BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
When current Los Angeles Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant announced to the world his current group of Olympic teammates would defeat basketball’s immortal Dream Team, many scoffed. However, Bryant’s bold assertion was not only correct, but again exposed the media’s childlike adulation for anything Michael Jordan related.
The 1992 Dream Team was the first group of NBA All-Stars to play in the Olympics, and yes, they did annihilate all that stood in their path on their way to securing the Gold Medal. Yet, this feat, albeit spectacular, does not equate to unquestioned supremacy.
The 1992 Dream Team was flawed and contrary to popular belief consisted of men, not gods.
When a TRUE position-by-position analysis of each roster is done, it is hard to fathom but undeniably true, that the 2012 version of the Dream Team’s 1-12 would defeat the 1992 Omegas. The games would be close and the competition would be fierce, however, after gauging where each player was and is in their perspective careers one would be hard pressed to just anoint the 1992 squad victorious.
The 2012 collection of point guards fall well-short in name recognition, but those shortcomings cannot mask their advantage in talent. On any given day, and twice on Sundays, Magic Johnson would be No. 1 on any list discussing point guards. Johnson was the game’s best and in his prime was unconquerable at the position. Problem was, Magic was no longer in his prime, in fact, the Lakers’ icon had not played competitive basketball in over a year. The ‘92 squad’s other point guard, the Utah Jazz’s John Stockton, was coming off of an undisplaced fracture of his right fibula.
Johnson’s age and health combined with Stockton’s injury alter the entire dynamic in the point guard competition.
How would these two warriors counter the speed, penetration, and athleticism of a Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul? Even in Johnson’s day he was never a defensive juggernaut, so no longer in his prime and one year removed from competitive play it is safe to assume Magic would struggle with this assignment. Stockton coming off a significant leg injury would also be a liability for the ‘92 team.
Conversely, the Williams and Paul combination would have their way with the aged combatants. The two point guards would get into the paint at-will, and would face little resistance in getting the ball to teammates on the move. Yes Magic would be able to back the smaller guards down, but age and fatigue would eventually catch up to the veteran. Johnson’s lack of game shape would be evident by the second half, and Stockton on one good leg would be helpless against Westbrook’s explosion in the open court.
Obviously Michael Jordan would castrate Kobe Bryant and James Harden at the two spot. Jordan was coming off back-to-back championship seasons and OWNED the league. Bryant’s competitive fire would be extinguished by Jordan’s skill and desire. Harden is not really worth mentioning, but for full disclosure must be mentioned. Clyde Drexler would have no problem exposing Harden’s propensity to flop every time the wind blows. This match-up would clearly favor the ‘92 crew.
With the match-ups drawing even thus far, it is the small forward and power forward positions where the 2012 players announce their presence with authority. Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and Karl Malone garner most of the attention and highlight this group. Barkley and Malone were both outstanding rebounders, while Pippen was an efficient offensive player.
Defensively Pip was one of the game’s greatest and Malone was a perennial All-NBA First Team Defensive member, however that is where the defensive slides cease. Charles Barkley was one of the worst defenders in the league and loved to gamble. Larry Bird was decrepit by that point in his career and Chris Mullin was an “effort” defender.
This is where Team USA 2012 seizes the reigns. The current players offer a versatility that the 92 players do not regarding the forward position. The scoring of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant would give both Mullin and Pippen fits. Melo’s strength on the block and Durant’s length would frustrate Pippen. The Bulls small forward struggled against skilled strong players so there is no way he would be defending LeBron, thus leaving him to cover Anthony or Durant.
Melo’s strength in the post, explosion, and movement without the ball would be too much for Pippen to contain. Durant would struggle with Pip’s length, but it is difficult to imagine the 6’10 Durant not taking advantage of his seven foot wingspan. This would leave Barkley or Malone to defend Lebron.
Let us say that again slowly, this would leave Charles Barkley and Karl Malone to defend LeBron James.
Yes Malone and Barkley would have their way with James in the paint. However, James would have his way on the offensive end as well. James would also be able to cover space with his speed and force both forwards to cover the length of the floor, which we all know Barkley would not.
The 2012 troop would have no problem extending their defense the full length of the court and reverting to a zone to eliminate the inside presence that the ‘92 troops would have. Paul and crew would also run, run, and run after every made or missed shot to enforce an up-tempo game. With two of the game’s best scorers in Durant and Bryant on the wings and James and Paul running the break, Team 2012 would be potent on offense and stingy on defense.
Jordan gives the 92 crew one ace in the hole and the other ace, or aces, would be Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. The 2012 team would have no answer for a halfcourt game that featured the two bona fide centers. Their answer in Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis are laughable. Until you consider in the eight games Team ‘92 played, Robinson and Ewing never led the team in scoring. In fact, the closest the two came was Robinson finishing second once and Ewing finishing third.
Also consider this, the two gargantuan centers led the team in rebounding only three times, so the notion these two were featured cogs in the Team ‘92’s offense is unsubstantiated. The two centers were used as intimidators, and this would not work against American players.
Robinson would fit perfectly in an up-tempo game. His gazelle physique and extremely high basketball IQ would create mismatches for both Chandler and Love. The question remains would Michael concede to Robinson. The guard has always been the “man” and has never had to concede the spotlight to another superstar, especially in such a heated contest.
The Jordan lovers forget, it was no accident No.23 never played with another skilled offensive player. It was no oversight on General Manager Jerry Krause’s part or a mistake on Head Coach Phil Jackson’s part that he never asked for another dog in the yard. Jordan was the alpha and it is unlikely he would concede to such a docile personality in David Robinson.
Jordan was a killer who slowed down for no one, Robinson was a gentle spirit.
Let no man, women, or child ever commit the travesty of speaking against the god known as Michael Jordan.
However, ask yourself this, do you think it was a coincidence Jordan led the team in scoring only three times and those just happened to be the three biggest games in the Olympics. The first was against the second best team in the Olympics, and the only team deemed a threat in Croatia. The second and third were in the medal rounds.
Even in the house of fiction reality has a room. The reality is the Bulls’ guard would never allow such a thing to happen. Robinson would present another road to success but no one would make this the required path for No.23. Thus ensuring that Jordan would travel the road he knew best.
Those intangibles that people salute whenever Jordan’s name is invoked is what would leave the 92 Team tasting the disdain of defeat in a contest such as this.
Kobe Bryant has won championships sharing the spotlight. LeBron James won an NBA title and three league M.V.P. trophies playing a “make the best basketball play” style for better or for worse.
Lastly, Kevin Durant’s assassin eye seems unbefitting of such a mundane man. The skill of compromise can sometimes be mistaken for cowardice. This is the art of competition that was lost on Jordan and his 92 crew, excluding Magic and Bird.
There was a reason Jordan’s contemporaries failed mightily at winning titles in his absence and habitually bowed to him at critical moments during their NBA playing days. They were so fixated on beating Jordan at his own game, similar to a gunslinger putting down his pistol and trying to match sword play with a swordsman.
Instead of playing in the confines of the team Barkley, Malone, Ewing, and Drexler wanted to be the warrior who slayed the mighty dragon instead of being part of the group of warriors who slayed the mighty dragon.
The 2012 Team would not make that vital and fatal mistake. They would compete in a fashion that has been successful for them. LeBron would facilitate, Kobe would defer to the hot hand, while Anthony and Durant would score at an unprecedented clip.
Unlike the nineties, today’s game is now played by a different set of masters. A group more concerned with sharing the spotlight and less concerned about basking in it. A crew who wants to make sure everyone eats so they all can get fat instead of one individual obese off of singular adulation.