With the recent passing of Bill Russell, the basketball world took some time to reflect upon how far the sport has come across the NBA’s 75-year history (as well as all the legends who shaped it). An important chapter of this very history came 30 years ago today when the US Men’s Basketball “Dream Team” dominated at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The world stood in awe as they were introduced to these icons and witnessed what was potentially the finest basketball ever played.
Before we delve into the impact the Dream Team would ultimately have, it’s worth mentioning just how massive the lead-up was. For a bit of context, you had Michael Jordan playing at the absolute apex of performance in the background, while in the foreground, there was the shock reveal surrounding Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis.
After being forced to prematurely retire from the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson was credited with the formation of the Dream Team when he called up his rivals in Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, and persuaded them to join him on what would be his “last hurrah.”
Along with being vital in eliminating the stigma of HIV, this was also something of a torch-passing moment. MJ had officially arrived. As the ever-competitive Jordan himself said:
“He wanted to prove he was back… I wanted to prove to him that there’s new kids on the block.”
Even outside of this three-headed monster, the roster was absolutely stacked. You had:
- Michael Jordan
- Magic Johnson
- Larry Bird
- John Stockton
- Patrick Ewing
- Karl Malone
- Scottie Pippen
- Charles Barkley
- Clyde Drexler
- David Robinson
- Chris Mullin
Between these men, there were 117 All-Star selections, 15 MVPs, and 23 NBA championships. 11 of the players and three of the coaches are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame individually, but the team itself was collectively inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2009, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2017.
Charles Barkley led the team in scoring with 18 per game, Scottie Pippen led the team in assists with 5.9 per game, while Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing tied for the most rebounds per game with 5.3 each. The team went a perfect 8-0 in their games, beating each team with an average margin of 44 points and eventually taking home the gold medal.
You know what the craziest part of all of this was? It could have actually been even better. Isiah Thomas, Shaquille O’Neill, Dominique Wilkens, James Worthy, Larry Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Reggie Miller, and even Dennis Rodman all had very valid claims to be on that same court circa ’92.
Many also look at the US “Redeem Team” from the 2008 Olympics – which featured Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade among other incredible names – as a candidate for the most talented team ever. But it’s hard to say that with any confidence. What we do know for certain is this: the American tradition of assembling an insane team, dominating countries without running water, and then taking pictures with fans of the opposition — it all started with Magic Johnson dialling Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
The Dream Team is also an especially evocative name, as it is widely cited as the inspiration behind a lot of international players pursuing a career in the NBA in the first place. At the start of the 1991-92 season, there were 23 international players from 18 countries on the NBA rosters. By the start of the 2021-22 season, 109 international players from 39 countries were on league rosters. Fun fact, the last four MVPs and four of the last five DPOYs were won by players born outside of the US. It’s safe to say that basketball truly is an international game nowadays.
Relive basketball at its very best below.