There is no disputing it, the original Dream Team is the greatest collection of talent on one basketball team the world has ever seen. The headliners of the team were none other than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan (from now on, they shall be referred to as The Three Wise Men); who just happen to be somewhere in everyone’s top 10 basketball players of all time.
Although Magic and Bird’s basketball careers were essentially coming to a close by 1992 (when the Dream Team went to Barcelona to participate in the Olympics), they were still two of the players that had carried the NBA during the 1980’s while at the time it was widely assumed (and rightfully so) that Michael would rule the 1990’s.
By 1992, the trio had accumulated 10 NBA championship rings, nine MVP awards and seven NBA Finals MVP trophies. Long story short, we are talking about basketball royalty.
The Dream Team is quite possibly the most legendary basketball team we have ever seen. Indeed, much like the Beatles, there are still things today that we are learning about the group.
For instance, there is the one story (most people have heard this story discussed in some fashion) of the Dream Team playing against a select group of NCAA players to get ready for the Olympics. This team of future stars featured the likes of Chris Webber, Jamal Mashburn and Allan Houston to name a few. In their first meeting, the collegiate stars defeated the greatest team ever assembled by a score of 58-52. Quite understandably, these college guys were less than humble after the fact.
These collegiate athletes jumped around and started talking trash given what had just transpired.
The NBA veterans took note of this and the teams met again the following day for a rematch. The Dream Team played against these college kids in a 30-minute scrimmage and proceeded to destroy them by 56 points. Order had been restored.
The tune up helped the NBA stars prepare for the Olympics, where the results against their opponents were pretty much the same. No team had enough firepower to truly compete against the Dream Team, well except for one…
In recent years, several of the American basketball players that competed in the 1992 Olympics have made in some way, shape or form the observation that their toughest tests typically came in practice.
Croatia had a pretty good basketball team (some would argue the second best in the world) at the time and even they were no match for the United States in 1992. But the U.S. practices were apparently a sight to be held.
And really, how could they not be? One would think that having 11 (sorry Christian Laettner, but you didn’t make the cut) of the greatest players in the history playing against each other in practice would lead to some fiery exchanges and impressive displays of basketball. The one problem though is the lack of footage.
It’s almost as if the 1992 Dream Team practices happened in the 1950’s; basically cut off from the rest of the world. Essentially we had to rely on word of mouth or a few articles by a few prominent sports writers that gave us little nuggets like Scottie Pippen’s brilliant display of skills throughout the time he was on the team. Indeed, many have confirmed that Pippen was quite possibly the second best player on the squad.
But still, what really happened during these practices? After recently reading David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps, the mystery has finally been lifted (at least for me obviously).
Halberstam goes into detail and explains that at some point during the Olympics, the players had grown tired of their soft practices. In order to maintain their edge and continue bringing the heat on opposing countries, they needed practice to become competitive. These guys were like the Ocean’s Eleven crew in the biggest and most famous casino in the world; except they were not allowed to rob it. For better or worse, the inevitable would happen.
In Monte Carlo, Chuck Daly relented and allowed his team to play their brand of basketball.
And really, this could only happen one way: Magic’s team versus Michael’s team.
Magic Johnson’s team was comprised of Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, David Robinson and Clyde Drexler.
Michael Jordan’s team included Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen (for whatever reason, the fifth player on the squad was forgotten).
Magic’s team would take a 14-2 lead (some have stated that the lead was 14-0) and as the story goes, Charles Barkley (who had been tearing up his teammates in practice and his opponents during the Olympics) had started to trash talk.
Magic, it seems, had tried to get Barkley to settle down, but it was far too late.
The Kraken had been unleashed in the form of Michael Jordan.
If there is one thing most of us have learned throughout the years, it is to never upset Michael. From the moment MJ felt slighted, he would wage war against the said guilty party for what might seem like an eternity.
The best example of this was Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls during Jordan’s playing days. Krause made several blunders with Michael, but his arguably two biggest ones in no specific order:
- Trying to forbid Michael from playing in his second year in the league (in 1986) after his broken foot had healed and to add insult to the injury; calling him his property.
- Stating that organizations and not players won championships in the mid 90’s (in fairness, that’s what was printed; but what Krause had actually said was that players and coaches alone do not win championships, organizations do).
Jordan always looked for an edge against his enemies. And thus, when Michael Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, he just had to take a shot at Krause during his speech, and he did. The man was never to be crossed.
Thus, when Charles Barkley started talking trash after scoring a basket, he didn’t only release the Kraken, he unleashed its fury on his own team. Michael Jordan went on to score 16 straight points as his team took the lead and control of the scrimmage. Michael also hit some key free throws late in the “game” to basically ice the victory. The final score: 36-30.
Oddly enough, a physical battle involving some incredibly talented players (the intensity for this game was similar to that of a playoff game) became a test of will power; a test that Michael aced, and one that he could continue to conquer for the remainder of the decade, much like Bird and Magic had done before him.
There will never be another Dream Team. And you know why? Here we are 19 years later, and we are talking about one of their practices.
Not a game.