. "Not to be able to play would have put a damper on it," he said. "It would have been a great experience, being named to the team and spending the summer with these guys, but there would have been a cloud hanging over it. I don't care about playing time. I expect to have some discomfort through the Olympics. But I hope to be as close to 100 percent as my mind will allow me to be."