US Olympic Basketball 2012: The 10 Biggest Personalities in Team USA's History
Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan are among the biggest personalities in the history of U.S. Olympic basketball. They headline a group of Olympic players who not only dominated the court, but also dominated airwaves, headlines and pop culture.
These men brought fans to their feet with their brilliant play, but some of them are better known for their off-the-field antics.
Let's take a look at the top 10 biggest personalities in Team USA's history at the Olympics.
Gary Payton: 1996, 2000
Gary Payton won two gold medals with Team USA—in 1996 and 2000.
He was nominated to be one of the team captains in 2000, along with Alonzo Mourning and Jason Kidd. He kept things lively in practice, on team buses and everywhere in between with his continuous trash talk, and he was a consistent contributor to the team's success.
Payton was also the biggest trash-talker and one of the best point guards the NBA has ever seen.
He was nicknamed "The Glove" for his uncanny ability to steal the ball, but the reason he's on this list is that he had a talent for getting some of the best players in the world out of their game due to his trash talk.
Karl Malone: 1992, 1996
Karl Malone was one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, and his personality was larger than life.
Malone helped lead Team USA to two gold medals—in 1992 and 1996—and was one of the primary contributors to the Dream Team in 1992, averaging 13 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Whether it be his willingness to get into a wrestling ring with Dennis Rodman or his collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles, Malone—a true cowboy—never hesitated to do things his own way.
Kevin Garnett: 2000
Kevin Garnett was one of the catalysts for Team USA during the 2000 Olympics, helping them win gold by averaging 10.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
He also contributed something special to the flavor of the team by having special Wordstretch wristbands made for the entire team that read, "Dream Team 2000" on the front and "nothing less than gold" on the back. He said, according to Wordstretch.com:
I've worn rubberbands on the court ever since I can remember. It's my thing—my ritual. I throw my jersey on, my kicks, and always gotta rock my Wordstretch. I had P. Puff make a gold Dream Team band for me and my dogs at the Olympics because they are hot!
Garnett never has any problem letting his personality run wild on the court. He's one of the most demonstrative men I've ever seen, and the way he embraces this side of himself is admirable.
Garnett has been a huge trash-talker since joining the NBA as a 19-year-old rookie in 1995, but that's not the most compelling reason for his inclusion on this list.
I've witnessed Garnett literally talking to the basket before tipoff...I'm serious. He is nuts.
Here are just a couple more instances of Garnett being...Garnett:
He once hit Channing Frye in the nuts.
He once got on all fours and barked like a dog to taunt Jerryd Bayless.
Garnett is crazy...like a fox.
Allen Iverson: 2004
As a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, Iverson had calmed down a bit compared to his earlier years, and by all reports he was a model citizen in Athens. Unfortunately for him and his team, USA only won a bronze medal.
His highlight during the team's international play was his last-second buzzer-beater against Germany in an exhibition game leading up to the Olympic Games.
Unfortunately, most people only remember this:
We talkin' about practice...
Allen Iverson will always be best known for his "practice" rant. It's a shame, too, because if Iverson had spent as much time putting forth the extra effort to practice, he might have been a Hall of Fame player.
Iverson was one of the most talented players of his generation. He had all the tools to become a legend, but he fell short due to his selfish, me-first attitude.
He also once created a rap album which was highly derogative towards gays and women. He later apologized for the album, but the damage to his already-negative image was already done.
To further add to the negative image, Iverson once refused to play after he was told he wasn't starting due to the fact that he was still recovering from a knee injury.
Dwight Howard: 2008
Love him or hate him, Dwight Howard's personality is larger than life.
Howard helped Team USA win a gold medal in the 2008 Olympic Games with a strong overall performance. One of his more memorable moments came when he slammed a thunderous dunk down against Turkey.
Another Olympics highlight is one Howard would like to forget: He was posterized by Spain's Rudy Fernandez—someone who should never out-jump Superman.
Superman can jump out of the gym, which he demonstrated to perfection in the 2007 All-Star Game dunk contest. For those of you who may have forgotten, Howard did a dunk where he stuck a sticker near the top of the backboard which measured to about 12 feet, six inches.
Here's the YouTube video for your viewing pleasure.
Unfortunately, Howard's image has taken quite a hit recently with his on-again, off-again trade demands.
It's clear that Howard has a massive personality, and he will definitely be the center of attention for a long, long time.
Magic Johnson: 1992
Magic Johnson is one of the most charismatic players in the history of the NBA, and he shined in his sole Olympic appearance with the Dream Team in 1992, helping it bring the gold medal back to the States.
He was one of the most popular players in Barcelona in the wake of the revelation that he had HIV.
To be honest, it's not hard to see why. All he has to do is flash that megawatt smile, and your heart melts.
Johnson spoke about his attitude leading up to the 1992 Summer Games to GQ's Lang Whitaker:
This was our final moment—the curtain was going to come down. Larry's back was messed up. And I was already out, dealing with HIV, so we had to make sure that we went out the right way. For me, it was also about showing the world that I could still play, even living with HIV.
Johnson and Team USA had no problems beating the world that year, and he's still doing so, 20 years later.
LeBron James: 2004, 2008, 2012
There isn't a bigger basketball player worldwide right now than the King, LeBron James.
James was part of the 2004 team that was embarrassed to bring home a bronze medal in 2004. He then made up for it with a spectacular effort in 2008 that helped Team USA win gold once again, and he's back in 2012 to do it again.
One of his specialties is blocking shots, and he's done plenty of that during his Olympic appearances. Here's one of him swatting Felizardo Ambrosio's shot in 2008.
He's the most polarizing figure in sports, too. People either love him or hate him, though I don't quite understand the hate. Sure, I get the fact that his decision to make "The Decision" on an ESPN special was silly, but he's since seen the error of his ways.
James transcends the game of basketball. Never mind that all he ever does is play the game at higher level than anyone else on the planet.
He isn't out there making headlines like so many other athletes with off-court issues. He just works hard, and now he finally has the championship that had been eluding him for so long after bringing home a gold medal in 2008.
Bill Russell: 1956
When you look up "old-school" in the encyclopedia, Bill Russell is the face you see.
He helped Team USA dominate the world and win a gold medal way back in 1956, averaging 14.1 points per game. I'm sure he was dominant on the glass, too, but they didn't keep track of stats like blocks and rebounds back then.
His Olympic team won games by as much as 68 points, and they never once were close to losing a game.
Former Boston Celtics teammate Tom Heinsohn once said that Russell had "a neurotic need to win," according to biographer John Taylor in his book, The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, And The Golden Age Of Basketball.
He was also someone who was extremely distrustful of anyone outside his locker room, and journalists were treated to what has been called the "Russell Glower" any time they tried to ask him questions. He wouldn't even sign autographs for his loyal Celtics fans, causing one journalist to call him "the most selfish, surly and uncooperative athlete."
Another quirky aspect of Russell's playing days is that he'd get so anxious for games that he'd throw up before most games.
All in all, Russell was simply driven to win, and he couldn't care less about anything else as it related to basketball.
Charles Barkley: 1992, 1996
Charles Barkley is a gem. He's never been afraid to speak his mind on any subject, whether he really knows anything about said subject. He's also one of the biggest trash-talkers in the history of the world.
He's brash, he can be crude, and he doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him.
He was also the primary offensive option on the Hall of Fame-loaded 1992 Dream Team, and he helped it and the 1988 team win gold medals.
One of his most memorable Olympic moments came in a game against Angola when he intentionally elbowed their skinniest player right in the chest.
He once said of the Winter Olympic sport of curling, "Curling is not a sport. I called my grandmother and told her she could win a gold medal because they have dusting in the Olympics now."
When asked about whether it was fair that Team USA assembled the Dream Team in 1992, Barkley's response was, "Other teams have been sending their pros for years. Now they can take their whipping and go home."
Barkley and Team USA were invited at one point to have dinner with Prince Rainier and Prince Albert of Monaco. As GQ's Lang Whitaker reports, there are strict protocols when dining with royalty, but Barkley wasn't keen to follow them.
At one point, Prince Rainier put down his fork, at which point everyone else is supposed to follow suit and do the same. Barkley's response to this was, “Well, I hope he stops when I’m done eating my meal, because I’m eating my meal.”
Michael Jordan: 1984, 1992
Do I even need to explain this one?
Michael Jordan brought not only his winning ways to the 1984 and 1992 Olympic teams, which took home the gold medal, but also a persona of greatness.
He was the highest-profile Olympian on the 1992 Dream Team, and teams had to focus so much on stopping him that Charles Barkley had himself a field day.
Jordan wasn't shut out, though, and he had a ton of highlight-reel dunks. Here's one of them, from the gold-medal round against Croatia.
Jordan's personality became a brand all unto itself. He even made a movie with Bugs Bunny, for crying out loud. Space Jam was a box office hit, grossing over $230 million worldwide, and the fact that it was made in the first place shows how much power is in Jordan's name.
You can't see the Nike logo without thinking of Jordan. You don't drink Gatorade without thinking of Jordan. You don't hear the name "Dream Team" without thinking of Jordan.