Regardless of what some fans in Miami might think this morning (boy was I wrong with my prediction), the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball team is the greatest team in the history of team sports. Not just basketball, but all team sports. Football, baseball, hockey, soccer, even curling. Anything. You name it. The Dream Team was the greatest team ever.
The statement above is just science
As detailed in NBA TV’s documentary, “The Dream Team,” it was a perfect storm that allowed some of the greatest basketball players, not just of their generation, but of all time, to come together for one summer in Barcelona. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Barkley, as well as Christian Laettner (?!?) on one team, playing not for a city or a state, but for the country. Playing to redeem the losses to the Soviet Union in 1972 and 1988.
The Dream Team didn’t just play the game, they transcended it. Spanish streets shut down when the team traveled, opposing players stopped mid-dribble just to shake hands with Magic Johnson, and even before the game started, the opposing teams were asking if they could get a quick picture with the American squad. Everyone loved them, except maybe Angola.
You know what, just click the link and watch the movie.
Two years later, during the 1994 FIBA World Championships, there was a new team tagged as Dream Team II. Dream Team II didn’t have any returning members from ’92, while the 1996 Atlanta squad, dubbed Dream Team III, had five returning members (Barkley, Pippen, Stockton, Robinson and Malone). Because of the returning star power, Dream Team III should technically be considered Dream Team II, while the actual Dream Team II should just be considered the 1994 FIBA World Championship team. But that’s just my opinion.
While Dream Team III (II) was an amazing collection of talent, if the original Dream Team was an 18-year, barrel-aged scotch, Dream Team III (II) was like that scotch with water and a few ice cubes plopped in. It wasn’t nearly as crisp and clean as the original, but it still got you drunk. Although not as showy and world-changing as ’92, Dream Team III (II) still kicked the crap out of every team they came across, and did so with ease.
The plus side to Dream Team III (II) was that America was still on top of the game for another four more years. The down side was that the team and the games themselves had become old hat to the players involved. It was as if the best players in the country (Shaq, Kobe, etc) figured the USA was just going to win it all anyway, so why do they have to give up their summer when someone else can do the same job?
The consequence was Dream Team 2000, which, except for maybe four players, were completely undeserving of the qualifier, “Dream.” They were good, but the you must have pretty low expectations if this is what you considered the best of America’s best.
You know the Olympic Committee was scraping the bottom of the barrel when Shareed Abdur-Rahim, Vin Baker and Steve Smith qualified as “Dreams.”
While the score differentials weren’t nearly as great as their two predecessors, the 2000 team still won gold in Greece that year, and for another four years gave Americans the delusion that even our nation’s most mediocre players were still better than the rest of the world’s top talent.
This led to a whole series of mishaps as the Committee tried to form the 2004 incarnation, which is undeserving of an actual picture.
2004 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team
Given the pun name “The Nightmare Team,” the 2004 version had Lebron, Amar’e, Carmelo and Wade, as well as others who were considered top talent in the nation at the time (except Kobe, again).
The fault with the ‘team’ was that it included “Cancer-to-the-Team-Aspect-of-Team-Sports,” and “I-Shoot-First-Pass-Never” point guards Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, and was coached by Larry Brown, who although is considered one of the best coaches ever, refused to play players like Lebron, Carmelo, and Wade because “he didn’t sign up to coach children” (quote paraphrased). The consequence of not playing the best children in the nation was that the team lost a game to Puerto Rico, won the bronze medal, and made all of the world watch little cry-baby Manu Ginobili win a gold. Does the disgrace ever end?
Where’s Chuck Daly when you need him?
This complete and utter embarrassment led the Committee to ask Jerry Colangelo, fresh off cashing his check after suckering Robert Sarver to give him $400 million dollars for the Phoenix Suns, to take over the team’s reigns. Like Jordan of yesteryear, Colaganelo convinced Kobe Bryant (this is the only Jordan/Kobe comparison Bryant is deserved of) of signing up to redeem 2004’s failure. He hired the greatest college coach of all time, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who was used to coaching kiddos. He got Lebron, Wade, Melo and Bosh. He convinced Jason Kidd to log a few more miles on his legs. The team went to China, and conquered.
The Redeem Team will probably be the only time people outside of Los Angeles ever rooted for Kobe Bryant.
In a roundabout way, this leads us to this year’s upcoming games in London. While the team’s roster is still waiting to be finalized, it will undoubtedly be a downgrade from the last team. Like 1996, there will be returning players, but only a portion. The rest of the lineup will be filled with either newly establish talent since the last games (Kevin Durant), or up-and-coming names who are now approaching their potential (James Harden).
But will this be the last time NBA stars, the best of the best the country has to offer, go to the Olympic games to showcase to the world our nation’s dominance? At least while we still have it? Foreign markets are quickly catching up, or have caught up, to the US, and winning gold wasn’t as easy as when Jordan, Magic and Bird did it twenty-years ago. With the new CBA, owners are worrying that their multi-million dollar investments are not resting enough during Olympic summers, and players are again beginning to feel the apathy of the whole event. Why should they go, when others could probably do it. Is the age of NBA Olympics soon to be in the near past?
This will probably be the last time NBA players participate in the Olympics (at least until the US starts losing a whole bunch, and we grow desperate again). While the Dream ended twenty years ago, when the greatest team ever assembled (not named The Avengers) received gold medals around their necks, London will probably be the swan song of the legacy of Barcelona. It will probably be the last days before college players again take the court for their country. When they try to compete in a world that has greatly changed.
“Man, Jordan and Magic are good.”
So even though it’s not as fun as it used to be, not as sexy to watch, not as glamorous, take notice this summer when the US Men’s Basketball Team takes center stage once more. It might not be the best thing you’ve ever seen, but it probably will be the last time for a lot longer than four years you’re probably ever going to get to see it.
(On a side note, where can I score me a Barkley Dream Team jersey, circa 1992? Those things are sweet.)