It was one of those impossible media questions.
“Could Team USA beat the Dream Team?”
Although reporters fielded responses from several Team USAers and subtly framed these elite players as cocky wannabes in their rather sensational headlines, I agree with the most recent gold medalists.
Team USA could emerge victorious in a game against its Olympic predecessor. This doesn’t mean they would win a seven-game series. It doesn’t even mean they would win a winner-take-all contest.
Kobe said it best: “Well, we could. We could. It would be a tough matchup to say the least.”
To prevent my mailing address from being distributed among the basketball community for the apparent heresy I have just committed (although somehow receiving hate mail seems strangely alluring), allow me to explain myself.
There’s no doubt Team USA would be the underdog in such a matchup. The Dream Team featured 11 eventual Hall of Fame inductees who cumulatively accrued 15 MVP awards, 23 NBA championships and 116 all-star appearances. To put these impressive accolades into perspective, Michael Jordan has been awarded more MVP awards than the entire current Team USA roster collectively. The front line of the original Dream Team (the Admiral, the Round Mound and the Mailman) would, in theory, obliterate the front line of this recent Olympic squad (Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis). In fact, Dream Teamer Charles Barkley believes that Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant would be the only players from the current Olympic team to even make the original one.
This may be true. But the same thing could be said about the contenders for Olympic gold in London. From Spain’s unimpressive roster of NBA riffraff, only the Gasol brothers (and maybe Serge Ibaka) would have avoided Coach K’s Las Vegas cuts—yet Spain only lost by seven points in the title game.
Olympic competition reinforces the importance of team basketball, seemingly more so than professional basketball, and almost downplays individual contribution. Perhaps this is a factor of fewer isolation plays and more motion offenses. Even though the Dream Team may be more decorated, this doesn’t necessarily make them the hands-down winner. Need we revisit the 2004 Lakers—a star-studded assembly of individual veteran talent (Bryant, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Shaq—who lost to a superstar-deficient Pistons team 4-1 in the NBA Finals? In sports, hoarding talent doesn’t necessarily translate to victories.
Since we’re talking in the hypothetical anyway, it’s worth noting a few of the “what-ifs.” What if Team USA experienced an offensive surge like it did against Nigeria, shooting 63 percent from beyond the arc and assisting on 41 of 59 made field goals? What if Scottie Pippen got into foul trouble—then who’d be left to guard LeBron or Kevin Durant? (Remember—by 1992, Magic was presumably weakened by his HIV condition, and Larry Bird was a 35-year-old with back pain.) In these circumstances, Team USA’s talent deficit could surely be overcome.
Put another way, if a team starting Kwame Brown at center could top the eventual NBA champion (see Golden State Warriors versus Miami Heat, Jan. 10, 2012), Team USA could certainly defeat the Dream Team. On paper, the original Dream Team is better. In reality, the original Dream Team is better. It’s hard to refute either of those claims.
Even so, can anyone say with complete certainty that the 1992 Dream Team would win? No. This is what my assertion rests on. This is most likely what the assertions of Kobe and LeBron rest on as well (although they have both been known to make media statements without much deliberation in the past).
This is the uncertainty that forms the foundation of professional sports. On any given day, an underdog could win.
David Eng knows all about the underdog mentality as a Golden State Warriors fan. Send him your Team USA vs. Dream Team predictions at email@example.com.