SPORTS

NBA stars called up for 2004 squad

WASHINGTON (AFP) – USA Basketball is formally inviting National Basketball Association stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett to compete in the Athens Olympics in August, ESPN.com, an American sports website, reported yesterday. According to the website, Garnett’s participation «is seen as the more likely of the two.» O’Neal said in February that his decision would depend on how far the Los Angeles Lakers go in the NBA playoffs. «I think it’s very, very burdensome,» said O’Neal, who was on the 1996 Olympic gold medal-winning team in Atlanta. «I have to consult with my family and consult with my friends. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.» Nine of the 12 roster spots are filled by players selected to play last summer in the qualifying tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico. They are Ray Allen, Mike Bibby, Kobe Bryant, Duncan, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O’Neal. Bryant, however, didn’t play for the qualifying team after being accused of sexual assault in Colorado, and was replaced by Vince Carter. Malone was a late withdrawal after the death of his mother and was replaced by Kenyon Martin. Bryant’s ongoing legal battle could yet prevent him from competing in Athens. NBA veteran Malone has battled a knee injury this season and could choose to forego the Games. This year’s preparations will be the most demanding of any for a «Dream Team,» with workouts starting on July 26 and a six-game pre-Olympic exhibition schedule featuring stops in Germany, Turkey and Serbia and Montenegro. Since the inaugural Dream Team introduced NBA talent to the Games in 1992, the United States have won all three Olympic golds. But the Americans were tested by Lithuania twice and France in the final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and a lesser NBA lineup was a woeful sixth at the 2002 World Championships.