Ever since Kobe Bryant boasted his 2012 Olympic team could beat the original 1992 Dream Team, comparisons between the two squads have sprouted up all over the place.
The immediate reaction to Kobe’s remarks is one of disbelief. The Dream Team is supposed to be the greatest team ever assembled, so how could anyone possibly defeat the juggernaut?
I actually don’t think Kobe’s statement is as far-fetched as everyone makes it out to be. It's often forgot where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, supposedly two of the best on the original team, were at in their respective careers.
Magic had taken a whole year off before the 1992 Olympics, after acquiring the HIV virus forced him into retirement. By the time the summer games came around, Magic wasn’t in the same kind of game shape he was usually in, and his play wasn’t at the Hall-of-Fame level for which everyone remembers him.
Although he hadn’t officially retired yet, Bird had just finished his final season in the NBA after battling lingering back issues that forced him to miss 142 games over his last four years. Those four seasons featured Bird’s worst shooting percentages of his career.
Nevertheless, if the two squads could somehow face off in a best-of-seven series, I would take the Dream Team in five, if not a clean sweep.
The biggest reason why the ’92 team would win is because they held the best asset any basketball team could ever have—Michael Jordan in his prime.
Jordan had just captured his second championship ring and third league MVP award. After spending six years amazing crowds and putting up jaw-dropping numbers, His Royal Airness had finally figured out a way to take his once-in-a-generation talent and use it within a team structure to make his Chicago Bulls unstoppable.
After finally "getting over the hump," if you will, Jordan was in his prime years of putting together the greatest basketball career ever seen.
Besides possessing the best player of all time, the Dream Team had another advantage that would have just killed this 2012 team. The center combination of Patrick Ewing and David Robinson would have been too great a force to stop.
The only centers 2012 has on its team are Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis, and Davis was only added after forward Blake Griffin went down with a knee injury. Both Davis and Chandler are very good defenders, but Ewing and Robinson were better at defense than both of them now and miles ahead offensively.
At that point in their careers, Ewing and Robinson had a combined nine All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA either first- or second-team selections, six such All-Defensive Team awards and a Defensive Player of the Year award.
Davis doesn’t even have an NBA career yet, and Chandler has no All-Star games to go with his one All-NBA third-team selection.
The final huge advantage the Dream Team owns over today’s squad is the experience of its members.
So far, the members of the 2012 team have played in a combined 689 playoff games and 14 NBA Finals, and Bryant, LeBron James and Chandler have a total of seven championships.
After the 1992 NBA season, the members of the Dream Team had combined to appear in 859 playoff games and 20 finals. Bird, Scottie Pippen, Jordan and Magic were the only members to have championship hardware, but they had 12 total rings between the four of them.
In a game that would carry extreme amounts of pressure and expectations, big-game experience would go a long way in deciding the outcome.
Of course, this year’s team has some advantages of its own. In addition to the age of Magic and Bird mentioned above, the 2012 squad is more athletic and flexible.
In the international style of play that is employed in the Olympics, successful teams play a lot more run-and-gun styles of offense than typically seen in the NBA. With young, athletic freaks such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and James, among others, team 2012 could wear out the ’92 clan by consistently pushing the ball.
The overall flexibility of today’s team would also be a big advantage. LeBron can play any position on the floor, Westbrook is hybrid between a point guard and shooting guard, and Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala can play at least three different spots. That’s just the beginning. Chandler is really the only player confined to one spot, so the possible lineup combinations are endless.
Still, these small strengths of the 2012 team would not be enough to overcome the star power of the Dream Teamers.
It's important to note that if this year’s team featured the best possible players at 100 percent health, I would have a much tougher time giving the edge to the Dream Team (best conceivable roster for this year: Paul, Derrick Rose, Kobe, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Durant, LeBron, Iguodala, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum).
Now, that series would be a lot more evenly matched and just might go seven games.
But, alas, this year’s team only has six of those players, and as presently constituted, would have their hands full trying to take on the original Dream Team.
Kobe admitted himself that his team probably couldn’t win in a series. He meant they could simply at least win one game. This may be true, but it would take more than a few tries to get that win.