Vickie Orr's Olympic memories

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Jul. 25—Vickie Orr and Austin Wiley had a recent conversation that not too many mothers and sons can have.

"He wanted to know where my Olympic photos were," Orr said. "I told him they were in a box somewhere in the house. We've moved a couple of times in the last few years, and I just never unpacked them after the last move."

The photos are of Orr, who lives in the Birmingham area, when she competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. The former All-American basketball player at Hartselle and Auburn was a member of the United States team.

The U.S. women were the gold medal favorite, but lost in the semifinals, 79-73, to a unified team representing the countries that made up the former Soviet Union. That's not one of Orr's favorite memories.

The U.S. did bounce back to beat Cuba, 88-74, in the third-place game to win the bronze medal. That's a better memory, but it's not the top memory.

The 1992 Olympics was the first time the United States allowed professional players to play for the men's basketball team. The roster was loaded with NBA stars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler and David Robinson. The coaches were Chuck Daly, Lenny Wilkens, Mike Krzyzewski and P.J. Carlesimo.

After the team was chosen, it was decided that one college player would be added to the team. Duke's Christian Laettner was picked over LSU's Shaquille O'Neal.

The collection of talent was so great that the team was nicknamed the "Dream Team."

"After the teams were selected there was a black-tie banquet together for both teams," Orr said. "I don't even remember where it was.

"It was decided that each of the girls would be escorted into the banquet by one of the guys. All the girls wanted Michael Jordan to be their escort, including me."

Orr said that the girls couldn't decide how to do it other than to let Jordan escort each girl. The coaches got involved and decided to go by jersey numbers. Because the jersey numbers went from 4-15, Orr wore 9 instead of the 50 she wore at Auburn.

The numbering system was the same for the men. That meant Jordan couldn't wear his famous 23. Instead he wore 9. That meant he escorted Orr to the banquet.

"That's definitely one of my favorite Olympic memories and I do have a photo of that," Orr said.

When it came time to head to the Olympics, Orr said the Dream Team chartered a plane and invited the women's team to go with them.

"Our team was in the back of the jet and the Dream Team was in the front of the plane with their families and friends," Orr said. "We stayed in the back, but I do remember Chuck (Charles Barkley, who Orr knew from their playing days at Auburn) coming to the back of the plane with MJ to say hello.

"We flew to the south of France and had a week of vacation before going to Barcelona. Who does that before going to compete in the Olympics? I remember a party on a giant yacht that was hosted by Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Evander Holyfield."

Interest in the Olympics is always big, but it was even bigger in 1992 because of the Dream Team. The U.S. went 8-0 to win the gold while averaging 117 points a game and defeating opponents by an average of 44 points. The widest margin of victory was 116-48 over Angola. The closest game was a 103-70 win over Croatia. Barkley led the team with 18 points a game. Jordan was next with 14.9.

The team was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2009, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2017. Eleven players have been inducted individually into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

"I have a lot of great memories from the Olympics," Orr said, "but I didn't enjoy it like I should have. I was a wide-eyed girl who had done a lot of international travel because of basketball, but the Olympics are on a different level.

"It's difficult to soak it all in and stay focused on the reason you are there. I think that's what cost us a gold medal."

Orr will be watching the games and plans to find that box with her Olympic photos.

"It will be fun to look back at that again," Orr said.

david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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