They simply did not want to be on the same team. Whoever got asked, basically had at least one player he did not want to play with. Michael Jordan alongside Magic Johnson? No way! Patrick Ewing pairing with David Robinson? Come on! Charles Barkley and Karl Malone? Never ever! So how did this work out?
Well, of course we are only talking about practice. Generally the Dream Team loved playing alongside each other, yet in practice they wanted to prove themselves. Jordan wanted to prove he had taken over from Magic, Barkley he was a better big than Malone. Same goes for Robinson and Ewing.
So when we are talking about practice, Allen Iverson would be stunned how intense it got. During the Dream Team’s first workout, some even raised the question whether the guys, battling each other on the court, really were about to play on the same team.
They were. After then FIBA boss Boris Stankovic had made a move to allow NBA pros to compete in the Olympics, USA Basketball had done their best to assemble the best team imaginable. Ever!
The idea was great. Yet Michael Jordan wasn’t sure. He hesitated, even admitted that he had hoped he would not be asked to participate. Of course, he was asked. After Magic, Bird, Robinson, Ewing, Pippen, and all the others had given Rod Thorn their nod, MJ finally said yes. He was in.
And there it was. The most exciting team in sports history. A team full of first-ballot hall of famers. A team that united the last decade’s three best players, surrounding them with talent so unique that Scottie Pippen even had the feeling that he did not really deserve to be a part. That’s how good this team was. And that’s why there was no doubt they would win it all in Barcelona – which they did. It was not even close. Thus, let’s not talk about sports. Let’s talk about some of the best stories that arose while some of the best athletes in the history of basketball came together to make history.
The best stories around the 1992 Barcelona Dream Team
The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw or Chicago Stadium in Monte Carlo
Remember me talking about practice? Practice matters. Especially, when a team full of legends just played a sub-par exhibition game against a French squad that, back then, could not even dream of having the likes of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw or Nicolas Batum on their roster.
The Dream Team had been sloppy. They probably had not taken the game too seriously. A little understandably, yes, but Head Coach Chuck Daly did not like what he had seen. At all. After all, seeing the Dream Team lose one single game would most likely have been the biggest upset imaginable.
So Daly had an idea. Why not use all those big egos to make every single player compete as hard as he could? Why not have an intense scrimmage? A full game. Four quarters. Five on Five. Let them go at each other. And the players went as if it was game 7 of the finals.
Jordan, Pippen, Mullin, Bird, Ewing and Malone here, Magic, Stockton, Barkley, Drexler and Robinson there. Of course, Christian Laettner hit the gym in Monte Carlo as well. Yet, he could not help either one of the teams, as MJ put it gently.
So there they were. Eleven future hall of famers, sharing one court, battling it out. Hardly ever has there been a comparable amount of talent going at each other. Still the game gravitated towards two guys. Magic and Michael. The former not wanting to pass the torch, the latter wanting to show that it wasn’t the 80s anymore.
So whenever Jordan made a shot, Magic answered. Buckets were exchanged. Trash was talked – even to the extend that Magic, not being happy with the refereeing, claimed they had just moved Jordan’s Chicago Stadium to Monte Carlo.
It was a battle. A battle, though, Johnson could not win. His trash talk had gotten Jordan going. MJ got the look, his team won the game. Magic was upset. In Jordan’s eyes not upset enough, though. So he started singing. “Like Mike. If I could be like Mike.” Johnson must have loved hearing the famous Gatorade song.
Especially since, during the game, he had claimed that the game wasn’t Jordan’s yet which in the course of things led to a response by “The Legend”. Lying on the sidelines, treating his then already bad back, Larry Bird, the talker he is, just had two words. “It’s his”, he said. Case closed – thanks to one sloppy exhibition game against France.
Sleepless Into the Gold-Medal Game
Some need more sleep, others need less. In 1992, Michael Jordan apparently needed no sleep at all. Clyde Drexler, for example, asked whether MJ did ever sleep. David Robinson called him a freak of nature. Jordan played golf, he played cards and of course basketball. Nothing new so far. Yet, the night prior to the gold-medal game was special.
Apparently, not being too nervous about opponent Croatia, MJ played cards until the wee hours. The problem: Some of you might recall this iconic shot where Jordan looks at a huge billboard of his. Well, the picture had not been taken yet. Neither had a commercial they wanted to do. Both had been put off several times. Hence, this was the last chance.
So after having finished his card game, His Airness went back to his room, washed his face and got ready. They took the photo. They went to the Olympic Stadium. They shot the commercial. All good. And still some time until tip-off. How about some sleep, MJ? Nah, I’m gonna get 18 holes in.
Of course he hit the course. Jordan played golf, then played Croatia and finally won his second Olympic gold medal. No wonder, Jack McCallum, author of “Dream Team”, recalls, Jordan’s bionic nature, his incredibly high energy level always being among the first things, any member of the Dream Team mentioned when thinking back to those days in the summer of 92.
Going Out With the Chuckster
Jordan was the biggest star. Johnson was Magic. Bird was the Legend. But unless you think about height, Charles Barkley was the Dream Team’s most visible player. Chuck was everywhere. He said what he wanted to say. And he did want he wanted to do.
One thing Barkley clearly did not like, was staying in his room all night. So he decided to go out. Alone. Every night, Chuck went up and down Las Ramblas. He visited pubs, had fun. He enjoyed himself and people loved it. Barkley was followed by loads of people who wanted pictures or autographs. Barkley granted their wishes. Yet, Chuck also had a feeling for situations that could end up on the wrong end. Once things got a little too crazy, he got out.
Except for this one time. Chuck had spotted a guy doing wheelies with his motorcycle on Las Ramblas. Never having ridden a motorcycle himself, Chuck obviously wanted to try. He got on the bike, started moving, and… went off again. Probably he had figured that breaking his legs while riding a motorcycle during the Olympics would not hold up too well with his team – and health.
So he switched back to pubs. Not one, of course. Barkley liked to do a tour which made David Dupree’s life a lot harder – even though his intentions were good. A writer for USA Today, Dupree was the guy who had been picked to write Barkley’s column for the magazine. Hence, he had to spend time with the Chuckster.
The problem: In 92, there were no cell phones. There was only pen and paper, a combination that sent Dupree on several treasure hunts. Whenever Barkley left a pub, he left a note, telling the not-yet-there writer, where he had to go next. I mean, probably he could just have followed the masses. Or have looked out for the tallest guy around which made me think: What would happen today if a well known 6’6” athlete went out like this?! Gotta love the good old times!
A loss? A loss!
The Dream Team was invincible, right? Of course. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Pippen, Ewing, Malone… not so fast. There was this one game early during training camp. The Dream Team faced a college squad. A squad that for example featured young Chris Webber and Grant Hill. Not bad, yet, usually not good enough.
But as the game began, problems arose. Eleven future hall of famers apparently had left their egos in the locker room. Instead of taking over, they passed. Instead of claiming the ball, they did not want to step on each others toes. The result, Mr. Pippen: “They were killing us.”
Exactly. The Dream Team could not stop Bobby Hurley. His penetration was too much. Play after play the point guard exposed the one little weakness, people around the Dream Team feared. They believed that, should they face a team with a quick guard who crashes the lane and passes out to shooters, while having an off-night themselves, they actually might lose.
That’s kind of what happened that day. And Chuck Daly liked it. He liked it so much that he did not give Michael Jordan, who could have defended Hurley, too much playing time. Saying that Daly purposely threw the game might be a little too much. Yet, the way things turned out allowed Daly to make a point.
“YOU COULD LOSE”, he said the next day which according to Karl Malone was “probably the only speech, he ever gave us.” The coach had delivered a message. And the message was received. Shortly after the loss, the Dream Team again faced those college-kids, taking the opportunity to take revenge. They simply did not let them score. Needless to say, that that day, Michael Jeffrey Jordan played a lot more.
Not Today, Toni!
How would you like, if your parents gave you the feeling they all of sudden favor another kid over you. You probably would not be too thrilled, would you? Neither were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, when then Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause kept bragging about a young Croatian named Toni Kukoc, while they kept bringing championships to the Windy City.
“It was like he loved another kid more than his own children,” said Jordan. Hence, when the USA faced Croatia in the preliminary round, “we were not playing against Toni Kukoc, we were playing against Jerry Krause in a Croatian uniform.” It was on.
Jordan and Pippen were out to wreak havoc. They even debated who would have the joy of guarding Kukoc and teaching him a lesson. They wanted to give him the worst experience he had ever had on basketball court. And I’m sure, there are much nicer things than being the main target of the then most likely two best wing defenders in the world – at least basketball-wise.
When the game started, Kukoc could not even run up the court without being harassed either by Jordan or Pippen. The two Bulls had made up their minds. That night, Kukoc was not about to score. It got so crazy, that Kukoc’ teammates asked him what was going on. “I guess, that’s how the NBA game is played”, he responded.
He finished with 4 points (2/11 FG), with his first basket coming late in the first half. Was he intimidated? Maybe! Did he give up? Not at all. When the two teams faced off again in the gold-medal game Kukoc managed to pile up 16 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds.
In 92, Kukoc had gotten his first glimpse of what it would be like to share the court with the best. A year later he then joined the Bulls, went on to win three championships – and all of sudden was part of the family himself.
Stockton Leaves the Bus
Traffic Jams are annoying. Meeting someone who screams in joy, once the traffic stops moving, is like witnessing Charles Barkley not saying what he wants. Not gonna happen. So when the Dream Team’s bus got stuck, John Stockton decided to take a walk. Together with his family, he made a little Barcelona tour that would eventually lead him to the arena.
Remember Barkley’s late-night excursions? Well, this one was different. The Stocktons were on their own. Nobody bothered to approach them. Heck, people did not even recognize John. One twelfth of the 92 Olympics’ biggest attraction just walked around town and no one, I mean no one, took notice.
The Stocktons liked it though. Filming with a camera that seems to remember us, why electronic devices kept getting smaller and smaller over the years, John went over to a woman wearing a Dream-Team shirt. They start chatting. About the Olympics. About basketball. About the Dream Team. Stockton even asks whether the woman has already met a member of the squad. No epiphany – until the kids reveal who the tourist is talking to.
Stockton’s happily uttered moral? “Would be much different with Michael Jordan walking around here.”