LAS VEGAS –Team USA embarked on a quest for a second consecutive Olympic gold medal Thursday night with a 113-59 victory over a Dominican Republican team that in another era could have been confused with Cuba.
The game concluded a day of concern and comedy that actually began on Wednesday when Kobe Bryant said the 2012 Olympic team could beat the 1992 Dream Team, thereby leading some to suggest the current team will now be called the We-Want-Esteem-Team.
Bryant’s musings sent outlets scurrying for responses, which were predictable. Michael Jordan was dismissive. Charles Barkley said no more than three current members of the team could have made the Dream Team. Magic Johnson tweeted that he laughed.
And somewhere Oscar Robertson is seething, thinking to himself, “What about me, Jerry West and the 1960 team? We could have taken these guys.”
The debate has largely missed the point because anyone can see that the current team would easily beat any of the past Olympic teams.
Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, KD, etc. vs. Michael, Magic, Larry and Charles? No contest.
Kobe is 33, LeBron James is 27, Carmelo Anthony is 28 and Kevin Durant is 23.
Now look at the Dream Team. Michael and Charles are 49, Magic is 52 and Larry Bird is 55.
Case closed. Kobe is correct. The young guys could beat the ’92 team easily.
Presumably, however, Bryant was assuming that some sort of time machine could be found and both teams would meet in their prime. And, predictably, that led to one of those silly sports discussions that is presented so seriously but actually is quite stupid and has no definitive answer.
Dream Team would win? Fine.
Current team would win? OK with that, too.
We will never know.
So other than the sport of arguing, why even spend time on it? And if you are going to engage in such an argument, the 1996 team with Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill, Gary Payton and Reggie Miller should be in the discussion.
The Dream Team cannot be matched as a cultural icon. Not only 11 members are in the Hall of Fame, but because of them, the popularity of basketball also exploded all over the world. Bryant knows that. Everybody does.
The global impact of the Dream Team is why the Dominican Republic has two NBA players on its team – Al Horford from Atlanta and Francisco Garcia of Sacramento. One of the players on the team was named Edgar Sosa. Before the Dream Team, all Sosa’s in the D.R. played baseball.
Of far more significance Thursday for Team USA, however, was a knee injury to Blake Griffin that caused him to leave camp. He still has to officially withdraw and that will probably happen in the next three days. He will be replaced on the team by Anthony Davis, who was the first player chosen in the 2012 draft by the New Orleans Hornets.
Davis, who was supposed to play in the Las Vegas summer league next week but instead will be heading to Europe, did not seem intimidated by the surroundings Thursday. He played 10 minutes, took four shots and made three of them, including a 3-pointer while being fouled. He made the free throw for the four-point play.
“He can play some ball and some good minutes for us,” said James, who had seven points and three assists in 17 minutes. “He’s long, he’s athletic and he knows how to play the game. We look forward to seeing him continue to grow.”
The U.S. has been hit hard by injuries to their big men. Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge all had to withdraw from the team because of injuries. That left 7-1 Tyson Chandler as the only center.
Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo has done an excellent job of filling the roster with excellent athletes who can play more than one position.
Although it is obvious no conclusions can be drawn from the first game, it should be noted that:
— Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski, as expected, can field lineups with different strengths. The starters for the first game were James, Bryant, Anthony, Chris Paul and Chandler.
— In the second half, Krzyzewski substituted Durant and Deron Williams for Chandler and Paul.
— Besides Davis, Krzyzewski also used Anthony, Kevin Love and Durant at center for stretches.
— And it does look as though Durant is going to take over as the leading scorer for the team, which is not surprising since he won the last three NBA scoring titles. He led Team USA with 24 points Thursday and Andre Iguodala – who impressed Krzyzewski – added 18.
The U.S. also played stifling defense, limiting the D.R. to 31.7 percent shooting from the field and forcing 25 turnovers. Kentucky coach John Calipari, who coached the D.R. said his team had no more than 12 turnovers while playing in a recent Olympic qualifying tournament.
In its first game as a team at the Tournament of the Americas in Portland in 1992, the Dream Team defeated Cuba 136-57. That 79-point margin of victory was more impressive than Team USA’s victory Thursday night.
But the problem for Bryant and the current team is the Dream Team had such a powerful effect on the rest of the world that more of the great athletes were motivated to play basketball. Coaching improved. Facilities improved. Teams played together longer in more organized and committed programs.
After that 79-point victory, the U.S. was never challenged in 1992. Because of the Dream Team, this U.S. team will be challenged. As Krzyzewski said, “The world is a lot better. It’s not even close. We can get beat. We know that. The Dream Team – there really is no way they could have been beaten.”
Krzyzewski, who was an assistant on the Dream Team, was not trying to settle the argument with that statement. But for those who get excited about such topics, maybe he did.
MORE TEAM USA COVERAGE FROM JAN HUBBARD IN LAS VEGAS:Wednesday, July 11 – Team USA united in opposition to 23-and-under rule Tuesday, July 10 – July 10: Kyrie Irving excelling in Team USA camp Monday, July 9 – Original Dream Team is ancient history for Team USA Sunday, July 8 – Days of self-destruction are over for U.S. Saturday, July 7 – Versatile American squad on a mission Friday, July 6 – The Olympic rich get richer, and the good get better
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.