By John McLaughlin
Sunday, August 11th, 2002
There was only one Dream Team and the moniker should have been retired ten
years ago in the Barcelona Olympics. Without dispute, it was the greatest
team ever to be assembled. There was more greatness projecting from a Dream
Team player's shoes than the worlds combined play on the court. They were
unstoppable, pummeling opponents by an average of 44.6 points a game.
You didn't hear about any of those players not wanting to participate in
international competition. They were chosen as the elite few and represented
the U.S. as ambassadors and NBA players, proudly. You didn't hear about guys
wanting down time or excuses not to compete, anywhere from working on their
film career to fingernail bruises that would not permit them from joining
Now, fast forward ten years from the original Dream Team. You have an extremely
diluted "Power Nap" team that is anything but dream-like. The roster consists
of only the most accommodating players, not the best. Not to take
anything away from the players who are competing for the U.S., for they will
most likely win the gold regardless, but none of the players were on All-NBA
first or second teams.
In the last decade, more and more players have declined in the summer or
global tournaments. Why? Is it because the idea of pulverizing competitors
has lost its novelty, or maybe it's because the players are not willing to
risk injury for a game that only touts you as the best in the world, which
is something that NBA players are already aware of. In fact, the Dallas
Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban, encouraged his players -- Michael
Finley, Raef Lafrentz, (U.S.), Steve Nash (Canada), Dirk
Nowitzki, and Shawn Bradley (Germany) -- not to compete.
Regardless of what it may be, other countries send their best players to
these games, therefore we should send our best. There is always an air of
uncertainty and possibility for an upset when we don't send our best, case
in point the 2000 games in Sydney where the supposed Dream Team nearly lost.
Argument is open for notions that the team wasn't playing at full effort,
but that is essentially garbage.
It remains a fact that the world is getting better, and look for a strong
team Yugoslovia in the World Championships in Indianapolis later this
month. As a result of team USA's lackluster play in Sydney, we should have
reason to be worried, but we will most likely still win gold, there won't
be a seismic wave of surprise if we lose.
Fans want to see another true Dream Team like that of '92, as impossible
as that may sound. And it is only good for NBA marketing on a global scale,
as well. It is said to have happened, that during the '92 Olympic games in
Barcelona, the Dream Team's competitors would ask for their autographs and
have team mates take snapshots while they were guarding the likes of Michael
Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Charles Barkley.
But as long as our best players decide to remain on the sidelines, the Dream
Team concept will be a rude awakening. We can't offer the 2002 team as a
Dream Team without the accompaniment of a laugh track. We are all waiting
for the likes of Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Kobe
Bryant, and Chris Webber to don the red, white, and blue.
Though U.S. officials can't force these invited players to play, they can
only hope that they accept the invitation to play. Which most do not. So
we are stuck with second and third best. They have to want to go. The '92
Dream Team understood that they were going as the elite few to represent
the U.S., selected on their popularity as much as their ability.
Since then, we haven't seen too many Croatians or Chinese players asking
teammates to take a snap shot of them while they're guarding Ben Wallace
or Vin Baker. No Yugoslovian or Brazilian players will be asking
Shawn Marion or Raef Lafrentz for their autographs later this
month. The U.S. might still have the best team, but the world has already
awakened and squashed the notion that this, or any succeeding entry team
will qualify as some sort of Dream Team. There was only one Dream Team. That
team was amazing.