The original Dream Team that cruised to a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics is being inducted as a group into the Hall of Fame on Friday. This is an entirely appropriate honor simply because this aggregation was undeniably the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
Highlighting the soon-to-be-immortalized roster are three of the most magnificent basketball talents in the history of Western civilization: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. And they were ably abetted by a bunch of habitual NBA All-Stars, several of whom were still in the prime of their careers: Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin, John Stockton (whose prime was perpetual), Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing.
Drexler, Pippen and MJ supplied the warp speed. The power was generated by Magic, Malone, Barkley and Ewing. Defense was a point of emphasis for Pippen, Drexler, Jordan, Robinson and Malone. Perimeter shooting was in the extremely capable hands of Bird, Jordan, Drexler, Stockton and Mullin. Pass work was the particular provenance of Magic and Stockton. Plus the depth of their bench was unsurpassed.
However, this squad did have some weaknesses: Magic Johnson had been retired for a year, had lost at least a step and wasn’t in top-notch physical condition.. Larry Bird’s back was in bad shape, and he had likewise completed his NBA career.
Even so, there are only two teams that could have given the Dream Team a run for its money: The Team USA that copped the gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and the Redeem Team that won in Beijing two years ago.
Let’s take a look at the matchups: The 1996 squad had several holdover Dream Teamers. Barkley was still belligerent, but his game was starting to go downhill. Malone, Pippen, Robinson and Stockton remained prime-time performers.
The replacements for the Olympic pioneers consisted of Mitch Richmond, an expert and versatile point-maker who didn’t play much defense; Gary Payton, an overrated defender who needed the ball in his hands to score and was an erratic long-distance bomber; Anfernee Hardaway, strictly a one-on-one scorer; a youthful Grant Hill, who could score points by the dozen but had a shaky handle and limited shooting range; Reggie Miller, an all-time bombardier; Hakeem Olajuwon, who had every conceivable talent except overwhelming power; and Shaquille O’Neal, who was younger, lighter and just beginning to become a dreadnaught presence in the lane.
But the Dream Team had a significant edge in experience, strength, the consistency of their outside shooting and, above all, its individual defense — particularly at the wing positions.
In a seven-game series, the boys of Barcelona emerge triumphant in seven close games.
The Dreamers would have an even more pronounced advantage over the Redeemers. Except, that is, at point guard, where Deron Williams and Chris Paul have the edge over Magic and Stockton because of their quickness, speed and youth.
At shooting guard, MJ, Clyde the Glide and (the little used) Mullin have it all over D-Wade and Michael Redd.
The Redeemers’ would definitely have an advantage at the small forward spot with Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, either one of whom would have difficulty shaking Pippen’s defense, while the other would easily embarrass the diminished Bird.
Given that LeBron was utilized mostly at the power forward slot in Beijing, the physical and ornery combo of Malone and Barkley would eventually wear him (and Chris Bosh) down and out.
In the middle, the Dream Team’s Ewing was handicapped by a low basketball IQ and a tendency to choke, and Robinson was soft around his edges. Even so, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Bosh still wouldn’t measure up.
I’d take the Dream Team in six close games.
The only normally constituted NBA outfit that would marginally belong in the same company would be the 1995-96 Bulls, winners of 72 regular-season games, and then going 15-3 on their way to a championship. That would be Jordan, Pippen, Toni Kukoc (a clutch scorer supreme whose size invariably created advantageous matchups), Ron Harper (super savvy), Steve Kerr (a dead-eye shooter), Luc Longley (an underrated passer and defender whose size and bulk enabled entry passes into the low post that keyed the triangle offense), plus the inimitable Dennis Rodman.
However, as good as this team was, it's a couple of notches below the already cited All-Star-All-Time greats.
The imaginary outcome of a round-robin tournament involving the best of the best would be gold for the last stand of Magic and Bird, silver for the 1996 team, and bronze for Kobe, LBJ, D-Wade and company.
However, it’s only a matter of time before both the Atlanta and the Beijing Olympic hoopers eventually join the almighty Dream Team in the Hall of Fame.
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