EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Karl Malone can't understand why Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett are not jumping at the chance to play for the United States at the 2004 Olympics.
"You can't make people play. You wish they would, but you can't make 'em play. But if guys know what's at stake here and they don't want to play, there's something wrong with them, basically," Malone said Sunday before Utah's game against the New Jersey Nets.
The 18th-year Jazz forward is one of seven players who already were chosen for the U.S. Olympic team, although Malone's spot has not been officially announced.
The selections of Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen and Tim Duncan have been announced, while Mike Bibby, Kobe Bryant and Malone have said they were invited and intend to play.
The U.S. team will play in a qualifying tournament in August in Puerto Rico in an effort to clinch one of the three Olympic berths from the Americas region.
"Being able to have an opportunity to play for another gold medal, being 41 years old, being (in Athens) where the Olympics originated, getting to take my family there - there's a lot of plusses," Malone said. "There ain't that many minuses."
Malone played on the original Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and on the 1996 team that won in Atlanta.
Ready to do it all over again, Malone is over the mental and physical exhaustion that led him to jump on the first available airplane out of Atlanta after beating Yugoslavia for the gold.
Malone said he did not watch any of the basketball from the 2000 Olympics, where the Americans nearly lost, or the 2002 World Championships, where the U.S. team finished sixth after losses to Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain.
Although he acknowledges the competition has improved, Malone said he will still go into the Olympics with the Dream Team's mind-set - hoping to defeat every opponent by 40 points.
What remains to be seen is whether two of the best American big men will be playing alongside him.
USA basketball spokesman Craig Miller said neither O'Neal nor Garnett has completely closed the door on the possibility of playing in 2004.
O'Neal has cited his participation in the 1994 World Championships and the 1996 Olympics in defending his decision to sit out, while Garnett has said he wants to be certain about committing the bulk of two summers to the national team.
If O'Neal doesn't play, USA Basketball will have to choose a center from a pool of candidates that figures to include Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace and Brad Miller.
"You look around, and without a doubt you'd hope that Shaq would play. There's not tons of centers out there, but there's forwards that can play center by committee," Malone said. "You would hope a guy like Shaq would play. I don't know why he wouldn't, but that's a decision he's got to make. So we'll have to wait and see.
"It's not about taking up your summer," Malone said. "Basketball has been good to you, and to give up one of your summers for all you've gotten - I don't think that's too much to ask.
"I think when it comes down to it, those guys will realize that. You'd hope they would."
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