Go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9J8Cb2ApWs
By Chris Deaton
The summer of 1992 was owned by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson—in that order, His ABBirness certainly would attest. It was 25 years ago this week that they lead the Dream Team to Olympic gold in men’s hoops in Barcelona: an eight-game romp in which they outscored their opponents by 350 points. It’s a disservice to the English language to define their superiority with superlatives. Call them “dominant” and all other examples of athletic dominance must be described with a lesser word. The 1927 New York Yankees were dominant. Serena Williams is dominant. This group of 11 pros and one amateur standout was just rude. The 11 are all Hall of fame inductees. The 12th man, Christian Laettner of Duke, was college basketball’s best player. He beat out Shaquille O’Neal to make the team. Had O’Neal been rostered instead, it’s possible the United States would have led Angola by 50 instead of 48 at the end of the half of the tournament’s first game. Had Teddy Roosevelt been alive to see it, he would’ve said that’s what he had in mind when he sent the Great White Fleet ‘round the globe.
The Dream Team participated in spectacle, not competition. Even Croatia, whose young star Toni Kukoc had been drafted by the Chicago Bulls a couple of months prior and joined Jordan and fellow U.S. Olympian Scottie Pippen for a trio of NBA championship runs, was overwhelmed in its first of two encounters with Team USA. Of guarding Kukoc, Jordan said, “Look, I got him. I don’t want no help. I’m gonna shut him down,” recalled Johnson. “And Scottie said, ‘No no. You’ve gotta give me some of him, too.” Jordan and Pippen are the greatest defensive tandem in basketball history. Kukoc scored four points on 2-of-11 shooting in a 103-70 loss—the closest call for the Dream Team dealt until they squeaked by the Croats by just 32 in the gold medal game.
Victory was guaranteed. Securing it in overwhelming fashion was inevitable. So like true alpha males trying to find something to keep them interested, the practice scrimmages among the 12 players were their most heated competitions of the summer. These brotherly skirmishes have fantastic backstories, like the one in which head coach Chuck Daly rigged the outcome in favor of a bunch of collegians who were enlisted to humble the pros. (Enraged from losing by 8, Jordan and company wasted the young’uns in a rematch.) By acclamation, however, the best was a five-on-five game dubbed “the greatest game nobody ever saw” by Sports Illustrated. On one side (team “White”) was Jordan, Pippen, Larry Bird—who, comically, was an afterthought at age 35—Karl Malone, and Jordan nemesis Patrick Ewing. On the other (team “Blue”) was Johnson, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, Laettner, and David Robinson. John Stockton and Clyde Drexler, the other two team members, sat out. No one could have drafted these sides to be any closer to equal. In a “snake” format, Jordan would have been selected first, then Johnson and Barkley to lead the other five, then Pippen to pair with Jordan and Malone or Ewing to anchor the paint … Bleacher Report simulated 1,001 showdowns between these two teams, using their prior-year statistics, to see which would be favored. On average, White outscored Blue over 48 minutes by an average of 0.1 points. Not one point—zero-point-one points.
It took more than parity to make this practice the stuff of legend, however. Most of these athletes had inordinate pride; Robinson, a model citizen and normal person, and Laettner, the quiet one knowing his role, were exceptions. And each team was led by the two most prideful ones: Jordan, who would wager a nuke in a hand of black jack against an arms dealer just for the sake of winning, and Johnson, as verbal and showy a floor general as there ever was, and with just reason given his talent. Jordan is the best player of all-time. Johnson is top-five—but once the list moves past Jordan, you could arrange Johnson, LeBron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in whatever order you like and produce a persuasive case for ranking them two through four. The best star-versus-star matchups in NBA championship series includes Wilt vs. Russell, Magic vs. Bird, and LeBron vs. Tim Duncan. Jordan and Magic squared off just once: in 1991, when the Los Angeles Lakers were in decline but still good enough to emerge from the league’s Western Conference. The Bulls won that series four games to one. The duel between Jordan and Magic on a practice court in Monte Carlo was better, even if the stakes were nil. To these guys, the right to not lose were all the stakes they ever needed.
SI writer Jack McCollum recounted the scrimmage possession-by-possession in a classic portion of his book Dream Team: You have a tape?" Michael Jordan asks. "Of that game?"
"I do," I say.
"Man, everybody asks me about that game," he says. "It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court."
It befits the enduring legend of the Dream Team, arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport, that we're referring not to a real game but to an intrasquad scrimmage in Monaco three days before the start of the 1992 Olympics. The Dreamers played 14 games that summer two decades gone, and their smallest victory margin was 32 points, over a fine Croatia team in the Olympic final. The common matrices of statistical comparison, you see, are simply not relevant in the case of the Dream Team, whose members could be evaluated only when they played each other. The video of that scrimmage, therefore, is the holy grail of basketball.
His retelling reads like the best newspaper game story ever published, the kind of stuff Grantland Rice would’ve produced had he not been limited by column inches. McCollum is a hoops junkie who knows the game and how to describe it with appropriate flourish. The detail with which he writes inspires imagination and nostalgia—from chronicling Bird’s physical struggles and a single moment of redemption, to Jordan and Magic’s classic trash-talk battle, to Malone’s whining, to Laettner’s doe-ish place on the court among the big boys, to particular fakes and jukes and decisions each play that reveal what types of players these men were when pushed to the max. The reason why this game is inimitable: Only this particular group could test each other to such extremes.
Watch the utube video listed at the top of this essay and you'll see for yourself.