‘Color code,’ not MJ, snubbed Isiah

Twenty years later, with a celebratory TV documentary produced and aired, an exhaustive book written and set for distribution, no one – least of all a member of the team – wants to be impolite and address the elephant inside the Dream Team room.

Hell, Isiah Thomas, the victim of the Dream Team’s most dastardly crime, doesn’t even want to take the conversation where it needs to go.

So, instead, we’ve wasted the last three weeks reliving Michael Jordan’s alleged vendetta against Zeke and the past couple of days castigating Clyde Drexler for his frank comments about Magic Johnson’s perceived life expectancy 20 years ago.

Two decades later and in the age of enlightenment, and we’re still not comfortable talking about the flaw in the Dream Team, the intentional, calculated, whitening of the roster.

Yep. I wrote it. I believe it. I know it.

White privilege and entitlement drove the construction of the Dream Team and were the primary factors in Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy and Shaquille O’Neal being left off the roster.

Four years after Big John Thompson failed to properly color code his Olympic roster (just one white player) of college kids and compounded his error by finishing third in the Seoul Olympics, there was no way USA Basketball was sending Larry Bird and 11 black guys to Barcelona. No way.

So John Stockton, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner were gifted positions on the roster ahead of significantly better players – Thomas, Wilkins, Worthy, O’Neal and even Drexler, who had to earn his way on the roster during the 1991-92 regular season after the original 10 players were selected in the summer of 1991.

Now, it is not my intention to denigrate the professional careers of Stockton and Mullin. Stockton was a great player, one of the 50 best of all time. Mullin was a very good player, a great scorer in Don Nelson’s system designed only for scoring. And I have no interest in criticizing Laettner’s college career. He is one of the greatest college players of all time. Given there was one position set aside for a collegian, his inclusion on the Dream Team is more defensible than Stockton’s or Mullin’s.

But Laettner didn’t belong for two reasons: 1. Shaq was a once-in-a-generation force of nature destined for hoop immortality. He was then, and certainly proved to be later, a far superior player to Laettner. 2. Holding one collegiate spot was a ploy to leave the door open for one more white player. The remaining NBA candidates – Kevin McHale, Tom Chambers, Mark Price, Jeff Hornacek – were past their primes and/or clearly not good enough to be on a Dream Team. We haven’t included a college player since 1992.

Look, there’s probably little need to re-argue Stockton vs. Thomas. Anyone with a brain realizes Thomas was a better player than Stockton. Isiah won two NBA titles and played for a third without playing alongside another all-time great. He didn’t have Pippen or Kareem or McHale and Parrish.

Put The Mailman on the Detroit Pistons, and we’re having a totally different discussion about Isiah Thomas. Malone and Thomas would challenge Pippen and Jordan, Magic and Kareem, Russell and Cousy.

Stockton and Malone didn’t fail to win a championship because they played in the “wrong” era, crossing paths with Magic, Bird and Jordan. Stockton and Malone didn’t win a championship because they weren’t good enough. Isiah played in the same era and got two titles and nearly a third.

Isiah Thomas should’ve been the No. 4 player on the Dream Team, after Michael, Magic and Larry. Isiah had the fourth-best resume. We’ve blamed Michael Jordan for 20 years for the Isiah snub. During the Dream Team TV documentary, Michael said it was stipulated to him from the get-go that Isiah wouldn’t be on the roster. Michael didn’t have to ask. It was already decided.

You can’t squeeze Stockton on the roster if Zeke is already there.

As for Chris Mullin, and I mean this with all due respect, can someone tell me his signature game? Did Mullin ever sink an important basket in the NBA? Seriously. He’s a poor man’s Reggie Miller without ever torching the Knicks for 25 points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Mullin’s professional claim to fame is he made the original Dream Team without anyone ever offering a strong public objection.

Please, don’t tell me about how Mullin rode the bench at the end of his career for a Pacers team that played in the NBA Finals. No one even cares that Mullin never won a title. It’s a knock on Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Reggie, Ewing, etc.

Chris Mullin is Alex English. Try to find an Alex English highlight.

Mullin was a great scorer who gave up just as many points at the other end.

Look, I never liked Dominique Wilkins. The Human Highlight Film was a style-over-substance guy, in my eyes. But he was a better player than Mullin. ‘Nique went toe to toe with Larry Bird in some memorable playoff games. ‘Nique has some highlights you can air on SportsCenter. ‘Nique left an imprint.

Mullin? He’s best known for his crew cut.

Drexler was an add-on. Wilkins and Worthy didn’t make the team. But Mullin was one of the first 10 players chosen.

Don’t. Please. Don’t. Don’t argue that Mullin was on the team as an outside-shooting zone buster.

Child, please. There wasn’t an international zone invented that could stop Jordan, Barkley, Robinson, Ewing, Malone, Pippen, Bird and Magic in 1992. Hell, Barkley hit seven of eight three-pointers during the Olympics.

The Dream Team was color coordinated. No one will talk about it publicly. But I can guarantee you it’s bitched about privately.