The Dream Fulfilled
Posted Aug 7 2007 4:21PM
They were a global phenomenon. The Dream Team, basketball's equivalent of Elvis, Ali or the Beatles, was comprised of some of the NBA's greatest players -- Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin and one lucky collegian, Duke's Christian Laettner. For the first time in international basketball history, NBA players were allowed to compete for the United States in Olympic competition. Compete? The Dream Team won by an average of 43.8 points per game, and despite the lopsided losses, their opponents were simply happy to be on the same court as their heroes.
"It has been great," said Brazilian guard Marcel de Souza after a 44-point loss to the U.S.
"I am so overwhelmed with joy," said Marcelo Milanesio after Argentina's 41-point defeat.
Aug. 8, 2007 marks the 15th anniversary of the Dream Team's Olympic gold medal and NBA.com is celebrating its greatness. Below is what head coach Chuck Daly, who didn't call a timeout during the Olympic competition, had to say about guiding the greatest sports team ever assembled.
By Chuck Daly
I’ve only tasted champagne in a locker room three times in a coaching career that began in 1955 at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Area Joint High School. The first two occasions were when the Detroit Pistons won the NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. The third time was in Barcelona, when we accomplished our goal and won the Olympic gold medal. We only had a little champagne that night, but it tasted very good.
“Dream Team” is a lot of name to live up to, but, if anything, the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team exceeded all hopes and expectations. I think we truly gave the world a glimpse – only a glimpse, since we were never seriously challenged – of what basketball can be like at its highest level.
Chris Mullin accurately summed up all the elements that had to come together to produce this phenomenon, starting with the decision three years ago to open the Olympics to NBA players. Then he ticked off some more: “how badly we wanted to get back the gold. A number of top players in their prime, and a couple of others at the end of their careers. And everybody willing to throw egos, individual statistics, and all that other stuff out the window to prepare to be the best team ever.”
The one thing I will remember most about this team is the professionalism of the athletes. That’s what got us past all the distractions, all the controversies. They wanted to play as a team, put individual statistics aside, and work toward a common goal. A lot of bonding took place among these 12 athletes during the weeks we were together, and it was great to see and be part of.
Many people have asked me, what was I feeling when that final buzzer sounded?
Relief, mainly. This had been a long process, not just seven weeks but almost a year’s worth of thought and preparation. There were high expectations and some trepidation. All the players were major stars on their own teams, and as coaches we had some questions as to what would be needed to bring them together. So I felt a form of relief, mixed with joy and a sense of accomplishment, at having put it all together and won the Olympic title.
We finished the way we had begun – with a prayer. Before our first game together in Portland, Michael Jordan said, “Let’s say a prayer…’” After we beat Croatia in the gold medal game and got back to the locker room, I called everybody together and we said the same prayer. Somehow, it seemed fitting.
Afterward, Magic was asked, “When will there be another Olympic team like this one?” He answered the reporters, “Well, you guys won’t be around, and neither will we.”
I watched the medal ceremony from the front row of press seats along with my assistant coaches, Lenny Wilkens, Mike Krzyzewski, and P.J. Carlesimo. Only the players get medals and climb up on the victory stand, because the Olympics are supposed to be a celebration of the athletes. At the end of the ceremony, however, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and some of the other guys started waving for us to join them. We declined, because this was their moment, but I was very touched that they wanted to include us in it.
Some of the players had been on that victory stand before – Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullin were on the 1984 team that won in Los Angeles – but most had never won gold medals. For some, this was their first taste of Olympic victory, and that made it even more special.
I thought there was true joy and true sentiment on that winner’s stand, and the players’ comments in the locker room afterward really confirmed that. Karl Malone said it was “an awesome feeling, to see 12 athletes come together and do something for their country.” David Robinson, who was on the 1988 team that lost in the semifinals and came away from Seoul with a bronze medal, said, “Everything surges up inside you when they play the national anthem. It will be my happiest memory.” And Magic said, “It was the most awesome feeling I’ve ever had winning anything, especially when the national anthem was played. Goose bumps just came all over my body. It’s definitely the most exciting thing I’ve ever been through.”
Being with this team was like traveling with 12 rock stars, that’s all I can compare it to. Our every move caused quite a commotion. I’m sure there are some people in Barcelona who are happy we’re gone, like the owner of the little restaurant next to our hotel who said his regulars couldn’t make it down the street because of all the security surrounding us, but there was real adulation everywhere we went.
The Dream Team was very special in terms of talent, but I think it also was special on a personal level to people around the world – to the French fans who came out at midnight to meet us at the Nice airport, to the UC-San Diego students who waited outside their gym for one of our practices to end so they could see us, and to the many fans in Barcelona who staked out our hotel day and night to watch us come and go. And, of course, it was special to the thousands who saw our games in person and the billions who watched us on television worldwide.
Worldwide interest in the sport is what the International Basketball Federation had in mind when it voted in 1989 to let NBA players participate in the Olympics. Yes, we dominate the tournament, to the point where the only competition was for the Silver and Bronze medals. And surely we reestablished the U.S. dominance in the sport. But I believe we did a lot of good. By capturing people’s imagination, the Dream Team gave a big boost to the popularity of basketball around the world. We really won’t be able to gauge the overall impact for awhile. But when you have a team with this magnificent talent on TV in roughly 190 countries, before some 3 billion people, it’s got to improve the way the game is played.
Out there somewhere was a 12-year-old or a 13-year-old, not necessarily in the United States or in Spain but in any country, who perhaps was seeing these players for the first time. Now that youngster has a dream, and will be willing to work to make that dream come true. And maybe someday that child will get to compete in the Olympics and perhaps win a gold medal.
Reprinted from America's Dream Team: The Quest for Olympic Gold