It has been a subject of much debate. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have made their feelings known. The question: Who would win if matched up; the 1992 Dream Team or their 2012 counterparts? And while this 2012 squad is unbelievably talented, and should win the gold medal without any real problems, the answer to the above is not even up for conversation. The Dream Team wins, and wins handedly.
The eras in which these two teams played are entirely different, and almost makes a comparison illogical. The 1992 Olympics were the first in which FIBA let non-amateurs (also known as “professionals”) compete in the basketball tournament. This made the collection of All-Stars and 11 future Hall of Famers truly a big deal, and something those players cared about a crazy amount. Never before had something like this been done before, and while that might not necessarily be an “advantage” for the ’92 team, it certainly plays into their determination to dominate the opposition.
I’m not suggesting that this year’s Olympic team doesn’t desperately want to win. They do. You can see that in the fact that they themselves have brought up this question of who would win. They of course want to avoid the ridicule that comes with not winning gold with a roster comprised of NBA elite talent (hello 2004 Bronze Team!). But when you start breaking it down, position by position, player by player, I can’t really see a way in which the 2012 team can break through in just one singular game. In a series of 7 or 10, they probably find a way to sneak a win or two past their predecessors. It might still take an off game from the Dream Team, however.
Credit AP Susan Ragan
We’ll start with the backcourt. The starters feature CP3 and Magic Johnson. In his prime, the 6’9″ Magic would be too much for even the defensive master that is Paul. But this was Magic after acquiring HIV and sitting out the 1991-1992 season, so it’s not the lock it appears. However, Magic played phenomenally in these games, starting 5 of the 8 games and leading the team in assists with 54. Magic played so well that John Stockton, who is right up there with Magic in terms of all-time PG’s, only appeared in 4 games total and did not start any of them. While a great 1, Paul is not even the best passer on his own team; that title of course belongs to LeBron James. I’ll give the advantage to Magic, but partially because Paul’s role is less significant on this team than Magic’s was on his.
The 2 guards feature what is not only a great matchup in this hypothetical contest, but also a semi-intriguing historical question: Kobe or MJ? This is MJ before his first retirement and ensuing minor league experience. Kobe right now is still an NBA top tier player, but the question on everyone’s mind is, for how much longer he will remain there. Kobe has just about as much “Jordan” in him as anyone we’ve seen, with the flair for the dramatic (despite what recent stats would suggest) and ability to all-around dominate. This is probably a matchup of the top two SG’s of all time. However, 1992 Michael Jordan is a better player in just about every way than is 2012 Kobe Bryant, so the Dream Team so far is looking good.
Durant vs Bird features a huge age discrepancy, so this one goes to 2012. What would most likely happen, however, is 1992 would switch Scottie Pippen onto Durant as frequently as possible, which benefits the Dream Team a little more. Durant over the last three years, is as good a scorer at will as anyone on either team, and yes that includes Jordan, so any matchup for Durant will favor him. In this game, Durant would be a huge determiner of the final score. So far in 2012, Durant has been a big-time scorer for Team USA, and they would need him to do so in this game also.
Before we move on to the frontcourt, one thing that would kill the 2012 team in this game would be their reliance on the 3-ball (even if it isn’t an NBA three). 1992 is stacked with great perimeter defenders, from Jordan to Pippen to Bird. The US so far this year has lived off of shooting over less talented and smaller opponents, so this potential problem has been anything but. In this game to end all games, I can’t imagine the outside game would be anywhere near as effective. Especially when one considers the biggest difference between 1992 and 2012: the big guys.
Due to injuries, 2012 is missing Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Blake Griffin as potential big-time rebounders. That being said, I’m not sure the latter two would even have room to breathe down low against 1992′s front court. Some of you, I’m sure, will be quick to point out that LeBron James would technically get matched up against Charles Barkley, which is an advantage for this years team. And you would be right. But as we’ve seen throughout the most recent part of King James’s career, he regularly plays more of versatile game, so some of his time would be spent other places. Even Barkley, who is undersized for a 4 at only 6’6″, could probably play solid defense against LeBron, or at least try to slow him down. But for argument’s sake, let’s say LeBron holds his own when it comes to rebounding.
The main big for 2012 is of course Tyson Chandler. While Chandler has asserted himself as a dominant player defensively in the NBA today (he was of course this past year’s Defensive POY), would he really come anywhere close to, oh, let’s say, 7 rebounds per game against the likes of Patrick Ewing and David Robinson- two of the best rebounders in NBA history? The answer is a resounding no.
I’ve not really addressed the backups, which play bigger roles on Olympic teams than on NBA teams. But if we are to consider the 2nd and 3rd strings, it only becomes worse for 2012. As anyone who watched NBATV’s documentary on the Dream Team that aired a few weeks ago can attest to, Isiah Thomas was left off of the squad, mainly because Jordan didn’t like him. That team could easily afford to leave one of the greatest PG’s of all-time off the roster because someone else didn’t like him. Why? Because they knew that even John Stockton wouldn’t see a lot of playing time nor recognition (see: when he toured the streets of Barcelona, pretty much unnoticed in that same documentary). For the 2012 team, Andre Iguodala is a nice player, a very talented player, but not even a top 20 player in the league right now. Not to knock Iggy, but he’s going to receive more playing time this year than some of the greatest 50 players in league history did in ’92, and that has nothing to do with being a better player.
The only way this year’s team could knock off the Dream Team would be to simply shoot the lights out. With that said, that’s pretty much the formula for any under-sized team to beat a better and bigger team. Durant would have Pippen and Bird in his face all night long, and LeBron would still get his, but would have a much harder time with Ewing and Robinson in the lane. I would expect 1992 to live off of second chance opportunities, and ultimately, that would be the difference. We all appreciate LeBron, Kobe, and others allowing us to have this discussion, but come on, fellas.
“The Dream Team” 121 | “The Dreaming Team” 102