The 1992 men’s U.S. Olympic team featured the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled.
Basketball was first introduced as an Olympic competition at the Summer Games in Berlin in 1936 and the United States had won the gold medal in every tournament it ever entered all but twice–finishing second to the Soviet Union following the controversial conclusion of the championship game in Munich in 1972 and taking bronze behind second-place Yugoslavia and the gold medal-winning Soviet Union team in 1988. In 1980, the U.S. elected to boycott the Games and did not compete in the tournament. The nine gold medals the U.S. team won between 1936 and 1988 were all earned by teams stocked with college players, something USA Basketball–the governing body for basketball in the United States–was extremely proud of. The third-place finish in the 1988 Games increased calls for allowing professionals to play in the Olympics, something other countries had been doing for decades. FIBA–the international governing body of basketball, passed a landmark agreement in April of 1989 calling for the inclusion of professional basketball players in the Olympic Games. A special session of Federation Internationale de Basketball was held for member countries to vote on the proposal, which passed 56-13 despite the U.S and Soviet Union’s voting against it. This ushered in a new era and the NBA developed a framework for enabling its players to participate in the Olympic games.
Sports Illustrated named the forthcoming American roster the “Dream Team” on the cover of its February 18, 1991 issue and corporate sponsors like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Kellogg relished the opportunity to use the team to advertise their products. Ten players were initially selected and included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing [Daily Dose, August 5], Chris Mullin, David Robinson and Charles Barkley. Jordan, Ewing and Mullin had won gold with the 1984 team, a squad that Stockton, Malone and Barkley had been cut from. Robinson had played with the 1988 team and was eager for redemption. The final two roster spots were filled eight months later by Clyde Drexler [Daily Dose, June 22], who was chosen over Isiah Thomas, and Duke University’s Christian Laettner, who was selected over LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal. Chuck Daly of the Detroit Pistons served as head coach and was assisted by Lenny Wilkens [Cleveland Cavaliers], P.J. Carlesimo [Seton Hall] and Mike Krzyzewski [Duke]. The team began preparations for the Olympics with scrimmages against a group of the best players from the NCAA and was required to qualify for the Summer Games by successfully advancing through the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, Oregon in late June of 1992. USA defeated Cuba, 136-57, in the opener and overwhelmed their opponents in the next five games, including a 127-80 win over Valenzuela in the final. Cuba’s coach said after the opener, “You can’t cover the sun with your finger”. The team then trained in Monaco for six days, mixing fun with intense practices. Three days before the start of the Olympics, they played an intrasquad scrimmage in what came to be called “the greatest game nobody ever saw”, with Michael Jordan’s white team beating Magic Johnson’s blue team in a contest that Jordan says, “was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court”. Instead of staying in the Olympic Village with the other athletes, the Dream Team stayed at a luxury hotel in Barcelona due to security concerns. They were enthusiastically greeted by fans from around the world and created such media hype that Chuck Daly said “it was like Elvis and the Beatles put together”. Opposing athletes from other sports and countries stood in line to have their photo taken with the American team, which was captained by Johnson and Bird, the elder statesman of the group.
Play opened with the USA routing Angola by 68 points on July 26. The next day, the Americans beat Croatia by 33. Two days later, the U.S. drubbed Germany, 111-68, before facing Brazil on July 31. The Americans won, 127-83, then beat Spain, Puerto Rico and Lithuania by a combined 130 points to earn a trip to the gold medal game against Croatia on August 8. Croatia gave the U.S. the best test of the entire competition in a game won by the Americans, 117-85. The 32 point margin of victory was the narrowest of the Games for Team USA and the performance generated a global interest in basketball, resulting in the growth and improvement in play in other countries. On the opening day of the 1991-92 NBA season, league rosters included 23 international players from 18 countries. At the start of the 2011-12 season, there were 74 players from 35 countries playing in the NBA. Sports Illustrated later stated that the Dream Team was “arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport”. 11 of the 12 players and three of the four coaches from that team have been elected into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as individuals and the entire team was inducted in 2010. Larry Bird called the medal ceremony and playing of the Star Spangled Banner as the “ultimate” experience and Magic Johnson said playing on the ’92 Dream Team was the greatest moment of his basketball life.
On this date in 1991, the first ten players for the Dream Team were officially selected.