CHICAGO - An ankle needs surgery, and the hips and knees ache. Scottie Pippen, star forward of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls, is a walking wreck.
And yet Pippen, the only ailing member of Dream Team III, says he never considered forgoing the Olympics.
"I'm looking forward to playing very limited minutes," he said. "Anywhere from 12 to 15 minutes. But I'm not looking to be on a free ride. I want to be able to carry my eight, and that's what I'm going to have to do."
Coach Lenny Wilkens says he doesn't plan to carry a stopwatch around to determine players' minutes, but he won't push any player beyond his limit.
"Scottie looks good," Wilkens said. "I know every one else, his trainer and everyone, has been saying, `Go easy,"' Wilkens said. "I won't overwork them. But when they're on the floor, I want them to work hard, because if you start to take it easy, that's when you get hurt."
One of the more durable players in the game, Pippen comes off a season in which he played in 77 of the Bulls' 82 regular-season games and all 18 post-season contests. Over the last eight seasons, no NBA player has averaged 94.5 games per season - the most in the NBA.
Now, he faces three weeks of practice, five exhibition games and eight games during the Olympics, assuming the U.S. team reaches the gold medal game.
As recently as last week, the Bulls asked Pippen to withdraw from the Olympics and have minor ankle surgery so that he would be fully healed by the start of training camp. Sorry, Pippen told team president Jerry Krause.
"They tried to get me to reconsider my decision," said Pippen, who averaged 19.4 points this season. "They wondered whether this is an important thing at this point of my career. I told them it's very important, and I want to do it. I made an obligation to be on this team and an obligation to some companies. Why shouldn't I play. It's the best chance I'll have."
At stake for Pippen: A second gold medal (he was a member of Dream Team I, which won at Barcelona) and numerous endorsement opportunities. Athletes are not paid during the Olympics, but major corporations often throw huge amounts of money at marquee Olympic stars.
The Olympics also allows Pippen to emerge further from the shadow of Bulls teammate Michael Jordan, who isn't playing on the Olympic team, and even the controversial Dennis Rodman.
"I think it will be great for me, especially coming off an NBA title," Pippen said of the exposure. "That, and being part of an Olympic team - what more can you ask for?"