SEOUL, South Korea — The knock on the car window was frantic. He rolled it down. Two American teenagers, dressed in T-shirts and USA caps, began to plead desperately. Please. Pleeeease! What did they want? They wanted his socks.
“My what?” said Dan Majerle.
“Your socks! Give us your socks!”
“Would you sign ’em? Pleeeease?”
“You want my socks?”
“I can’t give you my socks.”
This is how far Dan Majerle has come. When summer started, nobody knew who he was — just another tall guy trying to make the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He was a longshot. A big longshot. But each time the ax fell, he was still there, and suddenly, the cuts were over and it was September and the Olympics began and he kicked into gear.
Now they wanted his socks.
“Can’t I give you something else?”
“No, man! We want your socks.
“I can’t give you my socks.”
“Come on! You’re the greatest.”
The greatest? Dan Majerle? They still can’t pronounce his name. They still don’t know where exactly he went to school — someplace in Michigan, wasn’t it? — or why they had never heard of him before. But they see the way he shoots the three- pointer and the way he crashes into opponents and the way he plays defense as if every basket scored against him is an egg on his family’s house.
And they love him. From his head to his toes. His bare toes. Give ’em your socks.
“My socks?” he said again.
What a thing! Here we are, the morning of the biggest Olympic basketball game in 16 years — the rematch of United States and Soviet Union, the only team ever to have beaten the Americans in Olympic competition — and Dan Majerle is leading the way.
This is a story that makes up one of those Olympic moments. Bang the drums. Sound the trumpets.
Danny Manning? You heard of him. David Robinson? J.R. Reid? Hersey Hawkins? These are famous names. Everyone knows these names.
Dan Majerle is not a famous name. But he is the leading scorer on the team. And they have him playing three positions.
“It’s been a kick for me,” he said, following the United State’s 94-57 victory over Puerto Rico. “People who have never seen me play are getting to know me. When I first hooked up with these guys, I was a little in awe. But now we’re all the same.”
Some might argue that. Some might say Majerle, who starred for Central Michigan, is better — at least in the eyes of Olympic coach John Thompson. Thompson is the Darth Vader of his profession. With one blast of his shark-deep voice, he can reduce you to trembling. Thompson hates everything. Or so it seems. It is said that Dan Majerle is the only player on this team who can make him smile.
“Sometimes, during practice, Dan is so quiet, I have to say ‘Dan, are you back there?’ ” Thompson bellowed.
He paused. “I LIKE that.”
He likes it! Hey, Mikey! He likes his defense. He likes his shooting. Mostly he likes his attitude. Majerle, 23, will not be intimidated. During an exhibition tour against NBA stars, he would confront the most famous of players. No awe here — they were just opponents in his way. During the early rounds of the Olympics, he drew the toughest defensive assignments — including Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt, perhaps the finest non- American player in the tournament. (“He’ll have a few bruises,” Majerle had said of Schmidt before that game. The United States won big. Schmidt — averaging over 40 points a game — was held to 7-for-16 from the floor.)
George Raveling, one of Thompson’s assistants: “Dan’s big, strong, tough and quiet. That’s why coach likes him so much.”
Charles Smith, who plays for Thompson at Georgetown: “People say Dan’s a Big East player. That’s why Coach likes him so much — he could play for us. Aw. He could play for anybody.”
He could play for Phoenix later this year. He is a first- round draft choice with suddenly high expectations. And yet you look at the guy, those apple cheeks, the curly hair, and if you shrunk that 6-foot-5 frame down to say, 4-foot-5, you’d find him in a tree house counting his baseball cards.
“Do you have any idea how popular you’ve become?” Majerle was asked.
“Really?” he said, grinning. “I’m kind of out of touch with that. I did get a telegram from the people back at school. They said, ‘the toilet paper is flying back at CMU.”
“The toilet paper?”
“We used to throw toilet paper after our wins there. I guess that’s what it means.”
Yeah. Probably. And maybe Dan’s popularity is why the folks in his hometown, Traverse City, chipped in so his parents could come see their son play in the Olympics.
What a thing! Tonight is a game that every kid wants to play in — every kid, every adult, every middle-aged fan who remembers where he was when the Soviets banked in that final basket in that frenzied Munich arena as the United States team screamed in disbelief. For three Olympics, this rematch has gone unplayed. Tonight, finally, it comes.
And Majerle will start.
“I’m excited,” he said, “I guess anyone would be. We’ve been concentrating on each opponent one at a time, so we haven’t had much chance to think about
(the Soviets) yet.
“But we will now.”
If the U.S. players win, Majerle said, and go on to capture a gold medal, he will put his in “a special place.” Probably along with all the snapshots and newspaper clips and collected evidence of this best summer of his life.
He is the quiet soldier who blossoms into the leader, the small-town kid who gets off the bus in Tinsel Town and lands a three-picture deal. Dan Majerle is the guy who first makes them say “Who?” and later makes them say
“Who was that?”
And now they want his socks.
“Pleeeeese!” they pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I gotta go.”
And the car pulled away. The two teenagers with the USA caps stood and watched until it was gone.
“Are you very disappointed?” they were asked.
“Nah, he’s great,” said one. “We just wanted his socks.”
“We would’ve settled for his shoes, though,” said the other. CUTLINE Dan Majerle leads the U.S. team in scoring. U.S. Olympic coach John Thompson likes Majerle for his defense, his shooting and his attitude.