Team USA Breakdown: Who Wins Between the 1992 and 2012 Squads?
Photo by Neil Leifer
In a perfect storm of timing, Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan have attempted to answer the unanswerable: who would win if the original Dream Team faced this year's 2012 squad?
The discussion comes just weeks after NBA TV's incredible documentary on the 1992 team aired, following the players and their personalities through their memorable run at the Barcelona Olympics.
With the current team in the midst of its London preparations, the question was posed to one of the team's leaders, Kobe Bryant, as to how his team stacked up with the legends of past.
Bryant's answer was simple: his team would win.
With shockwaves circling the globe, both Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan were asked for their opinions and, like Bryant, their answer was also simple: he's joking, right?
Listen, other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team, to be honest with you…That’s no disrespect. I ain’t got to badmouth them. But like I said, their point guards weren’t going to beat us. That’s a no-brainer.
For him to compare the two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done…
I heard Kobe say we were not athletic...But we were smart. He said we were too old, but I was 29 and in the prime of my career. (Scottie Pippen) was 26 or 27, (Charles) Barkley was 29, Patrick (Ewing) was 29 and Chris Mullin was 29. Almost everybody was still in their twenties...Most of us were in the prime of our careers, at a point where athleticism doesn’t really matter...You have to know how to play the game.
While both Dream Teamers are right to point out that it's unlikely that the current squad has 11 future Hall of Famers on it (like the Dream Team did), the topic of new-age athleticism makes the conversation interesting.
Would guys like Durant and LeBron dominate the less athletically imposing players from the 90s? Or would the difference in styles of play actually hinder the current players?
In a quest to answer these questions and more, we set out to take a look at each position battle in hopes of determining which side would be victorious.
Dream Team: Magic Johnson, John Stockton
2012 squad: Deron Williams, Chris Paul
On paper, this matchup is a runaway for the Dream Team, but we have to remember that Magic didn't play in the 1991-92 season because of the HIV virus. Throughout the tournament, Johnson played limited minutes because of nagging injuries.
Despite all that, however, Stockton was in top form for the tournament and would have posed an interesting matchup for either Paul or Williams.
In the end, I give the edge here to the current players just because of Magic's injuries. I like that Williams gives them a dynamic scoring threat, while Paul is both a top facilitator and defender in the game today.
It's interesting to note that the 2012 team is also without Derrick Rose, arguably the best point guard in the game right now. However, his inclusion would not have changed much here.
Advantage: 2012 team
Dream Team: Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler
2012 Squad: Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden
Sorry Kobe, there's not a team in history that will ever claim this position battle.
At the peak of his career and with a competitiveness that will forever go unmatched, Jordan would have willed himself to victory under any circumstance.
That said, Drexler wasn't too shabby in his own right, meaning things didn't get a whole lot easier in the brief moments when Jordan wasn't on the floor.
For the current guys, getting Kobe on the tail end of his career doesn't help, while youngsters like Harden and Westbrook will probably have gotten even better by 2016.
Advantage: Dream Team
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Dream Team: Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin
2012 Squad: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala
Just like the Dream Team will never lose the shooting guard debate, it's hard to imagine the 2012 team ever losing the small forward debate.
With Durant and LeBron seemingly in the prime of their careers, the 2012 team boasts two of the best small forwards of all time matched up against the Dream Team's weakest position.
With Bird on the victory lap of his career, Pippen and Mullin were the primary guys filling this position on the team, both as role players. Pippen was obviously one of the premier defenders in basketball history, so watching him defend either LeBron or Durant would have been thrilling to watch.
As soon as he took a breather, however, the Dream Team would have been in trouble trying to defend a pair of players more athletic than most, if not all, NBA players in 1992.
In the end, I think the length and athleticism of LeBron and Durant make this matchup an easy one to call.
Advantage: 2012 squad
Photo by Josh Dhani
Dream Team: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Christian Laettner
2012 Squad: Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin/Anthony Davis
As news broke today that Blake Griffin had injured his knee at practice and was being replaced by No. 1 pick Anthony Davis for the time being, it would seem that the power forward position for the 2012 is in a state of uncertainty.
In 1992, that definitely was not the case.
Armed with two of the best power forwards to ever play the game, Barkley and Malone would have dominated one of the weakest defensive positions on the 2012 team.
While either Durant or LeBron will most likely spend some time at this position, neither they nor the three other players listed above would have found much defensive success against Barkley and Malone.
While Carmelo offers the 2012 team a nice offensive burst, his game would have been no match for the Dream Team.
Advantage: Dream Team
Dream Team: Patrick Ewing, David Robinson
2012 Squad: Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love
If any of the other positions seemed supremely one-sided, they all pale in comparison to the center position.
In a undisputed route, the Dream Team's big men would have dominated the 2012 squad at both ends of the floor with the combination of Robinson and Ewing.
While Chandler offers a nice set of defensive skills and Love has a diverse offensive game, the two of them are not on the same level as Ewing or Robinson.
Of course, this conversation would be a bit different with the presence of Dwight Howard, who could have locked down the middle defensively, but he is not a member of the 2012 team.
Advantage: Dream Team
So Who Wins?
With wins at the shooting guard, power forward and center position, the Dream Team edged out the 2012 squad in the positional battles, but that doesn't quite answer the original question of who would win.
With a dominant performance at the small forward position, the 2012 squad has the potential to be an overwhelming force of athleticism against the 1992 team.
That said, the Dream Team's edge at the 4 and 5 positions is equally lopsided, leading me to believe that the Dream Team still retains its title as the best basketball team ever assembled.
In evaluating the two teams, it's interesting to note that the Dream Team got just about every one of its players in the heart of their careers. Aside from Magic and Bird, the team was flush with guys in their mid-to-late 20s.
On the flip side, the best players on the current team are all over the map. While Bryant is more effective than Magic or Bird were in 1992, his efficiency has slipped, while some players like Love, Westbrook, Harden and Durant are still maturing and improving.
If you took both of these rosters and gave me each player in their prime, maybe the conversation is a bit different, but then again, that's a conversation for another day.