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Will he play or won't he? It seems every time you turn around there's some speculation that Michael Jordan won't be playing with Team USA in the upcoming Olympics.

The recent flap over the use of his image on apparel brought out threats that Jordan wouldn't play with the American team. However, even Jordan knows how much damage his image would take if he didn't play for the Red, White and Blue next summer.While Jordan is indisputably the biggest draw on the USA's "Dream Team," there is little doubt that Team USA can handle any and all contenders, probably with ease - with or without Air.

Meanwhile, teammates appear to be tiring of Jordan's posturing. "We're at the point where I want everyone that's going to want to go," said the Jazz's Karl Malone. "It's not like he's doing a favor for me."

Continued Malone, "We're going to win the gold anyway, so he may as well join the party."

And if he doesn't want to join the party, then Team USA might as well invite some new guests.

There is no doubting Malone's desire to play in the Olympics. He has often spoken of his pride in representing the country.

Malone's feelings for the nation run deep. Asked if he could boycott the Olympics, Malone replies, "I'm not a boycott man at all . . . boycott isn't a word I use. So I definitely won't boycott the Olympics at all. It's out of the question."

"I can only speak for Karl Malone," he said. "I can't speak for other players on the team. I don't know what they're like. I can only speak on Karl Malone's behalf, and I want to play. Fans shouldn't judge Karl Malone if they haven't met him. I want to play.

"Everyone is selfish to some degree in life, but not every player on this team is, and I don't know everybody. Everybody has their own preference."

The Mailman has been called about everything in the book, but the latest is "gorilla."

After playing the Jazz Wednesday night, Sixers' forward Armon Gilliam talked about what it's like to guard the league's top power forward. "Karl is one of the better power forwards, if not the best power forward in the league and you know it is going to be a very physical confrontation with him," said "The Hammer."

"The first time I played against him was harder because I didn't know what to expect, and the next thing I know I've got this gorilla out there going crazy on every play. Now I'm used to his style and I've gotten used to him and it is a little easier to play him."

Nevertheless, it wasn't too easy. Malone got 28 points and 10 rebounds, Gilliam 17 points and 10 rebounds.

On the one hand you have Gilliam calling Malone a gorilla, on the other there's Indiana's Chuck Person who apparently thinks the Mailman is a (gulp!) wimp.

Person didn't say the word "wimp," but maintained in the April edition of SPORT magazine that the Mailman "isn't a man."

"Barkley is a man. Michael Jordan is a 190-pound man. Karl Malone is not a man . . . you can back him down," Person said. "That's why I think Utah will never win it with him. Isiah Thomas is a man. Xavier McDaniel is a man. He just keeps comin', keeps comin . . . Larry Bird is a man. You can't back these guys down. They just keep comin'. Every night, every play, they just keep comin."

Now married with a family, the Mailman appears to be a model of restraint. He seldom gets into name-calling spats anymore. Asked if he had an opinion on Person's accusation, Malone said: "Nope. And you know why? I feel every time you turn around there is somebody saying something negative about you. I'm a better person than to listen to them. Especially when they're not writing your checks or you're not playing on the same team with him. I could really care less what others think."

He continued, "It makes me laugh to look up and see my name in an article," said Malone. "Especially from a guy you never talk to. I guess it's a way of getting attention."

AND THEN SOME: The Mailman passed his truck driving test this week and is now officially certified to deliver in another arena when the summer comes . . . Describing what other sports he participates in during summers, Malone replies, "Fishing and truck driving." . . . A good sign for the Jazz appears to be their intensity and good health. Coach Jerry Sloan said last week that "at this stage we look as good in practices, physically and mentally, as I've ever seen since I've been here. I don't know when everyone has competed harder in practice." That was, of course, before their tepid loss to the Lakers on Friday . . . Houston interim coach Rudy Tomjanovich on the pressure: "For the first time I've started taking Rolaids" . . . Moses Malone has moved past Oscar Robertson into fourth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list . . . Karl Malone is the NBA leader in free-throw attempts. He has improved from a .481 free throw shooter as a rookie to a .777 shooter last year. This year he is shooting at a .763.

This column includes materials from outside news sources.