The original Dream Team, the U.S. basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, was a phenomenon on and off the court. It mattered not that it dominated the Olympic competition, beating its eight opponents by an average of 44 points. What was important was that the Dream Team, the first U.S. Olympic team to include NBA stars, gave fans a glimpse of basketball at its finest, and an entire world responded.
Since 1992, basketball has exploded in popularity around the globe, rising to a place where it truly challenges soccer's status as the world's most popular sport. Much of that is due to the impact of the Dream Team, which attracted fans and followers wherever it went.
"It was," said Chuck Daly, coach of the 1992 team, "like Elvis and the Beatles put together. Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That's all I can compare it to."
And what a band it was. Start with three of the game's all-time greats: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Add the irrepressible Charles Barkley for a little spice, as well as seven more All-Stars: centers David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, power forward Karl Malone, swingmen Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler and point guard John Stockton. Complete the roster with Christian Laettner, the best college player of 1991-92 and a future NBA All-Star.
Opponents didn't have a chance, but they didn't care. One player, while trying to guard Magic Johnson, was seen frantically waving to a camera-wielding teammate on the bench, signaling to make sure he got a picture of them together.
"They knew they were playing the best in the world," reflected Daly after the team won the gold medal with a 117-85 win over Croatia on August 8, 1992. "They'll go home and for the rest of their lives be able to tell their kids, 'I played against Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.' And the more they play against our best players, the more confident they're going to get.
"Finally there will come a day -- I'm not saying it will happen anytime soon, mind you, but it's inevitable that it will happen -- that they will be able to compete with us on even terms. And they'll look back on the Dream Team as a landmark event in that process."