IF THE WORLD HAD A DREAM
How do you stop the strongest U.S. basketball team since 1992? Maybe with an International Dream Team featuring the best from the last quarter-century.
It is hard to believe that Argentina is the reigning Olympic basketball champion. Or that Spain is the world champion
Back in 1992, when NBA professionals joined the Olympics, it seemed absurd for another country to even think about being competitive with the team that included Hall of Famers such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
“I know exactly what is going to happen in the Olympics — the United States is going to beat everybody by 25 or 30 points,” Croatian Toni Kukoc, later an NBA star, said at the time. “On a bad day, they will win by only 10 or 15. Why? Because the NBA players are out of this world.”
Eleven professionals and Duke University star Christian Laettner made up the first Dream Team. The Americans went 8-0. They won by an average of 43.8 points per game, including a 32-point margin over the Croatians in the gold-medal game. Coach Chuck Daly never called a timeout.
Political upheaval in Europe contributed to the imbalance of the 1992 tournament, with the breakups of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia splitting two of international basketball’s powerhouses into several weakened offshoots.
But the gap closed quickly. Twelve years later, the Americans fell to third behind Argentina and Italy. Some blamed America’s fall on selfish play by fat and happy stars and a declining emphasis on fundamental basketball skills. But the global growth in the game, spurred by the glamour of the original Dream Team, played as big a role in the change.
The U.S. is fighting back this year with a roster that includes Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh. The Americans went 5-0 in the preliminary round, winning by an average of 32.2 points. They beat the Spanish by 37 points, and Germany, their last opponent before the playoff round, by 49.
Many have already started to compare this socalled Redeem Team to the 1992 Dream Team.
“They’re probably the second-best team the U.S. has had,” Chris Kamen, an American playing for Germany, told reporters after a 106-57 loss. “They’re so strong, physical and athletic … There’s no one guy dominating, they all are. Who do you stop?”
They way this tournament is going, it might take another Dream Team — made up of international stars — to slow the Americans.
Since 1992, the number of non-U.S. Olympians who played in, or would go on to play in, the NBA has steadily increased. The list boasts a pair of league MVPs, Canada’s Steve Nash and Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki, a rookie of the year in Spain’s Pau Gasol, and all-stars such as Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, and China’s Yao Ming.
But none of those players beat the U.S. four years ago. The Americans lost to Lithuania, to Puerto Rico, to Greece.
Even if they joined forces, they might not beat the U.S. this year.
“They wanted to make a statement,” Gasol said last week. “And they’ve made it.”
JOSE CALDERON Spain Point guard had 17 points in win over gold medallist Argentina in 2004 and 19 in quarter-final loss to U.S. Raptors star led NBA in assists- to-turnover ratio last year.
MANU GINOBILI Argentina Shooting guard was Olympic tournament MVP in 2004, leading Argentina to gold. Three-time NBA champion with San Antonio.
PEJA STOJAKOVIC Yugoslavia, Serbia/Montenegro Small forward was an Olympian in 2000 and helped Yugoslavia to the 2002 world title. Three-time NBA all-star.
DIRK NOWITZKI Germany Power forward was a first-time Olympian this year. Was MVP of 2002 world championships, when Germany won bronze. First NBA MVP from Europe.
DETLEF SCHREMPF Germany Power forward averaged a double-double in 16 games at the 1984 and 1992 Olympics. Three-time NBA all-star.
YAO MING China Centre made all-tournament team at his second Olympics by averaging 18.2 points in 2004. Perennial NBA all-star since being drafted first overall in 2002.
VLADE DIVAC Yugoslavia, Serbia/Montenegro Centre won two Olympic silvers and two world golds. The first nonAmerican draft pick of the L.A. Lakers had a 16-year NBA career.
TONI KUKOC Yugoslavia, Croatia Small forward won Olympic silver in 1988 and 1992. Part of second Chicago Bulls three-peat (1996-98), Kukoc won NBA sixth man honours in 1996.
DRAZEN PETROVIC Yugoslavia, Croatia Shooting guard scored 24 points against U.S. in 1992, and won three Olympic medals. Averaged better than 20 points per game in two NBA seasons.
STEVE NASH Canada Point guard led Canada to a 5-2 record in Sydney in 2000, when only the U.S. won more games. Won back-to-back NBA MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns. ARVYDAS SABONIS Soviet Union, Lithuania Centre led Soviets to gold at 1988 Olympics,...
OSCAR SCHMIDT Brazil Shooting guard led Olympics in scoring in 1988, 1992 and 1996, and has seven of the 10 highest-scoring games in the Games. Drafted by New Jersey, but never played in NBA.