Team USA’s 22-point victory over Spain proved two things; first, that the Americans are definitely the team to beat going into the Olympics, and second, that Kobe Bryant’s boast about this team being superior to the Dream Team is ridiculous.
What Kobe failed to understand is that he might actually be right in certain trivial ways, but he will never be right in any meaningful way.
It is understood that athletes today are vastly superior to athletes twenty years ago; a cursory look at fallen objective Olympic records (track and field events, weightlifting, etc.) from the ’92 games proves this. Everyday advances in sports medicine, nutrition, and athletic training make today’s athletes the best of all time. While the ’12 squad has been accused of being weak in the frontcourt, it is possible that Patrick Ewing, the Dream Team’s starting center, would not be athletic enough to compete in today’s faster-paced game.
The Dream Team’s defenders point to the absurd margin of victory (43.8) it claimed over its competition as proof of its superiority over the current American roster. While the London Games will not see the Americans beating opponents by 40-plus points, true basketball fans know that the Dream Team never faced a challenge as difficult as the Spaniards with the Gasol brothers or the Argentinians with Luis Scola and Manu Ginobli.
When comparing the two teams though, none of this matters.
Greatness in sports that lack non-relative markers (e.g. a 200 meter time) must be judged by deviation from the mean. No team in the annals of basketball deviated as far from the mean as the Dream Team. When viewing last nights game, one got the sense that a supremely talented, but flawed, American squad soundly defeated a good, yet overmatched, Spanish team. In contrast, watching the Dream Team felt like viewing transcendent basketball gods thrash prepubescent JV teams.
No team will ever again be able to dominate the Olympics like the Dream Team did. International basketball may not have surpassed American basketball, but it is within striking distance. The effortless yet thorough American routs that built the Dream Team’s pedestal are never coming back. The impossibility of this re-creation of complete American basketball supremacy ensures that the Dream Team will always be remembered as the greatest basketball team of all time.
It should not be surprising that a five-time NBA champion like Kobe, who feels the need to be the best at everything, would issue such a bold, aggrandizing proclamation. It must kill him that no matter what this team does, it can never be greater than the Dream Team.