WAS THERE EVER ANY DOUBT?
and their "Dream Team II" teammates, the 1994 World
Championships of Basketball provided the perfect opportunity for
the United States (and the NBA) to prove to the rest of the world
that, while they might be gaining on us, there's still a wide gulf
in talent to cross.
KJ and Dan
Majerle celebrate their gold medal-winning performance as members
of "Dream Team II," which won the 1994 World Championship of
Romping through Spain, crashing like a herd of bulls through
China's shop, throwing Australia on the barbie, solving Greece's
formula and, finally, beating Russia like a rented yak - the U.S.
squad simply made the world its own personal playground for 10 days
After whisking through the preliminary round and
semifinals, the Dreamers met Russia on August 14 in the gold medal
game. It was over almost as it began. The USA Basketball troupe
made 16 of its first 17 shots to take a 42-16 lead after 9:19 - on
their way to grabbing the gold with a 137-91 win before a record
crowd of 32,616 at SkyDome in Toronto and a global television
For KJ and Dan, who each gave the world a
heaping helping of their individual talents, winning the WCOB gold
was certainly special. But, even in this post-Cold War era, beating
the Russians to do so added a little dash of revenge - especially
for Majerle, who played on the U.S. team that lost to Russia in the
"KJ told me I could forget about '88 now and
he's right," Dan said.
For Johnson, the memory of the United States'
controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics was
fresh in his mind as he took the court in this gold medal
"I remember sitting on the floor in front of the
TV and watching that '72 game - it's my earliest memory of
basketball," KJ recalled. "I remember celebrating the win and then
having it taken away from us. I was really young and didn't
understand. This time, I don't think it's anything political that
motivated us. The Cold War and communism are dead. But Russia did
beat our '88 Olympic team and they had just beaten our Goodwill
Triumphing over Russia was frosting on an
eight-game cake that saw the U.S. team post some eye-popping stats:
margin of victory: 37.6 points.
percentage of .576 compared to opponents' .438.
28.1 average rebounding advantage.
In a word, Dream Team II's performance was - dominating.
"I've never been on a team with that much talent," KJ said with a
bit of understatement.
And it was the talent that truly separated the
United States from the best of the rest of the globe. Without a
doubt, the international teams are beginning to show great strides
in reaching a higher level of overall play. But imagine you are the
coach of Spain or Brazil or Puerto Rico and you scrape and claw
through most of the first half against the starting squad of the
United States. The Dream Teamers are beginning to tire and you
think to yourself, "Great, they'll have to go to the second
And then into the game walk Shaquille O'Neal, Dominique Wilkinsand
Larry Johnson. Sure,
"There are maybe two or three players in the
European leagues who could play in the NBA, but as far as teams,
there'll never be one that'll match up to the NBA because of the
talent and the interest in basketball in the United States,"
Actually, there were a few other players from
the NBA who did play for their home country's team. Dino Radja (Celtics) and Toni Kukoc (Bulls) led
Croatia to a bronze medal, while Rick Fox (Celtics) and William
Njoku (1994 Pacers draftee) played for Canada.
But it was the NBA stars on Dream Team II that
captured most of the attention of the hundreds of media and a
tournament-record 280,042 total fans.
"I think we did everything we were expected to
do," said KJ, who personally did his best to live up to
expectations after being twice passed over for a Dream Team II
nomination before nabbing a spot due to an injury to Isiah
It may have taken an injury to finally get KJ's
name on the roster, but Dream Team II coach Don Nelson is thrilled
that he was there.
"I really like having KJ on the court," Nelson
said. "The thing that stood out is how he sacrificed his scoring to
be a distributor of the ball and make his team win. We didn't need
his offense on this team. We did need his defense, penetration and
assists. He gave us all three."
Johnson led the squad in assists with 3.9 per
game, and his unmatched "there he his, there he goes" speed up the
court turned more than a few international heads - possibly proving
once and for all that he is the premier point man in
Meanwhile, Suns mate Majerle was putting on a
long-distance shooting exhibition befitting the new NBA
record-holder for three-pointers in a season. Along with
sharp-shooting teammates Mark
Price, Joe Dumars and
Reggie Miller, Thunder
Dan proved that if the NBA ever moved the three-point line in a few
feet to the international arc of 20 feet, 7 inches - treys would
rain down like a Burmese typhoon.
Of course, Dream Team II proved that whether
they were playing Burma or anyone else, they were certainly the
class of the competition. But it seemed their true foes were not
the international players lined up on the other side of the court.
This second version of a Dream Team was battling the "ghosts" of
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley - the
original Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics.
From day one, the debate raged on - how would
these youngsters fare against the more experienced, more revered
"They say Dream Team I was the greatest assembly
of talent ever," KJ said. "But a lot of those guys were on their
way out. If we had to play them now, of course, I'd say the younger
guys would win. But if we played those guys when they were in their
prime - a young Magic Johnson, a young Larry Bird without the back
problems, an enthusiastic Michael Jordan - then it might be a
For their part, Magic, Michael and Charles all
chimed in saying that forget about "in their prime" - Dream Team I
would whip the youngsters right now. Unfortunately, this debate may
never be truly solved - not that KJ and Dan won't have a few
discussions on the matter with the loquacious Sir Charles.
Perhaps Dream Team II will have the chance to
further prove their mettle on the same international stage that
provided Dream Team I the chance to shine - the Olympics.
While nothing is set in stone, the members of
Dream Team II reportedly are on the inside track to selection for
the 1996 United States Olympic Team that will compete in Atlanta
two summers from now. For Majerle and KJ, the opportunity to be
Olympians would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Well, make that
twice-in-a-lifetime for Dan.
"I have that bronze medal (from the 1988
Olympics) at home and I'm proud of it," Majerle said. "Now I've got
a gold from the World Championships. Not many players can say that.
This does help erase the disappointment of '88, but an Olympic gold
would be great. I'd jump at the chance to play again in '96."
"It would certainly be an honor to represent the
country in the Olympics, but those things are beyond my control,"
For now the Suns' newest Dream Teamers can bask
in the golden glow of their World Championships victory. A victory
that proved exactly where the United States stands in the
basketball world. "One of the thrills associated with being on this
team was being able to represent my country and to show the world
that the U.S. is still the dominating country when it comes to
basketball," KJ said.
Return to the top