By Harv Aronson
25 years ago, the International Olympic Committee made the decision to allow professional athletes to play in the Summer Olympics. Players from the NBA made their first appearance in the Summer games and became known as the “Dream Team.”
What followed was a display of immense talent from the United States and the team that included some of the biggest super stars of the sport made a joke out of the race for gold in basketball. The U.S. won all eight games played by an average margin of 43.75 points. The biggest differential came when they plaed Angola who they demolished by 68 points with a final score of 116-148.
The Americans also beat a very good Lithuania team by 51. The closest game came when they beat Croatia, winning by 32. They previously played the Croats in the second game of qualifying, winning that one by one more point, 103-70. The other victims were Germany (111-68), Brazil (127-83), Spain (122-81), and Puerto Rico (115-77). The team of NBA players left their victims in awe, jaws dropping, and feeling embarrassed. Only Christian Laettner was the only collegiate amateur on the squad.
So who made up this “super” team? Try these names on for size:
• David Robinson
• Patrick Ewing
• Larry Bird
• Scottie Pippen
• Michael Jordan
• Clyde Drexler
• Karl Malone
• John Stockton
• Chris Mullin
• Charles Barkley
• Magic Johnson
That’s a big YIKES. Never before or since has that much talent been on the court putting on a show like these men did. From the outset, anyone who knows basketball knew this would be an awful joke. In the end, it became a playground affair, almost Harlem Globetrotter-esq. The guys from the National Basketball Association realized their opponents were WAY in over their heads to they started getting cute on the court and turned the hardwoods of the Olympics into their own personal playground pulling out any tricks they could muster.
Olympic men’s’ basketball began competing with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, the competition made famous by Jesse Owens’ efforts in front of Adolph Hitler. The U.S. won that first gold with Canada finishing with the silver and Mexico winning the bronze. The American would not lose the gold until exactly 36 years later in the final game which would become the most controversial in Olympic history.
In 1972, the Soviet Union won the gold medal but at the end of the game with the score close, there was massive confusion on timeouts and the Russians were granted an extra few seconds that allowed them to throw the ball far down court for a game winning basket. The United States was so upset and angry they failed to show up for their silver medal ceremony the next day. To this day, all the men on that roster have refused to accept their medals. Rightly so.
The U.S. returned in 1976 to claim what should have been theirs, the gold medal as the Russians finished third this time behind Yugoslavia. By boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, the Americans had to wait until 1984 when again they won the gold as Spain now finished with the silver. In 1988, the Soviet Union once again took the highest medal and shockingly, the United States finished third as Yugoslavia, led by Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac too silver.
As Eastern Bloc nations have been support by their governments for years, they were deemed professionals, so beginning with the 1992 Olympics, the United States was permitted to send professionals of their choice. Thus, the Dream Team was born. That 1992 squad was incredible. That type of talent will never come again. But one would think any of the NBA pros would be able to have a cake walk through an Olympic Games. Not true. Since 1992, and the infusion of NBA players, the U.S. has in fact lost.
That Olympic loss was to Argentina (gold) and Italy (silver) in 2004 when the games were held in Athens, Greece. A team that had Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, Amar’s Stoudemire, and Dwayne Wade among others embarrassed the country by losing. Since that stinger, the Americans have not lost a gold medal in the last three Olympic games.
As for that Dream Team, in those eight games of 1992, Charles Barkley was the leading scorer averaging 16.3 PPG. Many of the other players were also in double figures including Michael Jordan whose mark was 12.7. The numbers were probably not higher because these guys were too busy throwing the ball around to each other and letting everyone have a shot at the basket.
Chris Mullin, always the sharp shooter made 50% of his three point attempts. Barkley and Jordan led the team in steals with 12 and 11 respectively. Sir Charles and Karl Malone were the leaders in rebounds with Barkley pulling down 50 and Malone 35. In the end, it was so much fun to watch that team on the floor in 1992, but again, that’s a sight we will never see again.