Dream on, Kobe: You'd never defeat '92 team
Let’s set something straight before we get started:
Kobe Bryant’s comments about the 1992 “Dream Team” were not that strong.
“I don’t know,” Bryant said when asked if today’s US basketball squad could beat the first batch of pros to play in the Olympics. “It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”
Bryant should feel that way. He’s going for Olympic gold. It’s his duty to think he and his teammates are the best in the world – not just now, but maybe ever. This is no time to consider defeat.
And it’s that type of swagger that helped Bryant lift his Lakers to five NBA titles. You know the story: He’s ultra-talented, possesses a killer instinct and a relentless work ethic. Even at the age of 33, Bryant may still be the game’s best all-around player.
So his comments about beating the Dream Team made sense. It was just Kobe being Kobe. It’s why fans embrace him. In an era when players too often treat the league like an AAU circuit by offering the opposition handshakes, hugs and high fives, Bryant is an assassin.
LeBron James once admitted as much, saying he could never be like Bryant, “and want everyone else on the floor dead.”
Clearly an exaggeration, but it made a valid point. Kobe is the ultimate competitor.
But that doesn’t make him right.
I know, because I’ve seen both teams play. I have no allegiance to either side, either. I’m not one of those guys who thinks the good old days were always good -- or better than today. If the teams really could meet, I'd probably even root for the modern-day version. But I know what I see and have seen. I know today's NBA consists of 30 teams. I know the league consisted of 27 in 1992.
That meant less jobs. It meant greater competition. It meant plenty of guys in the league today would likely need to sell insurance for a living if they aimed to make the pros 20 years ago.
Still, it goes way beyond that. Everyone on the Dream Team possessed Kobe’s determination. Michael Jordan led the way in that department -- and was more talented than Bryant. Jordan was at least as athletic (more, in my opinion) and more intelligent on the floor.
Since Bryant is pretty intelligent … well, it should give a pretty good idea of Jordan’s greatness.
But for the sake of argument, let’s call that matchup a draw.
Joining Jordan on the ’92 team were the likes of Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler and Magic Johnson, to name a few.
Pippen is the best wing defender I’ve ever witnessed. Robinson and Ewing are up there as far as centers -- certainly much better in every area than today’s big-man contingent of Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis and Kevin Love.
And Malone was Blake Griffin before Griffin (now injured and out of the Olympics). Except Malone could make perimeter shots, too.
Honestly, even comparing the teams is downright silly to me. But since it’s the point of this column, I’ll keep going.
Playing the right way
Who would defend Magic Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard who may have been a little past his prime, but could still see over defenders, handle the ball better than anyone in today’s game, and took great pride in finding the open man in the most electrifying way possible? His passes alone would reduce today’s team to tears.
Oh, yeah. About that Barkley guy. He would have his way with James when it came to getting to the basket. James is rock solid, but Barkley was still more powerful. Combine that with the fact James shies from physical play in the post, and Barkley would pretty much do what he wanted. LeBron would end up frustrated and in foul trouble.
Back to Pippen. He could contain anyone from Bryant to Kevin Durant to Carmelo Anthony to Deron Williams -- Pippen’s great length, superb positioning and unmatched smarts making it tough for even those with outstanding athleticism to get into any sort of rhythm.
And nobody on today’s team can shoot like Chris Mullin, or even Larry Bird, despite the fact Bird had an ironing board for a back at the time.
Mostly, the Dream Team would own a distinct advantage when it came to knowing the game and keeping the ball moving. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on that team could pass.
LeBron is celebrated for that skill, and deservedly so. But for members of the ’92 team, it was second nature.
Perhaps Jordan summed it up best when he learned of Bryant’s comments.
“'Most of us were in the prime of our careers, at a point where athleticism doesn't really matter,'' Jordan told The Associated Press. ''You have to know how to play the game.''
Ah, yes. You have to know how to play the game -- when things are close, when things don’t go your way, when your legs feel like jelly and you just can’t seem to take another step.
You have to know how to utilize your teammates to excel. No team ever did that like the 1992 Dream Team.
Again, Bryant has every right to say what he said. In fact, he should be applauded. It’s what you expect from a leader. He’s won five championships and would be a top five player in any era, no questions asked.
But let’s not kid ourselves. When we look at the matchups, and the level at which the game was played 20 years ago, there’s little doubt about it:
Kobe can keep on dreamin’.
“Remember now, they learned from us,” Jordan said. “We didn’t learn from them.”
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO