No, this U.S. team isn’t as good as the Dream Team, or even the 2008 team, which five of them played on.
Not that there’s any way of demonstrating it, not even the press’s fave, asking Dream Teamers and awaiting the laughter.
Of course, the Dreamers had a huge edge, aside from all those centers and power forwards the 2012ers are so light on.
The Dreamers were famous.
Leaving out out the incomparable Michael Jordan, the 2012ers’ Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are comparable to any of the other Dreamers.
But none of the 2012ers has anything comparing to the star power of MJ, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley that made role players of Hall of Famers like Karl Malone, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Chris Mullin. They all considered themselves lucky to be there, seeing as how more Hall of Famers – notably Isiah Thomas – missed the cut.
The Dreamers had outsized personalities.
In the age before youth and fame meant endorsement millions, Mike, Magic, Larry, Charles et al, had to show they had personal charisma – along with being great players – to move products.
Today’s stars don’t have to prove anything to endorsers, who sign them before they play an NBA game, and barely develop personalities, at all.
Arriving with all the fame, cachet and media opportunities they will ever need, they shy away from today’s bigger and more oppressive press, giving rote answers like, “We’re just trying to get better” to all questions.
Today’s press specializes in creating legends – or demons – of people we have minimal exposure to, like LeBron. We actually knew the Dreamers like Barkley, whose career-long laugh track made up for throwing the odd patron through the plate-glass bar window.
The question for the 2012ers is, why exactly did you want to get into this debate again?
Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War, said you don’t fight a battle you can’t win, which should cover engagements in which you make yourself a laughingstock.
Lame as this angle may be for a theme, if you’re covering this team, it’s the only angle out there.
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That would work, if it happened. Right now, no one talks much about it, a testament to the 2008 team in Beijing, which ended a string of international losses that included 2004 in Athens.
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That’s what the 2012ers set themselves up for from here to the medal ceremony, being compared to the basketball team to which no other team can ever be compared.
As a matter of fact, the 2012 team might well be able to beat the Dreamers – if they played enough times.
To give this team its due, like its 2008 predecessor, unlike anyone else in international ball, it defends.
International teams have the same problem the U.S. does. They’re All-Star teams comprised of players from different teams, different leagues, even different countries.
The U.S. is just the one with multiple superstars. The others have a natural hierarchy with lesser players in roles, doing the dirty work.
The last thing your usual superstar ensemble is going to do is worry about defense. The Dreamers didn’t, but with their talent level and chemistry, with Magic as good cop and MJ as MJ, they awed opponents as much as beating them.
Subsequent U.S. teams learned to avoid Dream Team comparisons.
In 1994, we sent our so-called “Young Guns” of Dream Team II to the World Cup in Toronto, where they were inevitably compared with Dream Team I.
As an answer to the criticism when they fell far short of the Dreamers’ 38-point average victory margin, Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp and Derrick Coleman put on a display of chest-pounding, trash-talking and, yes, crotch-grabbing that got all three crossed off the list of players who may represent the U.S. in the future.
After that, we stopped with the Dream Team Roman numeral thing.
It was good because the expectations were more than teams could carry, as in 2000 in Sydney when the Aussies, who would go drinking with Martians, recoiled at the antics of Vince Carter and the U.S. team.
Ironically, it was Bryant who started this, claiming the 2012ers would beat the Dreamers. It also was Bryant who turned the U.S. team around.
Injured in 2006 when the U.S. lost in Japan — where it couldn’t defend the pick-and-rolls Greece ran over and over — Bryant joined the team for the American qualifying tournament in Las Vegas in 2007.
On the first play of the first game, he tipped the ball away from Venezuela point guard Greivis Vasquez, dove after it, and when Vasquez got it back, stole it again.
With Coach Mike Krzyzewski showing that video over and over, the U.S. players defended like banshees thereafter.
If the Dreamers were greater — and a lot bigger — the 2012ers are more of a team, as were the 2008ers.
Happily for the 2012ers, the Dream Team isn’t their problem. With Durant – a small forward – as their backup center against all the Marc Gasols, Anderson Varejaos and Tiago Splitters, they already have all they can handle.