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The Dream Team of Dream Teams
June 12, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

When we got to the gym, there was this balcony [overlooking] the gym, so we didn't walk right in. It was almost, like, suspenseful. We look down and we see Barkley dunking. We see Michael stealing from somebody and doing one of his things where he takes off from outside the lane and double-pumps under the rim. We're like, "Wow, they do this in practice, too?" Some great insights to the original Dream Team in '92.

After the USA Basketball team, comprised of all college athletes, came in 3rd in the 1988 Olympics, the rules were changed to allow NBA players to participate. The result was a team that won by an average of 44 points per game.
posted by chitown (45 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
After the USA Basketball team, comprised of all college athletes, came in 3rd in the 1988 Olympics, the rules were changed to allow NBA players to participate.

The Kobayashi Maru of Olympic competition.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:35 AM on June 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


epic
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:38 AM on June 12, 2012


Stern: We said to FIBA that we weren't gung ho to play in the Olympics, but we would try to be good soldiers to support basketball. So they had a vote. The U.S. was against it, and the Russians were against it, too. But the overwhelming vote was in favor.

Huh, didn't realize that. I guess it makes sense now that I think about it. Why would the pro team owners want to send their prize players to a competition that doesn't turn a profit for them? I think I've heard of similar things with soccer and baseball.

And of course now participation by the top American NBA players is spotty at best in international competitions. That combined with the rise of great international players (often inspired by the original Dream Team, in fact) has led to the US teams regularly losing to top international squads.
posted by kmz at 7:39 AM on June 12, 2012


Not so spotty.
posted by the1inBK at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2012


Why would the pro team owners want to send their prize players to a competition that doesn't turn a profit for them?

Marketing. Those great international players come from countries where the NBA can hope to find future revenues. Show me the Money! The Globalization of the NBA (pdf)
posted by three blind mice at 8:01 AM on June 12, 2012


The Kobayashi Maru of Olympic competition.

Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.
posted by DU at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, that article is full of great little stories. Thanks for this.

After the college squad beat the pros at the first practice, emphasis mine:

Houston: Back at the hotel, I was on the same elevator as Bird and C-Webb, and C-Webb was chirping. Bird got off the elevator and said, "Don't worry, tomorrow's a new day." He kind of left us with that thought. And yeah, we got back in there, and it was a new day. [laughs]

Barkley: We sent them a little message.

Webber: We didn't score a point. Not one point. Not a point on a free throw, not a point in the game. We were the perfect wake-up call for them, and they were the perfect reality check for us.


And god he's often a loud-mouthed jackass, but you still gotta love Barkley sometimes:

Kim Bohuny (NBA manager of international events): We had a dinner with Prince Rainier and Prince Albert. There's very strict protocol. You know, you can't eat until Prince Rainier eats—things like that. We were reviewing it with the team beforehand, and I think it shocked some of our guys.

Miller: They said if the prince puts his fork down and stops eating, you all better stop eating. And Charles said, "Well, I hope he stops when I'm done eating my meal, because I'm eating my meal."

posted by kmz at 8:11 AM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


"We were sitting on the baseline. Magic is backing a guy down, and the guy on defense is yelling at his bench, "Now! Now!" And on the bench, one guy's pulling a camera out of his sock and taking a photo of his teammate."

That's wonderful.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2012


Yup, I agree...lots of lovely little snippets of insight. Made me want to see if there's video available anywhere. I grew up watching a lot of these players and the intensity and skill was something to behold.

Are there any players with this intensity and love of the game? I suspect that Michael Jordan's WILL power will long remain untouched. He was a guy who took shit for not being able to shoot three-pointers, so came out the next time and drained 15 of 'em. Incredible will to win, on that guy.
posted by Richat at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a great find - thanks!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:37 AM on June 12, 2012


Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.

Basketball may be a bit of a biased example here. Hockey also began allowing professionals from the NHL to compete in 1998 and the competition got lot more interesting in my opinion. It's one of the only international competitions where the best players in the world are all actually available to represent their countries in hockey (barring injury). And while there are always a handful of favorites, there's no country that seems to completely dominate the tournament and make a mockery of it like the Dream Team did.
posted by Hoopo at 8:48 AM on June 12, 2012


Whenever I see a photo of the Dream Team I can't help but think, ha ha Isiah, you're not there.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 8:52 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, the Dream Team! I got this poster by cutting out UPC symbols from cereal boxes and mailing them in. It was on my wall for years.
posted by entropone at 8:54 AM on June 12, 2012


From Wikipedia:

as of 2011 eleven of the twelve players on the roster (all but Laettner) and three of the four coaches (all but Carlesimo) have been elected to the Hall of Fame as individuals

Obviously he sucked as a pro, but conceivably Laettner could still get into the HOF based on his college career, couldn't he?
posted by e1c at 9:02 AM on June 12, 2012


Laettner made the All-Star team in '97 so I wouldn't say he sucked as a pro. But yes, I could easily see the basketball hall of fame inducting him for his college career.
posted by thecjm at 9:13 AM on June 12, 2012


I have always heard the stories of all these guys being so ultra competitive both on and off the court...a reason that you would also often hear of that competitive nature leading to the golf course and huge gambling debts...but the fact that it extended even to Larry Bird trying to sign all the basketballs faster than everyone else! That is just hilariously awesome.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 9:18 AM on June 12, 2012


Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.

The professional versus amateur distinction always seemed weird to me. If the Olympics is about the absolute best athletes in the world competing, then why bar the professionals? If it's about having college aged players competing then make it an age limitation rather than a financial one. Other than rare exceptions, pretty much any Olympic athlete from a wealthy country that has a chance to win an event is going to have a massively well financed training program behind them, and the distinction of whether or not they get paid as part of that training is pretty arbitrary. If anything the athletes that spend years of their lives training every day for the Olympics and end up not getting paid anything for their work are getting a raw deal out of the whole thing.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:20 AM on June 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


This was great. I was exactly the right age to be excited and impressed by the entire thing; this article just made it more fun.

I think the most interesting thing bout this year's roster, after reading that article, is that Coach K is the coach this year.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:24 AM on June 12, 2012


Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.

Except the definition of "amateur" and "professional" can get very hazy at the top levels of talent. In particular, "amateur" status massively biases your base of athletes in favor of the wealthy, who can afford to spend a lot of money on gear and coaches and perfecting their skills; what we think of as "real" amateurs - "normal" people who happen to love their sport - are at a severe disadvantage compared to someone who's independently wealthy and can devote as much time as a professional would to their "hobby." Or who have state support - think of all the "amateurs" the Soviet Union deployed who were officially factory workers or farmers, but in practice spent all their time training.

Or, to put it another way: What's the point of the Olympics if the participants aren't actually the very best in the world? The ideal - which, admittedly, the actual games generally fall far short of - is that this is a clash of champions; each nation brings its greatest athletes, and we find out who is, at that moment, the best of all humanity.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:24 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


If the Olympics is about the absolute best athletes in the world competing...

"If" indeed.
Coubertin's advocacy for the Games centered on a number of ideals about sport. He believed that the early ancient Olympics encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that.
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on June 12, 2012


Laettner made the All-Star team in '97 so I wouldn't say he sucked as a pro.

OK, "sucked" is harsh, he had a fairly indistinguished professional career.
posted by e1c at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2012


Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.

The professional versus amateur distinction always seemed weird to me. If the Olympics is about the absolute best athletes in the world competing, then why bar the professionals?


It's a pretty arbitrary distinction, and has been for many, many years. Canadian hockey fans are attuned to this better than most Olympics watchers, I think, because for years we had to send amateur squads of college kids to the Olympics against the best of the absolute best of the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, even though many of the Soviet "amateurs" were military officers whose sole job was to play on the Red Army hockey team.

As a kid, it used to confuse the hell out of me why Fetisov and Tretiak and the rest got to play for the Russians, but Canada couldn't send out Gretzky and Messier.
posted by gompa at 9:58 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Coubertin's advocacy for the Games centered on a number of ideals about sport

As an ideal that a 19th century might have about Ancient Greece it makes sense, but for a qualification rule in a multi-billion dollar international sport competition it makes significantly less sense. Even if it would be better, I don't think there's any feasible way to make the Olympics as we know it today into a competition between amateurs as Coubertin understood the concept, and it certainly wasn't a competition of amateurs in 1988. The actual reality of the Ancient Greek Olympics didn't even embody most of the ideals that Coubertin used as inspiration.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:06 AM on June 12, 2012


God, I do love Charles Barkley. Thanks for this, such great anecdotes, and it takes me back to the age when I was in total awe of these stars.

As for the amateur versus pro issue, several points. One, like the article says, the entire rest of the world was using pros for Olympic basketball at that point--the U.S. was the only exception. Two, the whole amateur athletics movement has always been total bullshit in my mind--it's mainly been used as a convenient way to limit competition to the idle rich aristocratic class. No working class person could ever hope to devote sufficient training time if they are barred from receiving any compensation for their efforts. It's just a nice way for the upper classes to keep low class immigrants out of their games. And it's not even based on any real historical understanding of the ancient olympics. The greeks took huge cash prizes for winning events, and trained seriously with pro trainers all year round. They were pros then just as now.
posted by bepe at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those stories about the games against the college teams are just gold. And I'll have to add the intra-squad scrimmage in Monte Carlo to the list of sporting events to go back and witness when I become a time traveler. (and before you ask, yes, the list of historical events to witness includes more sporting events than non-sporting events. Gotta problem with that!?!)
posted by dry white toast at 10:18 AM on June 12, 2012


McIntyre: I had about eighty basketballs in my room in Barcelona and had to get the players to sign them all. Bird was the last guy, and he says, "What's the quickest anyone's done it?" I said, "Anywhere from eight minutes to twenty." And Bird said, "I'm going to be the fastest. Time me." So he signs them, and he throws me the last one: "Okay, what is it?" "Whoa, four and a half minutes!" And he goes, "Yes!" Competitive right to the end.

I LOVE LARRY BIRD.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


for a qualification rule in a multi-billion dollar international sport competition it makes significantly less sense.

Indeed. If you measure the quality of your sports in dollars, then you most definitely want to have pros rather than amateurs.
posted by DU at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2012


While I understand the "poor can't compete" angle I don't see how allowing pros in fixes that. Aren't pro sports players, especially in the highest echelons where they would be eligible for a "dream team", famously wealthy?
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2012


Hockey also began allowing professionals from the NHL to compete in 1998 and the competition got lot more interesting in my opinion.

The big difference is that while the top league in the world was in the US, the players were truly international. Canada, Russia, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, and the US all provide top players to the league, so when the NHL started playing, a number of national teams gained a great deal of talent.

Association Football is the same way. The amount of talent in the English Premier League is staggering, but that doesn't mean England dominates international competition. They may sing "Two World Wars and One World Cup" at Germany, but Germany has three stars on their kit, not one.*

In 1992, basketball was much different. The top league was in the US, but the vast majority of the game's talent was also the US. So, when the NBA players joined, almost all of them were US citizens, and thus, when the best of the best played, they played for the US.

That's changing -- heck, Dirk Nowitzki, both a NBA season (2007) and finals (2011) MVP, is German. Indeed, the Dallas Mavericks have four international players -- Nowitziki, Beuabois and Mahinmi are from France, and Jianlian Yi is Chinese.

Indeed, it seems nowadays that most NBA teams have at least one player who's not from the US. US citizens are still the vast majority of the league, which is why I fully expect the 2012 Olympic Team to be dominant again, but the world is developing more and more talent.

It's the one US sport that the world has truly embraced.


* In regard to that, I noticed that in the last Women's World Cup, the US players were wearing two stars representing their two world cups, in 1991 and 1999, and the Brazilian team was wearing 5 stars, representing the zero world cups the Brazilian women's team has won. However, the Brazilian men have won the world cup five times.

My first thought was this -- if that's acceptable, then the US Men's Team gets to wear two stars, right?
posted by eriko at 10:37 AM on June 12, 2012


While I understand the "poor can't compete" angle I don't see how allowing pros in fixes that. Aren't pro sports players, especially in the highest echelons where they would be eligible for a "dream team", famously wealthy?

After they become pros, sometimes. Before that? More often then not, no.

And as has been said, if pure amateurism is what you wanted, that horse left the barn way way way before the Dream Team.
posted by kmz at 10:37 AM on June 12, 2012


also, Barkley is just the coolest
posted by nathancaswell at 10:39 AM on June 12, 2012


Yes, but they're wealthy because they're being paid to play, instead of because they were born with the money. Advancement in pro sports is ruthlessly merit-based; you can't buy yourself playing time in the NBA, or even a successful college program. If you're an amateur, in order to train full-time you need money that comes from something other than athletics.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:39 AM on June 12, 2012


If you measure the quality of your sports in dollars, then you most definitely want to have pros rather than amateurs.

Please drop this derail. It was dense to begin with as there were plenty of professional athletes in the Olympics before the Dream Team popped your personal cherry and now you're just droning on instead of letting people enjoy some fun anecdotes.
posted by yerfatma at 10:40 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Indeed. If you measure the quality of your sports in dollars, then you most definitely want to have pros rather than amateurs.

To be clear I was not measuring the quality of the sport, just the amount of resources spent on running and participating the in the competition. It makes no sense to me that the USOC would spend millions of dollars on trainers, PR people, lawyers, security personnel, etc. and yet the actual athletes who sacrifice significant amounts of their lives and risk serious injury to compete are expected to do so without getting any kind of financial compensation in return.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:09 AM on June 12, 2012


I remember watching one of the early-round games, probably Angola, and the other team were all eagerly heading over to get autographs and pictures from the U.S. players after getting just DEMOLISHED by the Dream Team, and my mom had to explain to me why they were so excited they just lost hugely. It was really charming, and it was SO exciting to see all those fantastic players on one team, and double-exciting for me as a young Bulls fan mid-three-peat, because we all just breathed basketball at the time.

I also remember the Reebok/Nike logo thing (mentioned on the last page) and that was the first time I was aware of corporate sponsorship, and the first I realized how it could make things "stupid," as I said then. It super-aggravated me as a child.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:37 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish I could remember where I heard/read this, it was probably an interview on some sports show but whoever it was he said that the practices for the original Dream Team featured some of the best basketball ever played and nobody really saw it.
posted by zzazazz at 11:57 AM on June 12, 2012


Don’t ever suggest to a UNC or Kentucky fan that Laettner should make the hall of fame based on his college career. Longtime fans of both programs despise him and it unites us to this day. He intentionally stomped on our players while they were down. He got away with it in the UNC game and trotted off with a smirk, but he was called for it in the Kentucky game.

"It's so Laettner. He's supposed to be like this all-America, this glamour boy, Mr. GQ. If you know Laettner, it's such a Laettner move to do something like that." - Duke teammate Cherokee Parks on the Kentucky incident
posted by Huplescat at 12:37 PM on June 12, 2012


That was such a great read, made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Thanks!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:41 PM on June 12, 2012


I remember one moment, maybe it was in the PanAm games, or maybe it was the Olympics itself. Jordan stole the ball and headed for the other end of the court. By the time he took flight at the free throw line, the opposing bench was all standing and screaming. One of them said something to the effect of, "we had the best seat in the house and Jordan is airborne. Of course we were going to stand up."
posted by Ber at 12:51 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Tinker Hatfield (Nike creative director): MJ just put the flag right over it, and you couldn't see the Reebok logo. He was just super-loyal. We didn't even ask MJ to do it. He just did it."

I see what you did there.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


OK, good. I am glad they talked about those practices where the team played each other. Oh, to have seen that.
posted by zzazazz at 2:21 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I understand the "poor can't compete" angle I don't see how allowing pros in fixes that. Aren't pro sports players, especially in the highest echelons where they would be eligible for a "dream team", famously wealthy?

Absolutely. The pros in the Spanish Women's Water Polo League - especially the "Dream Team" calibre ones - are rolling in endorsement money, and you can't go anywhere without seeing a poster with Nigerian heavyweight taekwondo champ Chika Chukwumerije's smiling face.

You do realize there are about ten sports worldwide where the top pros are wealthy if they play in a few select leagues, right? (For soccer, most of the players, who are under 23, are substitutes playing in their home countries' leagues; a substitute player on the 4th best team in the Honduran league isn't famously wealthy.) And, of course, the majority of these top earning sports aren't played at the Olympics?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:33 PM on June 12, 2012


Yep, it was at that moment that I stopped caring about the Olympics. We already have a venue for professional athletes.

As has been aluded to, the inclusion of the top NBA talent in '92 completely changed the game. The profile of basketball was raised around the world, and for the last ten years (just enough time for the kids who were in awe of the Dream Team to grow into basketball players in their own right), we've got legitimate games featuring the best players in the world, and most interestingly, serious doubts as to who will win. Spain fields an amazing team (though Rubio's knee explosion might derail that), as does Serbia. Great Britain is fielding a team featuring two NBA players, one of whom was an All-Star this year. Now, when foreign players come into the NBA, there is no scoffing about soft Euros. Look at the players making differences for their teams in the playoffs, and how many of them aren't American. Offhand, Sefalosha, the Brothers Gasol, Ibaka, Deng, Asik, Nowitzki, and seriously, the list goes on. That might not have happened without the Dream Team.

Even without all of that, to complain that the Olympics was somehow made impure by the Dream Team is just kind of odd.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:31 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Except the definition of "amateur" and "professional" can get very hazy at the top levels of talent. In particular, "amateur" status massively biases your base of athletes in favor of the wealthy, who can afford to spend a lot of money on gear and coaches and perfecting their skills; what we think of as "real" amateurs - "normal" people who happen to love their sport - are at a severe disadvantage compared to someone who's independently wealthy and can devote as much time as a professional would to their "hobby." Or who have state support - think of all the "amateurs" the Soviet Union deployed who were officially factory workers or farmers, but in practice spent all their time training.

Case in point.
posted by srboisvert at 12:54 PM on June 13, 2012


The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw: The toughest competition faced by the best team in basketball history was, in fact, its own: at a closed scrimmage in Monaco between sides led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, the details of which remained a secret for nearly 20 years.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2012


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