Today I accidentally caught myself using “Dream Team” in reference to the USA men’s basketball team competing in the 2012 London Olympics. I quickly corrected myself as the words sounded blasphemous the second they left my lips.
The 1992 “Dream Team” is irreplaceable, not only because of the star-studded roster, but because that team was a historical first that will never be duplicated in Olympic competition as far as the U.S. is concerned. It is, however, absolutely possible for the dominance and ferocity of the first NBA player-led Olympic team from the USA to be replicated.
The 2012 men’s team has one thing the 1992 didn’t… an uber-talented, healthy roster from top to bottom. Remember, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson may have been the most famous names on the Dream Team, but they were both at the end of their careers, serving primarily as figurehead fan-favorites and were no longer the most talented men on the basketball court. Bird was in such poor health that he didn’t participate in practice and his teammates said he could hardly walk because of severe back pain.
That is not the case as the 2012 roster is deep with skill and talent. Despite a lack of size without marquee players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin, Team USA is still chalk full of hoops greatness.
So then what is holding the 2012 squad back from that top-tier where the original Dream Team resides? Well, the guys have to play the games before we can crown them kings. Period.
Team USA has looked great in two of three international games played thus far. Brazil gave the guys a bit of trouble, exploiting USA’s lack of size down low but not enough so to beat the red, white and blue.
If the Americans will be tested by anyone at all in London, Spain and Argentina will do the honors. And they’ll have the pleasure sooner rather than later as the U.S. will face two of the world’s best teams for some pre-Olympics friendly fun within the next few days.
Interestingly enough, the exhibition games are being played at Palau Sant Jordi, the site of the Dream Team’s gold medal game in Barcelona back in 1992.
The U.S. faces Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola on Sunday, the two NBA stars, leading an Argentine team that won the gold medal in the 2004 Athens Games. Tuesday, the U.S. is up against a ridiculously stacked Spanish team that ultimately lost to Team USA, taking home silver in the 2008 Beijing Games. If you recall, that game was no gimme as the U.S. could’ve been beaten by the Spaniards.
Speaking of Spain, the national team has seven current or former NBA players, plus another two whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams, on the roster. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka headline the group that is incredibly talented, despite losing phenom Ricky Rubio to injury during the NBA season.
Back in 1992, Team USA beat opponents by an average of nearly 44 points per game in Olympic play. But there was no Manu Ginobili playing for Argentina, or Pau Gasol representing Spain. Instead, those guys were young kids inspired by the NBA stars they were watching in the Olympics on television.
The presence of the Dream Team in 1992 changed the course of history for international basketball, ultimately ensuring that no team could ever dominate at Team USA’s level again, by way of increasing the popularity of the sport worldwide.
Could another American team come close to earning the “Dream Team” name? It’s unlikely. The 2012 team definitely has the star power, but do they have what it takes to dismantle significantly tougher teams than the Americans faced 20 years ago? We’ll find out soon enough.