It seems that every two or four years, starting in 2008 and moving forward, the argument is inevitable. Is this version of Team USA better than the original 1992 Dream Team? The Olympic squads and World Championship teams up until 2000 were to close to home to compare to the ’92 team and then our country went into a gold medal drought until 2008. We started taking it seriously, put together the best teams with the best players we have to offer, and ever since, we have been trying to build a team better than the Original Dream Team.
Practically unanimously known as the greatest team ever in any sport at any level, the 1992 USA Olympic team won every one of their games by an average of over 40 points a game. They sported 11 Hall of Famers, and 12 NBA Championships up to that point in their players’ careers (22 total throughout their careers). This year’s team first needs to win gold before this actually becomes a real argument, which is not the guarantee that it used to be. As of right now, we can only consider three of their players to be sure locks in the Hall of Fame, while most of their teammates still have great opportunities. Seven NBA championships have been won by this year’s group.
While I believe we need to see the results from this year’s Olympic Tournament for this to be a real argument, I will oblige and see what kind of competition this year’s team could create for that beloved ‘92 team.
Part of the reason they are deemed the greatest of all time is the wide, wide margin between themselves and anyone else on the planet at the time. Their greatness was magnified when compared to their competition in Barcelona. If this year’s team played in 1992 against the same competition, I am sure they would win most, if not all, of their games by that same margin that their predecessors did (if not by some margin close to their 43 a game). And similarly if the ’92 team could play against today’s competition, their average margin of victory would not be close to their 43 from the ‘92 games. And if the Dream Team played in today’s Olympics, wouldn’t they face the same problems that today’s team faces? Forgein countries would go zone against the Dream Team like they will do against this year’s version. Only Stockton, Bird and Mullin were dependable three point shooters and Stockton wasn’t as good until later on in his career. And you wouldn’t really want any of the Dream Team bigs stepping out for a three like Kevin Love can do now.
Charles Barkley recently said that only three guys from this year’s team would be good enough to be on the ‘92 team, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. This is one of the points that speaks loudest in regards to which team is better. If it were 1992 and we had these 24 players to choose a team from, our team would probably look like this.
Point Guards: Magic Johnson, John Stockton
Shooting Guards: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant
Small Forwards: LeBron James, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Durant
Power Forwards: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone
Centers: David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
Guys Excluded from 1992 Team: Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, Christian Laettner
Chris Paul and Deron Williams would make you think about adding them as another point guard, but with Karl Malone on the team, you would have to have John Stockton because of their chemistry and pick and roll play. Other than that, today’s big men wouldn’t be good enough for the team back then. But if we did the inverse and needed a team for today and we could choose from these 24 players, our teams would look slightly different. The game has changed in the last twenty years; the basketball world is more athletic with an emphasis on guys who can play and guard multiple positions. The international game is much more competitive and every guy 1-12 is important. Here is what our team may have looked like heading to London.
Point Guards: Magic Johnson ( in the Jason Kidd role as the veteran leader), Chris Paul
Shooting Guards: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Chris Mullin (zone buster)
Small Forwards: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Scottie Pippen
Power Forwards: Charles Barkley, Kevin Love (big man to stretch the floor)
Centers: David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
Guys Excluded from 2012 Team: Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala, Anthony Davis, Tyson Chandler
Larry Bird is cut because we only need one veteran who is too old to play, but we need him to his know-how. By this point in his career, he was too broken down to be in an Olympics where it would be as competitive as this one will be. There aren’t too many other changes to the team, but we added Chris Paul for Stockton because of his quickness and defense. We added Chris Mullin as a utility guy to stretch the defense and kill the opposing zone defenses with his shooting. And Kevin Love is on this team because the game is changing and we need big men who can shoot. So while I do believe what Charles Barkely said is true, it is only true to a certain extent. Back then we could take Bird and Magic and not be hurt by them being in the declining years of their careers. But if we had this 24 man camp in today’s world, the Dream Team would still have more players on the team, but the 2012 version would have a few more than if it were 1992.
And now we return to a big part of the original question. The question is not only who has the better team in their respective era, a big part of the question is who would win head to head? If it were a one game, winner take all Final, the 1992 Dream Team would win because Michael Jordan wouldn’t let anything else happen. If it were a best of seven series, the 1992 Dream Team would win in five or six games.
There are a number of reasons that the ‘92 team is considered the best of all time. They were well rounded. They had great point guards, great scorers on the wings, great defensive big men as well as big men who could score down low. They covered all facets of the game beautifully. They knew their pecking order and knew who the Alpha Dog was; Jordan. By that point, Bird and Magic were on the downside of their careers, Jordan was peaking and no one else could really challenge him. And when you are on a team of superstars, that is important. Who is the Alpha on today’s team? Who is taking over down the stretch. LeBron is the best in the world, Durant is the clutchest scorer in the world, and Kobe still THINKS he is all of the above. That could cause problems. And I can only imagine how beautiful it was to watch those guys play together. Their chemistry had to be off the charts with passers like Magic, Bird and Stockton. Today’s team is not as well rounded but just as dangerous. We clearly lack low post scorers, but besides that, there is not much more the ‘92 team had than this year’s version.
Here are some of the biggest in game issues that either team would face. Who would Magic and Bird guard? Would Bird really be able to hang with Lebron and Durant on the perimeter? Could he box out Kevin Love down low? Having both of those guys on the court at the same time would be tough for the Dream Team on defense. You would want them on bigger, slower guys, but the 2012 team doesn’t have too many of those. That would create a lot of minutes for Pippen playing the small forward or a point forward, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.
Kobe still thinks he is in the same league as Jordan, but while Kobe is 34 in a month and a half, Jordan was 29 and still as athletic as ever. Jordan would definitely have the edge on offense and would be able to d up on Kobe as well as anyone. There is no way that Kobe wouldn’t get sucked into the one on one battle with Jordan. That would not bode well for Team 2012.
Team ’12 is thin on the front line. Tyson Chandler is a great defender but would not pose any threat to the Dream Team on the offensive end. Team ’12’s strength comes in playing small and having their best five guys on the court no matter how height challenged (relatively speaking) they may or may not be. Team ’12 at times will have Durant, LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe and CP3 on the floor at one time. Would they be able to guard Robinson, Ewing, Barkley and Malone? And while those are touch match ups on defense, who will guard those guys on the perimeter? It would be interesting to see if either team would abandon their strengths to match up better with the other teams. Would Magic, Bird or Pippen be forced to play center a la Team 2012? Or would Coach K be forced to play a more traditional lineup. I think no matter what, the Dream Team would pound this year’s team inside. Chandler would most definitely get into foul trouble five minutes into the game (although he is one of the guys who never thinks he has just committed a foul), and Anthony Davis would get manhandled down low.
How deep into the bench could Team ‘12 go? Are Anthony Davis, Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook ready for games like this? The Dream Team could go 11 deep and probably 12 deep if they had chosen anyone else on the planet other than Christian Laettner.
In the end, the Dream Team is better, they would win a one game playoff or a best of seven series although, the 2012 team could probably steal a game or two. It would be one heck of a battle though as some of the all time great competitors are on these two teams. They would be extremely pumped to show which version of Team USA is the ultimate champion. But alas, we will never know how a game between these versions of the greatest basketball powerhouse in the world would turn out. That is, after all what makes a sports argument so great. But perhaps, this is an argument that will get real old very quick to guys like MJ, Chuck, Magic and Bird. Right now, we can say they would win easily, but in 2014, there will be a new World Championship team who would like a crack at dethroning the greatest team of all time, the Dream Team.