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At least Charles Barkley is back. That should make things a little bit interesting.

Now that the Dream Team is no longer an Olympic novelty, the sideshow that threatened to overshadow the Barcelona Games, the only suspense going into Atlanta will be whether the U.S. men's basketball team draws the interest it did in '92.Back then, the mere idea was astonishing. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Barkley on the same team? With America's professionals in the Olympics for the first time, the only thing more thrilling than being routed by the Dream Team was having photos taken with its stars afterwards.

This time around, Jordan, Bird and Magic won't be back, Seattle's Shawn Kemp was left off the team and Dennis Rodman wasn't even considered. The names on the new roster - including six Olympic veterans - lack much of the charisma and mythical greatness of the '92 team.

So what's there to look forward to?

Mitch Richmond yawning gimme 3-pointers from a shorter 3-point line, David Robinson posting up some awestruck Argentinian and John Stockton saying, "I'm just gonna go play."

"You're playing in your country, you're representing the United States and you're here, where your fans can come and see you," said Karl Malone, a veteran of the '92 team. "That U.S. pride is going to come on now. I'm not going into it like it's a drag or something."

The competition from the rest of the world is at least a decade away from being anything near truly challenging, and each blowout will be followed two days later by another. That won't keep the games out of prime time, though, since NBC dictated that four of the five U.S. men's basketball games begin at 10 p.m. EDT, the other at 7 p.m. on a Sunday.

"This is what the world wants," said Craig Miller, spokesman for USA Basketball. "The television ratings four years ago showed it."

One redeeming factor in the excitement department is Barkley, who was chosen over Kemp for one of the final two spots.

While he won't be holding court on the city streets the way he did in Barcelona, Barkley will be reunited with Erlander Coimbra, the skinny Angolan player who gained fame for absorbing a nasty elbow from Barkley in the tournament's opening game.

Barkley was roundly criticized back home, and indeed the team's 32-point average victory margin was as much a cause for American shame as American pride.

Maintaining a distinction between pride and offensiveness is one of the biggest concerns for USA Basketball, the governing body that was criticized for the showboating antics of Dream Team II when it won the 1994 world championship.

"We want character, not characters," USA Basketball president C.M. Newton said last summer when the first 10 members of the new team were chosen.

Dream Team III is a mix of old and new.

Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson return from the 1992 team; Reggie Miller and Shaquille O'Neal were on the '94 team; and Anfernee Hardaway, Grant Hill, Hakeem Olajuwon, Richmond and Glenn Robinson are first-time Dream Teamers.

Robinson and Richmond also played on the 1988 team, a collegiate squad that brought home a disappointing bronze medal.

Before beating up on the world, the team that averaged more than 117 points a game in '92 will embark on a national tour that includes stops in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Auburn Hills, Mich., and Salt Lake City and a three-day stop in Orlando.

"The glitz and glamour, all of that is OK, but I kind of like being here at home and going to Orlando and Phoenix and Utah and all those places," Malone said. "I'd rather do that. We don't have to take a 10-12 hour flight to get places."

The Dream Team is serious business to merchandisers and advertisers, who have had T-shirts and hats on the shelves for months, Dream Team-theme ads on the air for weeks and Olajuwon's picture on potato-chip packages.

The continuing commercialism will be huge.

"We're in our own country now, and I think it will be a bigger deal here," Malone said. "If we would have gone back to Barcelona, maybe it wouldn't be a bigger deal, but hey, we're playing in the United States."

And this time, there should be no logo controversy among the multimillionaire Olympians.

In 1992, some players with Nike shoe contracts spread word that they wouldn't appear on the medal stand wearing warmups bearing the Reebok logo. In a compromise, and one that outraged many, Johnson, Jordan and others draped American flags over the offending logo on their warmups.

No such flap is expected this time, since Champion Sports, not Nike or Reebok, will have its name on the official warmups. The U.S. team also changed its practice of awarding a shoe contract, knowing that the players would refuse to wear rival brands.

The Dream Team won't be the only team in Atlanta playing with NBA stars.

Croatia features Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls, Dino Radja of the Boston Celtics and Zan Tabak of the Toronto Raptors. Lithuania has Sarunas Marciulionis of the Denver Nuggets and Arvydas Sabonis of the Portland Trail Blazers. Yugoslavia has Vlade Divac of the Los Angeles Lakers and Sasha Danilovic of the Miami Heat.

The United States is grouped in Pool A with Angola, Argentina, China, Croatia and Lithuania. Pool B consists of Australia, Brazil, Greece, Puerto Rico, South Korea and Yugoslavia.