Updated: April 15, 12:31 PM ET
Should they play (and get paid) for their country?
By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com
For the second time this week, a player who USA Basketball wants to compete in the 2004 Olympics has criticized the organization for not paying the players part of the money the organization is taking in from the event.
One day after Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen, who already has committed to play on the team, questioned why the players who are competing no longer are being paid, Utah's Karl Malone, who has been asked to play, said he has issues with some of the language in the contracts the players are being asked to sign, and wonders why the players are being restricted from profiting from sponsorships while USA Basketball makes money.
On Tuesday night, Allen said he takes issue with the fact that the original Dream Team members, as well as the team that won a gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, were paid.
"If you think about it, the first two Dream Teams, they got paid," Allen said. "I don't think a lot of people realize that, they got paid off licensing.
"The (1996) Atlanta team got paid. So when we came to Australia (in 2000), we were like, 'How much money are we going to get?' And they said, 'You guys aren't getting anything.' And I was like, 'Well, how is that? Don't you feel that you should pay? We are playing basketball."
Malone said the original Dream Teamers, which included Malone, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, split more than $1 million between them. Allen said that former players told him the '96 team also got paid.
"If we didn't get paid, I would still do it," Allen said. "But I know they make money off licensing jersey-wise, and I think from a Player's Association point of view, they should stipend something, because the NBA is making money, USA Basketball is making money. Those guys made pretty good money, too."
Malone said he did not want to dwell on not getting paid, but he has not returned his contract because there are issues he would like to see resolved.
"There are a lot of things in there," Malone said. "For sponsorship, I looked at 15 sponsors who are going to be paying USA basketball and as athletes you feel that if they are paying that kind of money, some kind of way, as an athlete, you should be paid. It is just the right thing to do.
"I don't think we should get caught up in whether we are going to play or not if we don't get paid. It should be one of those things where you go out and play because of your country. But like I said, whenever you are talking about the dollars that are being paid through sponsorship, they need to look at that as well."
Malone said the issue should not become a public embarrassment, but that USA Basketball should offer to pay something.
"You are basically signing your life over to them for the whole two years," he said. "From hotels, to soft drinks to Gatorade to basketball equipment. You are basically saying, 'OK, we don't have an endorsement deal, you can have it.' I don't know if that is fair.
"It's not going to work out if we don't say anything. But I think the worst thing we can do is say, 'OK, we are getting paid, now we want more.' It should be one of them things where they should say, 'OK, because we are getting this, we should do this.' It doesn't need to be talked about, it just needs to be done."
Allen said if the players were promised compensation, it would entice guys like Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett to commit to the team earlier. Allen told a story about playing a pre-Olympic game in Japan, where he said the arena made it feel as if he was at an All-Star game in the States.
"And when the game started, all Olympics jerseys everywhere," Allen said. "I saw Allan Houston jerseys. It was rampant in the arena, and I was thinking, 'These people, they caught on, it is selling all over the place.' And so I think if you stipend, because they are making so much money, you could take the doubt of guys who are thinking, 'What am I giving my summer up for?' "
Malone said he thinks that because the United States lost in the World Championships in Indianapolis last summer, this Olympics is going to generate even more money for USA Basketball.
"There are going to be some things where they say, 'They are doing this for us, now we have to do this for them,'" Malone said. "They did it (paid players) the first two (Dream Teams). I can sit here and tell you they did it the first two.
"And I think there is going to be a lot more interest in this Olympics team probably than the second one (in Atlanta) simply because people want to see us get beat, some people, and then the excitement that we are going to be bringing the gold back is going to draw a lot of people and a lot of attenion to that. For them to tell us that we can't get endorsements other than maybe your shoe deal, that is a lot of commitment."
Malone said he has other issues with a contract that he feels is too one-sided. "I don't know if you guys have had an opportunity to see a copy of the contract," Malone said. "Somebody needs to get you a contract and you will see. If a man off the street just looks at that contract, they will say, 'Damn.' You give them access to your whole life, and they are not giving you access to nothing but the chance to play on the team. We feel we are doing them a favor as well."
Malone said he is particularly troubled by the drug policy. "Once I sign on that dotted line, I tell them, 'I'm yours for two years no matter what,' " Malone said. "There is a statement in the anti-drug policy, that in the summer, everywhere I go, I have to call them and tell them where I'm at.
"Whereever I'm at, they can show up and say, here piss in this cup. I can be logging in Arkansas, they show up and find me, I got to piss in a cup, no questions asked. Right then. That's pretty strong. My wife sometimes don't even know where I'm at."
Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.