Now that the roster for the 2012 USA Olympic Basketball team has been set, lots of people are making comparisons to the Dream Team from 1992, with some even saying that the current team could beat the earlier version.
1992, as you should remember, was the first time that Team USA team was comprised of players from the National Basketball Association. Prior to that, we had been sending college players to the Olympics. While the United States won gold just about every time (save for some Russian shenanigans in 1972), an embarrassing loss in 1988, also to the Russians, combined with the Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA), basketball’s international governing body, wanting the best players in the world to play in the Olympics, paved the way for NBA players to play in the games.
Only amateur athletes are permitted to compete in the Olympics, however in 1986, FIBA eliminated the distinction between amateur and professional players so, by 1992, they made the decision that NBA players were eligible for the Olympics. Pros from European countries had already been playing in the Games for years.
At that point the U.S. put together what is considered the greatest team ever to play the sport. The NBA is considered by everyone to be the best basketball league in the World and The Dream Team was made up of experienced NBA players all of whom eventually went on to be Hall of Famers.
Although he was the last to commit to play on the team, Michael Jordan was the team’s leader… unless you asked Magic Johnson, in which case he was the running the show. Either way, the team was spilling over with talent. The roster included: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton.
The Dream Team went into the Barcelona Olympics and defeated all eight of their opponents by an average of 44 points. But they didn’t just beat these teams, they completely destroyed them and played with a cohesiveness that no one could ever have expected from a team with this kind of talent. These games meant something to them because they were there to restore the U.S.’s basketball reputation. Of course there were great USA Basketball teams after that, but no team ever matched their talent level or necessarily had the desire that Magic ‘nem had.
In 1994, the U.S. put together another team of greats to play in the FIBA World Championships, a tournament where America hadn’t won much over the years. That team had a young Reggie Miller and the leadership of Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas. The most impressive thing about that team was the way Alonzo Mourning, playing the center position, would completely dominate teams and do anything he wanted on the court because no one could stop him. Then suddenly there would be a stoppage of play, you’d hear the buzzer and Shaq would come in for ‘Zo. If these teams couldn’t stop Mourning, what were they gonna do with Shaq?
That team also went 8-0 and beat their opponents by an average of 38 points, but somehow their performance wasn’t as impressive as the original Dream Team who had only beaten teams by an average of six more points.
Every four years moving forward, the U.S. would put teams on the floor that could completely dominate their opponents from around the World, but each team seemed to dominate less and less. This was primarily because of two things. First, the NBA players didn’t quite have the same desire that Jordan’s 1992 team had when they were specifically sent to restore America’s name. Second, the talent around the World was beginning to catch up to the U.S.
This finally came to a head in 2004 when the Allen Iverson-led USA Basketball team went 5-3 in the tournament and won Bronze.
That was 100 percent unacceptable for a team of NBA players playing against teams with one, two or zero NBA players on their roster.
Because of that, the 2008 team – built around Kobe Bryant – was dubbed “the Redeem Team” and once again was charged with the mission of putting the World on notice. We’re still here.
They went undefeated in the Beijing, China Games and put the U.S. back on top, with Kobe acting as an outstanding ambassador for the United States as he was clearly the biggest star in the Olympic Village and fully embraced it.
Which brings us to the current 2012 team that is about to head over to London. For the record this team is made up of some really good talent. Traveling across the Atlantic to represent America will be: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, but would this team stack up to The Dream Team? Let’s look at this closely.
1992 – John Stockton, Magic Johnson
2012 – Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook
Well, I hate to show my age, but I feel like Magic Johnson could take out all three of these 2012 point guards and I certainly am not trying to take anything away from the talent that Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook have. They are arguably the best PGs in the League today. Of course, you would have to throw in Derrick Rose, who is injured right now. I would give the London guys the edge over John Stockton, but I would rather have Magic with a serviceable backup than the three of them. Magic is 6-9 and not skinny so, he could back his man down if he needed to even if there was a forward covering him on a switch. He could also handle the ball as well as the smaller Deron Williams and Chris Paul. While Westbrook is taller than the other two, he is more of a slasher who can catch the ball and put it right in the hoop. That’s good coming from the three position but, not so much from the point.
1992 – Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler
2012 – Kobe Bryant, James Harden
Is this where we say that Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are a wash? Do they cancel each other out? I don’t think so. As great as Kobe is, MJ was the best to ever do it. They both have amazing all around games on both ends of the floor, but I hope no one reading this is inclined to say that Kobe has the edge over Michael. If you are, then you clearly have never seen Michael play. As far as Clyde the Glide vs. James Harden, I would think that in ’92, Clyde was more of a seasoned player than Harden is right now. In ’92, Clyde had years of experience whereas in 2012, Harden is still rookie-ish. In fact, he may be one of the weaker spots overall on this 2012 team.
1992 – Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin
2012 – LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala
Bird was undeniably a superstar in his day and Scottie Pippen has six rings (courtesy of Michael), but at the three position, you would have to give the edge to the 2012 team. When all is said and done, LeBron could be the best to ever play the game (if he could just develop a killer instinct) and Durant will be up there as well. Carmelo has the ability to put the ball in the basket every time it touches his hands and Iguodala…well, he may be the most exciting dunker in the NBA. I don’t know how many wins that translates to, but it certainly keeps the fans watching. Iggy is also one of the best defenders playing the game today so, at some point they may need him to shut down a hot Nigerian or something. The small forward position seems crowded on this 2012 team, but Iggy can slide down to shooting guard if needed (he’s a better two-guard than Harden anyway) and Carmelo can move up to the power forward spot. They may need Carmelo to do that because with only one true center on the team, one of the power forwards is gonna have to put in some time at center.
1992 – Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Christian Laettner
2012 – Blake Griffin, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love
Like Drexler at the two, experience comes into play here. Charles Barkley was not afraid of anyone and played with a take no prisoners style. Surely you remember him elbowing that Angolan player that he claims was trying to push him around. You’ve probably also seen him body slam Shaq during that on-court altercation they had. Charles was an intimidator and even at 6’4, he could do it in a way that the 6’10 Blake Griffin, 6’10 Kevin Love or the 6’11 Chris Bosh will never be able to. Oh, and do I even have to bring Karl Malone into this?
1992 – Patrick Ewing, David Robinson
2012 – Tyson Chandler
The injury to Dwight Howard kind of hurt this team’s roster, leaving them with only one center. There are a couple of guys that can help out when Chandler goes to the bench but that still makes for a weak combo at this spot. I’m sure lots of people would wanna fight me, but I just may take Tyson Chandler over David Robinson because he seems more athletic and more aggressive than Robinson was. And while Ewing was a very good player, I’ve always thought he was kind of overrated mainly because he played in New York. Here’s the problem: 2012 only has Chandler at center. So, while I like him over the ’92 guys individually, whoever helps him out at center doesn’t make a better two-some than Ewing and Robinson. Chandler/Bosh, Chandler/Love and Chandler/Griffin all seem inferior to Ewing/Robinson.
The 2012 team has unbelievable talent but it is just a cut under the best in the World like the ’94 team. Although this team is arguably more talented than many of the Olympic teams we’ve seen, they will not have the same fire and desire of a team coming off of a less-than-gold USA Basketball performance. While there is no doubt that Team USA will win gold in London, those of us who remember 1992 will likely agree that they were the best to ever do it thus far.
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EBONY.com Contributing Writer