This 1996 squad was much maligned by Charles Barkley (one of its members), despite the fact that Dream Team II won by an average margin of 31.8 points per game. Not only was this America's team in the sense of national affiliation, but this is the roster that played before a home crowd in Atlanta.
They didn't have Michael Jordan, so the public failed to remember much. MJ was bigger than the game in 1996. His brief absence, followed by his spectacular return, combined to fuel a legend that few stars could compete with.
While I cannot tell you that the '96 crew would have beaten the '92 squad, I can insist that the latter version had some positional advantages. Principally at center, Dream Team II had better players. While David Robinson and Patrick Ewing are certainly Hall of Famers, I would rather side with 1996 Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal.
Hakeem had won two titles during Jordan's absence—nearly all by himself. Olajuwon's regular season numbers do not outshine David Robinson's, but the Dream was a notorious self-pacer. Hakeem famously dominated the matchup against Robinson in the 1995 playoffs, and will thus be remembered as the better center.
Oh, and by the way? Dream Team II also boasted David Robinson. You know, just in case Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon needed him.
In 1996, it was quite conceivable that Shaquille O'Neal was basketball's best big man. He was coming off an injury-shortened season, but Shaq had claimed ridiculous numbers in the season prior. In 1994-1995, Shaq attacked to the tune of 29.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
O'Neal was also hyper efficient, hitting near 60 percent of his shots. Young, trim Shaq was a problem the league couldn't solve. It would remain that way until the late 2000's.
Dream Team II was better at center, and probably better at the point guard position as well. For all the luster of Magic Johnson's name, he was playing with the '92 squad as a retired basketball player. Magic had been diagnosed with HIV and had been out of the game for a full year before embarking on Barcelona.
Johnson was backed up by John Stockton, who also played PG for Dream Team II. Stockton in 1992 was as good as Stockton in 1996. Why? Because John's remarkable consistency defined an incredibly lengthy career.
Instead of Magic Johnson after a year-hiatus, the 1996 team featured Gary Payton, in his prime. Not only was Payton one of basketball's best play-makers, "The Glove" was a defensive force. Payton had won Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, and he remains the last point guard to do so.
Between Hakeem and GP, Dream Team II probably had a superior defensive roster to the original Dream Team. Remember, the second Dream Team also had Scottie Pippen.
At the power forward spot, it was a draw between the two clubs. Like his Jazz teammate John Stockton, Karl Malone carried over from one Olympics to the other. The aforementioned Charles Barkley also made the journey. Both were still excellent, not having lost much of anything in the four years between Olympics. In Malone's case, he was on a late-career upswing, one that would win him two (later mocked) MVP awards.
Of course, Dream Team II was relatively weakest at shooting guard, where Reggie Miller did a passable job in Jordan's stead. The same could be said of our current 2012 squad, which starts an aging Kobe Bryant at SG. Every team has its weak spots. The original Dream Team had two legends in Bird and Magic who were past their primes.
Again, I could not bet against Michael Jordan were the Dream Team and Dream Team II ever to play. But the second version deserves its due. Our second Dream Team may have been America's greatest defensive team, which should at least count for something in the historical record.