Twenty years ago, when NBA players were allowed to participate in the Summer Olympics it changed the entire landscape of the sport of basketball.
The global impact of the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team — also known as the Dream Team — was enormous. They opened the door for international players such as Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker to become NBA stars and heightened the popularity of the sport around the world.
A documentary presented by NBA TV sheds light on how the Dream Team came together and the untold stories behind the greatest team ever assembled.
The first call went to Michael Jordan as then NBA executive Rod Thorn called the reigning league MVP and explained to the Bulls’ megastar that “this is bigger than the NBA Finals . . . and we need you.”
Jordan was hesitant at first because he had already gone through the whole Olympic experience. He needed to be convinced and told who else was joining the historic squad. So Thorn made his next move. He called Magic Johnson.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Johnson said. “I was in from Day 1. I figured if I jumped in first and said I wanted to play then I would get guys to want to participate as well.”
“I think if Magic wasn’t on that team it wouldn’t have been as spectacular as it was. To finish out our careers was important for both of us,” said Larry Bird, who was named team captain along with Magic.
“Once you get guys like Magic and Larry committing on the team then all of a sudden it becomes something very, very special. Representing the USA is already a tremendous honor. To know that you’re gonna be on a dream team is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said center David Robinson, who was a member of the U.S. Olympic squad that finished a disappointing third in the 1988 Summer Games in South Korea. It was the watershed moment that sparked the whole NBA-led Olympic movement.
“They called in the big guns,” Patrick Ewing said.
One by one the Dream Team started to take shape. After Jordan, Magic and Bird eight other Hall-of-Famers accepted the invitation: Robinson, Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin, John Stockton, and Clyde Drexler. The last spot was filled in by Duke University standout Christian Laettner — whom many referred to as “the college guy.”
“It didn’t matter if you called me last. I got the call,” Malone said.
There was one major omission from the squad and that was Detroit All-Star Isiah Thomas. Jordan and Pippen both admitted they didn’t want Thomas — the ring leader of the Motor City bad boys, who tormented the Chicago Bulls for years — on the roster and the bad blood between the Bulls and the Pistons spilled over into the selection process of the Dream Team.
“I don’t think [Jordan] wanted [Isiah] on the team,” Pippen said.
The first official win for the Dream Team was the 77-point blowout against Cuba in the Tournament of Americas in Portland. The starting five who took the floor that day was Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Bird and Robinson. It was the first time Magic, Bird and Jordan — arguably the three greatest players in basketball history — shared a court together as teammates.
Magic made it a point to compete against Jordan in anything, anywhere, and anytime from HORSE games to free-throw shooting contests in practice to card games.
In Monte Carlo the scrimmages were intense as Daly split the practice squads and held live four-quarter games. On one side it was Jordan, Pippen, Mullin, Barkley and Ewing. Magic’s team had Drexler, Malone, Bird, and Robinson.
“Michael never liked to lose,” Pippen said. “He always got that look. When you see that look then give him the damn ball and get out of the way.”
Jordan said as much as it was five-on-five games it gravitating toward a Michael vs. Magic showdown.
By the time practice was over even Magic, who won five championships in the 1980s with the L.A. Lakers, had to acknowledge that basketball’s landscape had changed forever. “Larry and I were talking and Michael walks in and he says ‘There’s a new Sheriff in town.’ And we both hit each other like ‘Well, he’s not lying.’ ”
Monte Carlo definitely had its perks and Barkley, easily the most quotable star on the team, wasn’t shy about sharing one of those private moments. “Everyday after we got back from practice we made a beeline to the swimming pool with all those girls laying out topless,” Barkley said.
Barkley also admitted that you didn’t want to get in a beer-drinking contest with Bird because “Larry Bird drank Budweiser and Budweiser is the strongest beer in the world. And my head hurt for like two days.”
Robinson and Drexler also marveled at how Jordan could play round after round of golf yet still have enough energy to practice basketball. “I remember thinking ‘Does this guy ever sleep?’ ” Drexler joked.
The Dream Team officially didn’t lose a game, but there was that one dubious “loss” to the U.S. Select squad — which included then college studs Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Rodney Rogers, Eric Montross, and Chris Webber — at the start of training camp.
The college players defeated the Dream Team, 62-54, during a scrimmage in UC San Diego, but assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski saw it differently.
“Chuck [Daly] threw the game,” Krzyzewski said of the Dream Team coach’s master plan.
“If you looked on how much Jordan played and how much he subbed guys in, not picking up, not making any adjustments. He knew what he was doing,” Krzyzewski said. “I hate to burst their bubble, but it was a game thrown. Not many people would have done it, and he did it.”
Krzyzewski added: “It was brilliant on Chuck’s part to be able to orchestrate that and play along like he did.”
So why didn’t he tell his staff? “We probably would have screwed it up,” Coach K explained.
The next day the Dream Teamers flexed their muscles and showed why they were basketball legends. Barkley boasted his side won by more than 100 points and Coach K remembered the Select Team had all kinds of problems putting the ball in the basket. And, oh by the way, Jordan played a lot more in the rematch.
“It was gratifying to Chuck to have our butts beat like that because now we had to listen to him,” Jordan said.
Malone recalled Daly’s one and only speech to the players, and the message was crystal clear. “His speech was anybody can get beat,” The Mailman said.
From that point on the team never lost and none of the games were even close. The ’92 U.S. Olympic team ripped through the competition in Barcelona en route to the gold medal. They showcased total domination, execution, and basketball genius that left a lasting legacy that still resonates 20 years later.
“We made the game a worldwide game,” Barkley said. “I talked to Tony Parker, I talked to Ginobili, I talked to Dirk Nowitzki. Those guys said their first love of basketball started with the Dream Team. And I’m really proud of that.”
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.