The term Dream Team gets bandied around a lot from an amateur to professional level, on a yearly basis some team in some professional league gets referred to as the dream team, and righty so as similar to the GOAT (greatest of all time) this term is not trademarked!
The 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, was the first American Olympic team to feature active professional players from the NBA. Around this time there happened to be a golden period in the NBA where there were a list of GOAT’s all playing and excelling to unchartered territory in the NBA. The US men’s basketball team was described at the time by American and international journalists as the greatest sports team ever assembled, and thus became nicknamed as the ‘Dream Team’.
But let’s look back in sports history and see who the original dream team were and where the term evolved from. Anyone watching the brilliant documentary ‘The Last Dance’ about Michael Jordan will remember a lot of these names!
The Olympic Games were originally intended only for amateur players, so the United States could only use college players and had to build a national team from scratch every four years, as all American players turned pro after the Games and thus were no longer available for selection.
But unbelievably the communist countries used full-time professionals who were given phantom jobs to circumvent the amateur rules. (the communist countries were pretty famous for doping back then too) So while they were fielding professional players who had played together for years, the Americans were an all amateur team. And the results reflected this with the Americans settling for bronze in 1998 while the USSR / Soviet Union (former name for the Soviet countries) took gold while another professional team representing Yugoslavia took silver at the 1998 Olympic games.
After this, FIBA – international basketball’s governing body, ruled that the rules were unfair and changed them, allowing USA Basketball to field teams with National Basketball Association players.
The Original Dream Team
Even before the team to represent the USA at Olympic basketball in 1992 was selected, Sports Illustrated nicknamed the forthcoming American team as the “Dream Team,” on the cover of its February 18, 1991, issue. They were the first media publication to do so.
The first 10 players for Team USA men Basketball would be selected on September 21, 1991 were – Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks, Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, and Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers.
To put it simply these were mostly NBA legends at the time and nearly all were at the peaks of their NBA careers.
As an acknowledgment to the previous amateur rule amateur system, the selectors decided to include one collegiate player on the team. Christian Laettner of Duke University was added on May 12, 1992, chosen over future great Shaquille O’Neal from Louisiana State University’s.
The Dream Team would feature 3 of the greatest NBA players of all time – Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, at the time of the 1992 Olympics, these three superstars amassed a combined 10 NBA championships, seven NBA Finals MVP awards, and nine regular-season MVP awards, over the previous 13 seasons combined. At the time Michael Jordan’s basketball career was at his peak and was probably the biggest sports superstar on the planet, to this day he still holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average at 30.12 points per game.
The rest of the dream team would comfortably fit in the top 20 players of all time.
Dream Team Debut
Putting all these legends on the one team may not have been the on pitch success that it was on paper, as there were a lot of big ego’s on a small team playing on a basketball court. But the team debut at Tournament of the Americas, an Olympic qualifying event, would put that argument to rest.
On June 28th at the Tournament of the Americas, the US basketball team defeated Cuba 136–57, prompting Cuban coach Miguel Calderón Gómez to say, “You can’t cover the sun with your finger.” The media went into overdrive and the Dream Team would feed their hunger with five more easy victories for Team USA. The tournament would end on July 5 with a 127–80 victory over Venezuela. Team USA won the tournament with ease becoming one of four Americas squads to qualify for the 1992 summer Olympics.
In the leisurely run up to the games the team stayed in Monaco and in between practice and exhibition games, most of the team enjoyed the beaches, dining with royalty and the famous night life.
At the actual Summer Olympic games, due to their super star status, and the media circus that followed the Dream Team, they would stay at a luxury Barcelona hotel instead of the Olympic Village due to security concern.
Their first game at the Olympics was against Angola, and Team USA demolished them 106-48, a massive 68 point differential. The rest is pretty much history, with the 8 opposing teams being completely overwhelmed by the team of US superstars, losing by an average of 43.8 points per game. The USA team was the first to score more than 100 points in every game. The final was against Croatia where Team USA took gold with a 117-85 point win.
The 1992 USA basketball team was arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled across all sports and the term ‘Dream Team’ would become immortal.