Posted Aug 13 2010 10:03PM
Officially, they were USA Basketball's men's national team. They'll forever be known by two words never printed on their jerseys or warm-ups, but used to describe the squad then and even since.
The 1992 USA Olympic gold-medal winning team is coming together once again as part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2010. The inductions are Aug. 13 in Springfield, Mass.
The team was truly a dream come true for basketball fans around the world. Sure, this collection of talent had gathered in NBA All-Star settings, but even then it was diluted between two teams and included players that could hardly be called legends.
This team included all-timers. Ten were named among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history and have since earned spots individually in the Hall of Fame, including Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone this season.
"Just the excellence of the team," said P.J. Carlesimo, an assistant to head coach Chuck Daly in 1992, who's spent two decades coaching within USA Basketball at different levels. "It was difficult not to like the team, not to enjoy the way they played."
There were omissions, Isiah Thomas being the most notable, and a curious selection, Christian Laettner selected over Shaquille O'Neal to represent the college ranks, but this truly was the crème of the NBA crop. The entire squad could go by one name and be instantly recognizable to the basketball masses.
Magic. Bird. Jordan. Barkley. Malone. Pippen. Stockton. Drexler. Mullin. Ewing. Robinson.
Stories of nights out in Monte Carlo are almost as legendary as the team itself. This team lived its life together to the hilt. Daly said it was like traveling with the Beatles and Elvis at the same time. They were treated like rock stars -- beefed-up security to keep fans at arm's distance, a separate luxury hotel from the Olympic village -- enjoying privileges not afforded any of the other U.S. athletes.
Daly admitted at the time the final training camp stop in the South of France was selected to entice the likes of Jordan and Barkley to commit to the team. Monte Carlo's casino-inspired mix of nightlife, golf and the beach had many questioning whether practice was ever a priority.
That was never an issue.
Whatever concerns might have arisen given the stature of the players involved, any sense of entitlement didn't spill out onto the hardwood. Going back to the first workouts in La Jolla and qualifying tournament in Portland, Daly set a tone that never wavered. Team USA sold out every time it suited up, whether it was in practice gear or those spiffy Nike uniforms. That had nothing to do with tickets.
"Even if the games weren't always competitive, unbelievable talents played together, unbelievable talents played defense, unbelievable talents rebounded," Carlesimo said. "They played basketball the way it was intended to be played."
The American team and USA Basketball had plenty of reasons to be motivated 18 years ago. The national team failed to win gold in both the 1988 Olympics and 1990 World Championships. FIBA's ruling in 1989 to allow professionals from outside of Europe and South America, meaning NBA players could participate in the 1992 Olympics, naturally caught the league's attention.
It set up a perfect storm of inspiration with an unparalleled spotlight of media attention and hype. The Dream Team was going to show the world again who invented the game.
"There was a lot of pride coming from our country to show the world how good American basketball was," said Kurt Rambis, an NBA contemporary of the Dream Team's players and current Timberwolves coach. "And they went over there and played the right way.
"They played hard, they played unselfish, they respected the game, they respected their opponents. They were so clearly head-and-shoulders better than everyone else that it almost looked like their opponents were in awe instead of trying to compete against them."
It would have been easy to be the ugly Americans and rub the noses of other countries into the soles of Michael's Air Jordans. Instead, opposing players often posed for pictures and stocked up on autographs from their NBA heroes. The Dreamers gladly obliged.
"I don't want to put them on a pedestal, but for that summer they pretty much did everything the way you're supposed to do," said Carlesimo, currently an assistant with the Raptors. "They represented basketball extremely well and they represented the United States extremely well. It was an impressive thing."
Team USA didn't face much in the way of competition. Unlike the last dozen or so years, when countries such as Lithuania and Argentina not only closed the gap, but began to beat American teams with NBA players, the eight games in Barcelona were masterful exercises in superiority. The Dream Team won by an average of nearly 44 points per game. Daly never called a timeout.
They could've coasted if they wanted.
"We had other teams that did that, that thought they were good enough," Carlesimo said. "If there ever was a team that could do that, this was the team."
The 1992 USA men's national team did more than bring the gold back home. This collection of a dozen personalities was credited with spurring a growth explosion in the sport globally. From Michael Jordan's bravado to Larry Bird's quiet intensity to David Robinson's humility, there was something genuine for any fan of the sport to latch on to.
Even their peers in the NBA were caught up in the Barcelona happenings.
"When you think about that level of talent, that level of versatility, the combined championships that were won by the players who were on that team," Rambis said, "it was really unbelievable."
Carlesimo remembers a team that didn't check the stat sheet in the locker room after games. With nearly 40 years tied into basketball in college and the NBA, he's still amazed by that commitment.
"They all checked their egos at the door," he said. "They just wanted Team USA to be good."
They ended up Hall of Famers.
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