x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Olympics: Sorry guys, but the '92 team is still dreamiest

One of the inconveniences of sport is that for all the technology and medical advancement, humankind still has never figured out a way that a team in, say, 1992, could play a team in, say, 2012, to decide which is better.

Kevin Durant, left, Carmelo Anthony, centre, and Kobe Bryant are part of a dream side for the 2012 US Olympic men's basketball team.
Kevin Durant, left, Carmelo Anthony, centre, and Kobe Bryant are part of a dream side for the 2012 US Olympic men's basketball team.

One of the inconveniences of sport is that for all the technology and medical advancement, humankind still has never figured out a way that a team in, say, 1992, could play a team in, say, 2012, to decide which is better.

It would involve time travel or maybe some sort of astounding skin cream that restored a previous age, but it would alleviate a lot of bickering.

In the absence of this cream, despite decades of research on the matter, we're stuck with the bickering.

Luckily, on occasion the bickering can stir laughter, as lately in the United States concerning the Olympic basketball "Dream Team".

After the 2012 Olympic squad congealed with its official announcement and photos and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, et al, Bryant made the innocuous suggestion that the team could defeat the 1992 team, and in that process went trampling on some revered ground.

Responding to a question with reporters in Las Vegas, Bryant said, "Well, just from a basketball standpoint they obviously have a lot more size than we do - you know, with [David] Robinson and [Patrick] Ewing and [Karl] Malone, and those guys. But they were also - some of those wing players - a lot older and kind of at the end of their careers.

"We have just a bunch of young racehorses, guys that are eager to compete. So I don't know. It'd be a tough one, but I think we'd pull it out."

You know, field a question, give an earnest, honest answer, and …

And put on your pith helmet.

"I absolutely laughed," renowned greatest-player-ever Michael Jordan told the Associated Press in North Carolina, and his 1992 teammates chimed in.

That 1992 team was the first to shuck the tired ethic of amateurism and utilise NBA players for the Olympics. Scan through its roster and you still can go wide-eyed at the collection: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Ewing, Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin and one college player. This team had a head coach, Chuck Daly, and three accomplished assistants whose Dream Team jobs, far as I could tell with limited knowledge, entailed picking up towels, which did brand them as unselfish.

Born to exert an American dominance and supremacy and command and authority and totalitarianism for which many American fans yearned - and which all fans of all kinds crave to some degree - that US team did not need much strategising.

It won its six preparatory games by 79, 44, 60, 41, 38 and 47 points, with the award for best victim going to gritty Puerto Rico, which lost by 38 in a squeakier.

It won its eight Olympic Games in Barcelona by 68, 33, 43, 44, 41, 38, 51 and 32 points, with the skilful Croatians losing by only 33 and 32 (in the gold-medal match).

For some reason, one memory sticks out here: The US was playing Angola in the first Olympic game, and suddenly the broadcaster through the little televisions in the arena announced that the US had just gone on "a 43-1 run".

If you have never seen a 43-1 run, it does seem to have a distinctive look that fastens itself to memory.

Twenty years on, you still can sort of see it in the mind's eye, where it remains swarm-like. Much romance has settled around that team, all of it warranted. Only in subsequent Olympics would the world catch up, learn to play the game more astutely and with less individualism, beat the US in 2004 in the fluid, unselfish form of Argentina. (Puerto Rico also beat the US that year.)

While reportedly puffing on a cigar at a golf course and talking to the AP, itself a funny scene, Jordan said, "Remember now, they learnt from us. We didn't learn from them."

Sitting around with our lack of time-travel technology and our suppositions, it's an easy call: The 1992 team would win.

But then you second-guess yourself and wonder if that's knee-jerk.

No, the 1992 team would win. But then you wonder if that's nostalgia.

No, the 1992 team would win. But then you wonder if that's ignoring the enhanced speed and dazzling athleticism of today.

No, the 1992 team would win.

It would win in part because of something James Worthy, an excellent star with Johnson's Lakers of the 1980s, said in the Los Angeles Times: "I'm going to go with that era that's wiser and more fundamentally sound."

And even though this young team headed to London for a second straight gold is wiser than often reputed, the 1992 team played sounder overall basketball with its marvellous individual talent, a thought that comes with a brief cringe at my own possible nostalgia.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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