Perhaps it is appropriate that "The Dream Team"—a 90-minute documentary directed by Ed Burns premiering on NBATV this Wednesday night—be aired during the NBA Finals. The 20th anniversary celebration of the 1992 United States Olympic basketball team, dubbed the greatest ever constructed, coincides nicely with the final leg of the Miami Heat's quest for a championship ring.
The 1992 Dream Team was built by selecting future Hall of Famers to represent this country in amateur competition. What followed was print-press, local and ESPN (before it had a litany of sub-channels) coverage of an Olympic team that went on to crush international competition like never before.
The 2012 Miami Heat was established to represent South Beach, Miami and ESPN.com's "Heat Index" (not necessarily in that order). This team was built on unprecedentedly lucrative free-agent signings and grandiose promises. The final result has been an astronomical amount of digi-media hype, vilification, speculation and razor-sharp skepticism toward a single city, more so than even the 1992 national team could ever dream of.
How the two teams were built is only one aspect of these generational differences.
Based on the entire careers of each of its players, The 1992 Dream Team had a total of six free agent signings. That covers more than 100 years of basketball. It must be emphasized: Six signings.
Many starting squads of NBA basketball teams today, chock full of players on the better side of 30 years of age, have already experienced more free agent activity.
Then you have starting salaries. Arguably the best NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan made less money in 1992 ($4 million) than the NBA average today ($5.15 million).
These past generational circumstances help to explain why the 1992 Dream Team squad has the title of "Best Ever." It was comprised of the most competitively focused and win-obsessed players the NBA will ever see.
These future Hall of Famers didn't have to worry about a ceaseless barrage of gossipy blogs, tweets, podcasts and other digi-invasions into their private lives.
Nor could they just jump ship from one team to the next at their whims. The free-agency market and sports agency industry were not nearly as volatile or large as they are today.
Stripped of excess wealth, media hype and available escape plans from their struggles, these players had to engage in a level of competitive energy on the courts to attain the instant gratification that every competitor covets: simply winning.
Most of today's NBA elite are tremendous basketball players. They're also terrific citizens of the NBA; in all respects, they're winners and are representing their generation well. However, even when their play is stellar, they don't glean the same need to win as the NBA elite from three decades prior.
Today's NBA stars seem too eager to please, too desirous to keep a certain image with the media. Too everything, really, except awe-inspiringly competitive. Sadly, that leaves something off the court.
In a sense, "The Dream Team" has a double meaning. One is beautiful and inspiring: that this particular construction of players was dreamlike. The other meaning is a bit darker: we will never see a crop of competitive players quite like the ones we had back in 1992. We can only dream of them now.
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