Mem­o­ries of the Dream Team


There’s a cracker of a pro­gramme in the ESPN 30 for 30 se­ries do­ing the rounds. I Hate Chris­tian Laet­tner deals with the ca­reer of a bril­liant col­lege bas­ket­ball player and why he faced so much vit­riol.

The pro­gramme holds spe­cial in­ter­est for me be­cause I re­call Laet­tner from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

He was the 12th player on the ros­ter of the fa­mous Amer­i­can Dream Team, the NBA bas­ket­ball rock stars who won the Olympic gold medal with­out rais­ing a sweat.

It was the first time pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ballers had played at the Olympics – the col­lege play­ers rep­re­sent­ing the United States in 1988 had fin­ished only third.

Watch­ing their matches I was al­ways in­trigued by Laet­tner. The 2.11 me­tre-tall (6ft 11in) white boy seemed out of place along­side leg­ends like Michael Jor­dan, Larry Bird, Michael John­son (who had an­nounced he had the HIV virus), Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Pa­trick Ewing and Karl Malone.

He seemed just a to­ken ges­ture. The Amer­i­cans had de­cided they would pick their best 11 NBA play­ers plus a col­lege kid.

Laet­tner got the nod ahead of that year’s No 1 col­lege draft pick, Shaquille O’Neal.

Hav­ing seen the ESPN pro­gramme, it’s ob­vi­ous he was there on merit.

Mem­o­ries of the Dream Team flooded back.

Even con­sid­er­ing teams like Don Brad­man’s 1948 In­vin­ci­bles, the 1970 World Cup- win­ning Brazil foot­ball team and the 1987 All Black world cham­pi­ons, that 1992 Amer­i­can bas­ket­ball team was surely the great­est com­bi­na­tion of tal­ent ever as­sem­bled.

Only Laet­tner is not in the Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame.

It was amaz­ing watch­ing them in Barcelona. They didn’t stay in the Olympic vil­lage, be­cause of se­cu­rity is­sues, it was said. In­stead they took over a floor of one of Barcelona’s swanki­est ho­tels.

There was fre­netic black mar­ket ac­tiv­ity on tick­ets for their games and op­po­nents seemed over­awed and hon­oured to be shar­ing the court with them.

The Dream Team made their de­but at an Olympic qual­i­fy­ing event in Port­land and whipped Cuba 136– 57. Cuban coach Miguel Calderon Gomez said help­lessly: ‘‘You can’t cover the sun with your fin­ger.’’

At the Olympics, no team got within 30 points and coach Chuck Daly never called a time­out in the tour­na­ment. Daly said his team was like The Bea­tles and Elvis put to­gether.

In their first match, the Amer­i­cans beat An­gola 116-48 and there was the com­i­cal sight of one An­golan player run­ning along­side Jor­dan while mo­tion­ing to team­mates on the bench to get a photo.

When the Amer­i­cans beat Puerto Rico 117- 77, the losers lined up to get their au­to­graphs.

Press con­fer­ences were mas­sive in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, though I re­call our own Paul Holmes ag­gres­sively ques­tion­ing Jor­dan about be­ing spon­sored by Nike while the Amer­i­can team was wear­ing Ree­bok.

In the fi­nal, the Amer­i­cans, jointly cap­tained by John­son and Bird, out­played Croa­tia 117-85.

There have been sev­eral imi­ta­tion Dream Teams since and in 2012 Kobe Bryant and LeBron James said their Olympic team that year would beat the 1992 com­bi­na­tion.

‘‘They were a lot older, at the end of their ca­reers,’’ Bryant ex­plained.

Var­i­ous stars of 1992 re­sponded, but I liked Bird’s re­ply best: ‘‘ They prob­a­bly could. I haven’t played in 20 years and we’re all old now.’’


Big day: Mem­bers of the Dream Team po­si­tion them­selves for a pho­to­graph dur­ing their in­duc­tion into the Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame. Front, from left, John Stock­ton, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullen. Mid­dle, from left, Scot­tie Pip­pen, Michael Jor­dan, Michael John­son, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. Back, from left, Larry Bird, Pa­trick Ewing, David Robin­son, Chris­tian Laet­tner.

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