Which U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team is/was better: the 1992 “Dream Team” led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, or the 2012 team?Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant threw down the gauntlet last week when he argued that this year’s mix of NBA players on the Olympic team could beat the Dream Team, saying some members of the ‘92 team “were a lot older, kind of at the end of their careers.”
“It’d be a tough one,” Bryant added, “but I think we’d pull it out.”
“I absolutely laughed,” Jordan said of his response when he heard Bryant’s remarks. “There is no comparison. For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he could of done.” Now players from both teams are using Twitter to stake their claim at greatness.
Frankly, I could not care less which team wins this fight.
Ever since the NBA signed on for the Olympics it’s been the Harlem Globetrotters — the NBA — versus the Washington Generals — the rest of the competing countries (minus the 2004 bronze-winning team). The U.S. players have an overwhelming advantage, which makes it underwhelming to watch this kind of match-up. That’s one reason women’s softball was removed from the roster of Olympic events: The U.S. teams were head-and-shoulders above the rest.
There are a few countries that may make for an interesting contest, since some foreign-born NBA players will be playing for their respective countries; both the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, for example, will play for Spain. But no team outside the U.S. can dominant from start to finish.Initially, the NBA got involved in the Olympics to spread its brand and drum up foreign interest in a world dominated by soccer. It hasn’t fully achieved those goals, but there is more interest that there was, and the NBA has attracted a number of foreign players into the league: The Dallas Mavericks won their title last year lead by German star Dirk Nowitzki; San Antonio’s big stars are France’s Tony Parker and the Argentinian Manu Ginobili; and of course, the Bulls have British citizen and Sudanese native Luol Deng and French native Joakim Noah.
At the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, I went to 13 events in five days and made the deliberate decision to skip men’s basketball. Instead, I went to events like the men’s Judo final — clearly not an American sport, but it piqued my interest. It was fascinating; Korean and Japanese finalists were cheered on by a small arena full of enthusiastic spectators pounding thunder sticks (real ones not the ones seen at American sporting events) and wearing kimonos and hachimakis (headwear). Every move and point was punctuated by the sound of the crowd; it was a spectacular delight. Seeing Americans compete in swimming, women’s field hockey, equestrian and track and field was also exciting — and a learning experience for a veteran sports reporter who had never covered these events.
The Olympics are a world stage for global sport and culture; seeing the Americans duke it out at men’s basketball just feels limiting. Don’t get me wrong: I still feel pride when they play the Star Spangled Banner and drape medals around the athletes’ necks. I just don’t feel the need to see games that are available every NBA season — with better competition.