Dream Team 25: A Look Back at the Greatest Basketball Team Ever
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the Dream Team set out for redemption in the 1992 Summer Olympics (the USA took bronze at the 1988 Olympics). Widely regarded as the greatest collection of talent to ever grace a basketball court, the Dream Team was masterfully built with one goal in mind. Bringing gold back to the United States. That team did so much more than that on and off of the courts. Each member of the team helped define the game of basketball. While the team as a whole were viewed as global rock stars, and inspired a generation around the world to take the court. 11 of 12 Dream Team members would go on to be selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a feat that will likely never be seen again. To celebrate this team, let’s take a look back at its members and discuss not only the role they served on Dream Team, but their impact on basketball as a whole.
Head Coach: Chuck Daly
There’s no better place to start than with the Head Coach of the Dream Team, Chuck Daly. The personification of cool, Daly’s laid back personality and tactful mind made him the perfect man to manage the talent assembled for the Dream Team. He had a grasp on basketball and the personalities that played it, like few others. Both of which were always on full display as he was the maestro for the Bad Boy Pistons. Known for their grit, physical (borderline criminal) defense and brash attitudes, the rag-tag group captured back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. Despite his team’s reputation, Daly was admired league-wide for his class and coaching acumen (he was viewed as a saint amongst sinners, if you will). That league-wide admiration and respect was one of the main components to getting 12 of world’s best to buy into playing together. Daly did a masterful job coaching the Dream Team (a job harder than we’ll ever know), he created personal bonds with many of those players off the court (Daly golfed with Jordan every day and often went to Barcelona night clubs with Charles Barkley) and made sure they were all happy on the court. Daly would continue coaching until 199, finishing with 1075 career wins. Honoring his great career, Daly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.
#4 Christian Laettner (Forward)
In the interest of full-disclosure I can’t lie and say that Christian Laettner was meant to have a large role on the Dream Team. Being the sole collegiate member of the team his job was to learn in practice and keep up if he was put in the game. Laettner was chosen to be the sole representative based on dominance at the college level. He was fresh off of winning back-to-back NCAA Championships and had just been named the National College Basketball Player of the Year over the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning. As the 12th man of the team Laettner saw little action for the Dream Team, as there was a clear difference in his skill level from the rest of his teammates. While his contributions to the Dream Team were minimal, Laettner’s contribution to the game cannot be questioned. He will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest college basketball players of all time and managed to carve out a role for himself in the NBA, playing 13 seasons and snagging a bid in the 1997 All-Star game.
#5 David Robinson (Center)
Serving his country was not a foreign concept to David Robinson. He spent four years attending the United States Naval Academy and even deferred his NBA debut for two years to further honor his naval commitment. His selection to the Dream Team was a no-brainer, a consummate professional, Robinson was also one of the most dominant big men in the NBA, despite only having played for three seasons at the point of his selection. He would certainly make the most of that time, earning the 1990 Rookie of the Year award, the 1992 Defense Player of the Year award and All-Star bids in each of those three seasons. Robinson’s role on the Dream Team was clear, protect the rim defensively and utilize his size advantage offensively. He would prove successful at both, serving as the anchor for the Dream Team. Robinson wrapped his career up in 2003. He would leave the game with a laundry list of accolades, including 10-time All-Star, the 1995 league MVP and a two-time NBA Champion. Robinson would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.
#6 Patrick Ewing (Center)
The leader of the New York Knicks, Patrick Ewing’s game was at its peak at the time of his Dream Team selection. Much like David Robinson, Ewing was elected to the squad because of his professionalism and status as one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. A vital stoke on the wheel, Ewing was tasked with doing the dirty work for the Dream Team. Cleaning up the glass, protecting the rim and setting screens. Ewing thrived in the role, as he led the Dream Team in blocks and rebounds through the Olympics. Ewing called his career quits in 2002, but not before earning seven All-NBA selections, three All-Defensive honors and seven All-NBA selections. For his efforts Ewing was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2008.
#7 Larry Bird (Forward)
Unlike the majority of his teammates, Larry Bird was not in the prime of his career at the time of his Dream Team selection. In fact, the 1992 Olympics were meant to serve as a swan song for Bird, as he had made the decision to retire from the NBA due to chronic back pain. The pain would limit his time on the court throughout the qualifying process and in the 1992 Olympics. Bird’s play for the team did not matter (though he more than held his own), his teammates encouraged him to shoot every chance he got, they as did the fans just wanted catch the final glimpses of his storied career. One of the unquestioned leaders of the team, Bird was selected as a co-captain of the team by head coach Chuck Daly. Bird relished the role as a leader of the squad, often organizing card games for the team in his hotel room till the wee hours of the night. Bird, alongside Magic Johnson, helped save the NBA from despair and defined an era for the league. A 12-time All-Star, three-time league MVP and a three-time NBA Champion Bird would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
#8 Scottie Pippen (Forward)
The funny thing about Scottie Pippen’s selection to the Dream Team, was that he didn’t feel as though he belonged on the squad. A fact he wouldn’t share until recently. Though he may not have felt it, Pippen 100% deserved his spot on the team. Fresh off of his second consecutive NBA Championship, Pippen was widely regarded as one of the league’s stingiest defenders and brightest stars. He would be tasked with bringing that defensive intensity to the floor for the Dream Team. Consistently asked to wear down the opposing team’s best player, Pippen responded to the task in spades. The numbers won’t show the profound impact that Pippen had on the floor in the Olympics (though he did lead the team in assist), but his teammates universally praised his efforts. For his career Pippen would go to be named a seven-time All-Star, ten-time All-Defensive team member and a six-time NBA Champion. After retiring in 2004, Pippen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
#9 Michael Jordan (Guard)
At the time of his selection (and every day after), Michael Jordan was commonly regarded as the best basketball player in the world. Fresh off back-to-back NBA championships, six-consecutive scoring titles and his third league MVP award Jordan was undoubtedly the face of the NBA. He was selected to be the face and captain of the Dream Team, a role he actually declined. Believing that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird both deserved the role more. Jordan just wanted to play, have a chance to hang out with guys who had always been his adversaries and play golf. He wanted to play lots of golf and to ensure that he could, Chuck Daily actually scheduled Dream Team practices around Jordan’s tee times. Always the best player on the floor (for either team), Jordan would play the role of Swiss army knife for the Dream Team. He provided the squad with whatever they needed on a nightly basis, leading the team in steals per game (4.6), the second leading scorer per night (14.9) and third in assists and blocks per game (4.8 and 0.8). We all know what would become of Jordan post Dream Team. Six-time NBA Champion, ten-time scoring champion, five league MVP’s and six Finals MVP’s, to name a few. Jordan would go into the Hall of Fame in 2009 (source of the crying Jordan meme as well as one of the finest speeches you’ll ever hear).
#10 Clyde Drexler (Guard)
One of the final members named to the Dream Team (along with Christian Laettner), Clyde Drexler was to serve as the primary backup to Michael Jordan on the squad. Marveled for his time with the Portland Trail Blazers, at the time of his selection Drexler was best known for his scoring ability and calm nature. Two assets that would make his integration into the squad seamless. Mostly coming off the bench, Drexler helped keep the pace fast and provided a much-needed scoring spark for the team. Drexler would go on to earn to ten All-Star bids, five All-NBA selections and even managed to snag a ring in 1995 as a member of the Houston Rockets. For all of his efforts on the court, he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
#11 Karl Malone (Forward)
Like many of his Dream Team teammates, Karl Malone was just happy to be selected to the team. Going as far as to joke that he didn’t care whether he was the first person called or the last called as long as he got selected. Rest assure, Malone was one of the first players called for the Dream Team. The leader of the Utah Jazz, Malone was at the top of his game and few could match his command of the post (the ones that could were also selected to the Dream Team). Splitting time as the starting power forward with Charles Barkley, Malone’s job was to impose his will on opposing teams. Beat them up in the post, rebound and get to the free throw line. He would excel in the role, leading the Dream Team in rebounding (5.3), free throws made and attempted (24/32). Malone would retire in 2004, and finished his career as one of the most decorated players of all time. The 14-time All-NBA team member and two-time MVP also etched his name in the record books as the player with the second most points in history. Malone would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
#12 John Stockton (Guard)
It’s fitting that we next discuss John Stockton, because he and Karl Malone were a package deal. As leaders of the Utah Jazz, the two formed one of the most prolific duos in NBA history. Stockton was selected over the likes of Isiah Thomas because of his pinpoint passing, deceptive defense and the fact that he wasn’t hated league-wide (the most important factor). He would be tasked with running point for the second unit of the Dream Team and would have been a terrific asset had a hand injury not severely limited his playing time. Not often heralded as one of the game’s greats, Stockton is in a class with just a few point guards. He was a ten-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA team member and a five-time All-Defensive team member. Stockton would retire in 2003 as the all-time NBA leader in assists and steals (as in more than anyone who has ever played basketball) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
#13 Chris Mullin (Forward)
Criminally underrated, Chris Mullin made a name for himself in the NBA as the head of the Run TMC trio for the Golden State Warriors. Known for their scoring prowess and fast-paced offense the trio endeared itself in the hearts of many NBA fans. Viewed as the leader of that unit, Mullin was selected to the Dream Team for his volume scoring and shooting efficiency. Tasked with coming off the bench it was his job to provide spacing and a three-point threat for the second unit. Mullin responded by, leading all Dream Team players in 3-point percentage (54%) and being the fourth leading scorer (12.9) for the squad. Not as decorated as many of his teammates Mullin still managed to put together a solid NBA career. A five-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA honoree, Mullin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
#14 Charles Barkley (Forward)
The wild card of the Dream Team. Many were skeptical of sending Charles Barkley to the 1992 Olympics as an ambassador for the USA and NBA. Not exactly a role model throughout his career, the selection committee was worried about a series of incidents from Barkley on and off the court. Desperately wanting to be a part of the Dream Team, Barkley had a conversation with the committee, assuring them that he would not be a problem and was thus named to the squad. For the most part Barkley was a model citizen on and off the court, (sans one elbow to a member of the Angola Basketball team, though Barkley maintains his was elbowed first and was simply returning the favor). He would lead the Dream Team in scoring (18.0 PPG) and three-point percentage (88%) while also bringing intensity and physicality to the squad. Off the court Barkley could always be found walking the streets of Barcelona, mingling with fans and other Olympians from all-around the globe. Though he’s constantly teased about his lack of rings, Barkley amassed one of the finest NBA careers in league history. An 11-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA team member and MVP of the league in 1993, the ring was the only thing missing from his trophy case. Barkley would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
#15 Magic Johnson (Guard)
For Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the 1992 Olympics were meant to serve as his reintroduction to the game of basketball. Forced into an early retirement due to learning that he had contracted the HIV virus. After making a cameo appearance in the 1992 All-Star game, Magic put all of his focus into being ready to play for the Dream Team. Named co-captain of the team, along with Larry Bird, Magic played a vital role to the squad. In addition to being a consistent morale booster, Magic helped bring the proper competitiveness out of his teammates. He would serve as the main foil to Michael Jordan in practice. The two would lead teams for scrimmages that have been described as “the greatest games we’ll never get to see.” The battles served as a passing of the torch but also helped get the members of the Dream Team in the proper mindset for competition. Serving as the lead point guard for the team, Magic dazzled with his passing, reminding viewers of his contributions to the “Showtime” Lakers of the 80’s. Though his career was cut short Magic still left the game as one of the best of all time. Earning 10 All-NBA selections, three league MVP’s and leading the Lakers to five NBA Championships. Magic was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
The Dream Team is the measuring stick by which we grade Olympic basketball, until the end of time we will look back at this team in amazement. Not just because of the style and grace that they played with, but because of the difference they made around the world. Basketball is a universal language and the Dream Team spoke to not only the United States but to the whole world. Look at any of your favorite international players and the chances are high that they fell in love with basketball because of the Dream Team.