Thought of by many as the best team to ever grace the hardwood, the 1992 USA Olympic Basketball team, aka The Dream Team was a sensation, ushering in an era of international basketball dominance that spread and strengthened the appeal of the game across the world.
Literally the best of the best, 11 of the teams 12 players are now in the Basketball Hall of Fame, as is their head coach Chuck Daly, and two of his three assistants. Today, the idea of a new Dream Team is intriguing and the debate on if today’s players could give those legends a run for their money will rage on forever, we thought it a fun exercise to select a mock 2012 Dream Team (which is an upgrade on the actual USA Olympic team, because nobody can say no) and pit them against that 1992 Dream Team in celebration of the 90 minute NBA TV documentary on the 92′ team that is airing all this month.
The Rules: My roster for the re-booted Dream Team may draw some fire, but the team was selected with a small amount of strategy in mind, meaning the following 12 players are a mix of veteran leaders, young stars, slashers, shooters, distributors, and top level defenders. Natrually, good players were left off — just like in 1992 with Dominique Wilkins and Isiah Thomas.
There is no Carmelo Anthony (Pierce is a better shooter and I didn’t need another scorer) and LaMarcus Aldridge is sitting because the OG Dream Team had a top college talent, and so does this one in Anthony Davis, who took Aldridge’s spot. I also wanted to find a place for Russell Westbrook, but since I was following the roster composition of the 92′ team to the letter, I couldn’t roll with three point guards, and Rose and Paul are better players right now. Also, keep in mind that this match-up is hypothetical, so injuries to Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard are being disregarded. Also, this pits the Dream Team of 92′ against a 2012 Dream Team, meaning that all players from 92′ are the age that they were back then, within the bounds of this discussion.
With all of that said, lets go position by position and examine the theoretical match-up:
The lack of Shaq does shed a slight shadow on the 92′ Dream Team, but at the time there was an open question as to which college player was going to be a better pro, him or Christian Laettner? In hindsight, we know the answer to that and The Dream Team could have been that much more amazing (on paper) with Shaq at Center.
He wasn’t on the team though, so instead we compare David Robinson and Patrick Ewing to Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard would probably be the most dominant player of the four, and I don’t know that Ewing could keep up with him. Robinson though, who was 26 at the time, the same age as Howard and with significantly less mileage and wear on his body, would have certainly kept D-12 honest and out of the paint. As I said, Howard is the most dominant, but if kept out of the lane, his game suffers greatly, and both Ewing and Robinson could make mid-range jumpers with more authority than Howard, and you know Howard would punish them on the inside.
Tim Duncan is the best shooter of the lot, but he is 35 right now, and in a matchup against a 29 year old Ewing, and a 26 year old Robinson, he would get bruised and battered. Realistically, I could have gone with Andrew Bynum or Anthony Davis here instead of Duncan (who is also a power forward), but the end result would have been the same since Bynum is a talent, but nowhere near as gifted a scorer as the Dream Team 92′ big men, and Davis would get tossed around like a rag doll if matched against Ewing. The kid is a great athlete, but as a guy who grew up on Long Island in the early 90s, I can firmly state that Patrick Ewing was a bad, bad man, and he would feast on physically smaller competition.
Also, the 92′ Dream Team had some past-their-prime legends like Bird and Johnson on their team, so Duncan fills that role here.
Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Laettner versus Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis.
In name recognition, this seems like an easy choice, but they actually match up pretty well. Laettner and Davis cancel each other out really, and Davis would have likely contributed as much as the former Duke legend and Timberwolves big man, which is to say very little to nothing at all. The current Timberwolves big man, Kevin Love, is a different story. A bit slow-footed, Love is an amazing rebounder and can also light it up from beyond the arc. He’s a major match-up concern and would probably draw the physical and similarly slow footed Barkley. Honestly, Love and Barkley crashing the boards, fighting for every scrap, is something I would love to see.
Karl Malone is the deciding factor here, because while he and Griffin both profile as powerful, athletic forwards, Griffin is a lackluster defender and Malone is one of the best scorers in NBA history, so while Love and Griffin would be big, opposing bodies, I’ve got faith that The Mailman would deliver.
I think Griffin would be productive, but his lackluster mid-range game would severely limit him in a contest against a team as defensively gifted as the 92′ Dream Team. Griffin creates the most carnage when the game is sped up, but Pippen, Jordan, Stockton, and the other defensive wonders would certainly slow the game down.
Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin, and Larry Bird versus LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Paul Pierce
Pippen was entering his prime and he may be the best defensive player on either team, but he wouldn’t be able to contain LeBron or Durant, two physical marvels who are too big too play the 3 and too quick to not. Mullin and Bird are both tenacious and dangerous shooters who would stretch out the game, but they would suffer more than Pippen in their effort to stop LeBron and Durant, particularly Bird, whose back was betraying him at this point in his career. Pierce is an afterthought, a team leader, and a clutch performer, a bit like Bird actually, but more capable on both ends of the floor due to those injury concerns.
Really, the 12′ squads small forward tandem would represent a challenge for the entire 92′ team.
Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler versus Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade
Like the match-up at center, age plays into this, but barely. Jordan was 28 going into the Barcelona and is actually the youngest of the four shooting guards in this scenario. Still in his prime, MJ put up 30 points per game and led the Bulls to the title that summer. Not just one of the best scorers, but also one of the best defenders, and an incredibly gifted all around player who could seemingly dish out 12 assists or grab 13 rebounds if he so desired, Jordan is, in my mind, the best player of all time. I have never seen someone take over a game in the way that Jordan did and really, there has never been a better clutch shooter and never someone who was more able to do whatever it took to win.
Kobe is a great player, but he’s 33 now, and while he held up remarkably well in this fast paced season, even at his best he needed more help than Jordan did and he was always a step behind. In this imaginary showdown, Kobe is 5 years older than Michael, and not able to keep up. That said, at this point, Kobe is probably a better shooter than Jordan, whose outside game was beyond sound, but not nearly as formidable as it became in the last 3 years of his time with the Bulls, so Kobe would have an impact, just not a big enough one to win out here.
Wade is a great clutch performer, and a top talent, but he’s a poor man’s Kobe in the way that Drexler was a poor man’s Jordan.
Magic Johnson and John Stockton versus Chris Paul and Derrick Rose
Magic was 31 and still in his prime when he left the game after being diagnosed with HIV. The Summer Olympics was a return for him but during the tournament, the time off showed a little. With that said, he could still dish, and at 6’8″ he’d tower over Paul and Rondo and his reach would throw fingers and palms into their sight lines. The 12′ Dream Team’s guards are much quicker though, and they’d surely try to bring an uptempo style to the game, something that would put John Stockton front and center.
Stockton and Paul are similar and opposite, well rounded players who can create, Stockton is a better defender, Paul is a better scorer, but while Paul’s game wouldn’t be called undisciplined, Stockton is the definition of discipline and poise.
I think the speed wins out here, but with Malone, Ewing, and Robinson in the lane, Rose and Paul’s ability to penetrate and draw a defense into a collapse will be limited and they’ll be more likely to hand the ball off to guys like LeBron and Durant in the hopes that they can create their own shots. That said, Rose is truly gifted at making his own shot as well, and his appearance and skill as a scorer really gives the contemporary squad the edge.
Unbelievably, and despite the fact that the 92′ team wins out in a position by position battle, I have to give the edge to the re-booted Dream Team. These teams are somewhat evenly matched, but the biggest difference between them is a literal game changer — Durant and LeBron James are two of the best players in basketball right now, and the Dream Team would be ill-equipped to stop them.
In addition to that, though the 92′ team would nearly remove the paint from the equation, and perimeter defenders like Pippen, Stockton, and Jordan would help to slow down the game, players like Kobe, Wade, Pierce, and Love would stretch out the court and the young legs of Rose and Paul would eventually wear down the defense and allow their speed advantage to do some late damage.
This is, a bit of a shock to me, as I went into this assuming that their was no way that the original Dream Team could fall to a group of contemporary players. Chuck Daly’s team had better players, Hall of Fame players and all time greats, but in the end it is all about how these teams match up, and in that way the Dream Team of today has the edge.
Here’s the thing though, the Dream Team was an actual TEAM, working together to overcome the challenges of ego and status to dominate their competition. That, above all other things, is their legacy, and it is a legacy that more recent “Dream Teams” have failed to live up to. Could LeBron, Kobe, and Dwight Howard share the spotlight? Would any of these players risk tarnishing their brand by not being the “one”? Those questions can’t be answered on “paper” and that’s why the real Dream Team will always be considered the best team ever assembled — because they were assembled and because they conquered.