On This Date in Sports August 8, 1992

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The Dream Team completes its mission, winning the Gold Medal in Basketball by beat Croatia 117-85 in the Barcelona Olympics. It was the first time professionals were used in the Olympics and Team USA was great curiosity throughout the games. With 11 future Hall of Famers on the roster, the American Men’s Basketball team rolled through the tournament and help spur new interest in basketball throughout Europe helping the sport grow enormously in following years.

Basketball was first played at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. For the first four decades, the sport was dominated by the Americans, as they did not through the first seven tournaments. In 1972, the United States saw their winning streak end at the Munich with a controversial loss to the Soviet Union in the Gold Medal game. Team USA rebounded by sweeping through the Montreal Games in 1976 and again swept through the Los Angeles Games in 1984, having sat out the 1980 Moscow Games due to a boycott. By the time 1988 arrived, the Soviets were on even footing as they had caught up to our college stars, winning the Gold Medal in Seoul, while Team USA settled for the Bronze Medal.

Following the loss to the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1988 tournament, Team USA began calling for the use of professionals at the Olympics. When the modern games were established in 1896, it was intended to be a showcase for amateur athletics. However, as the business of sports grew, as live television became a part of the Olympics and money began taking over, it soon became unrealistic to compete exclusively with amateurs. The rules also put the United States and all Western Nations at a big disadvantage against their communist counterparts from the Soviet Union. All members of the great Soviet Team were on a professional level, but since the government owned everything and all athletes were declared members of the military they were considered amateurs.

At a meeting of FIBA, in 1989 the proposal to allow professionals in the Olympics was passed with only the Soviet Union voting nyet. At first, the NBA was unenthusiastic about sending their star players to the Olympics, but as the games approached “The Dream Team” as they were dubbed became a cultural phenomenon. The first ten players were selected in September of 1991, reads like a list of the greatest players of all-time, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls leading the way. Also on the team was the Utah Jazz dynamic duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton. The team featured the NBA’s premiere big men with San Antonio Spurs Center David Robinson along with Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks. For attitude, the team had Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers, while Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors gave them a three-point assassin. Rounding out the team were the two bests of rivals, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. A few months later Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers was added along with Christian Laettner who had just completed a legendary career at Duke. The team would be coached by longtime Detroit Pistons bench boss Chuck Daly. The selection of the roster was not without controversy as longtime Pistons star Isiah Thomas was left out. According to people close to the selection committee, Michael Jordan had told people he would not play with Thomas at the Olympics, due to bad blood between the Pistons and Bulls as they played in the Eastern Conference Finals three straight seasons.

The Dream Team first came together shortly after the end of the 1992 NBA Finals. The Bulls were fresh off their second straight NBA Championship. Christian Laettner was the third overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charles Barkley had just been traded from the 76ers to the Phoenix Suns, Chuck Daly had left the Detroit Pistons to coach the New Jersey Nets and everyone was wondering how would Magic Johnson hold as he was still officially retired after revealing he was HIV positive. Still, the excitement was real when the suited up for their first games, the tournament of the Americas in Portland. In their first game, Team USA crushed Cuba 136-57. The Dream team would win all six games, by at least 38 points, defeating Venezuela 127-80.

When the Olympics began all the athletes in Barcelona were awed by the American Giants of the Hardwood. In their opening game against an overmatched Angola, the Dream Team led 64-16 at the half on the way to winning 116-48. Croatia which had a few NBA Players on their roster including rising Nets star Drazen Petrovic kept the game somewhat close for a half, trailing 54-37 at the half, as the Team USA won the game 103-70. Team USA would go on to close out the preliminary round with 40-point wins over Germany, Brazil, and Spain. In the medal round, Team USA beat Puerto Rico 115-78. They would move on the semifinals to beat Lithuania a team that had two solid NBA Players in Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis 127-76. Lithuania would later win the Bronze Medal against the Russian Unified Team that was competing months after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The coronation would come in a rematch with Croatia, once again it would be the closest games the Americans played as they held a 56-42 halftime lead. However, too many stars made it impossible for Croatia to keep up as Team USA won the Gold Medal 117-85 to close out the Barcelona Olympics.


While Team USA was untouchable in Barcelona, the world quickly catch up and after easily winning Gold in 1996 and 2000, the NBA laden team in 2004 put up a disappointing effort in Athens and captured the Bronze, leading to a reworking of the concept from a team of stars to a team that fits well together. Since then the USA has again established their dominance winning Gold in 2008, 2012 and 2016. However, it was seeing the Dream Team that sparked a new interest in Basketball across the globe that made the NBA reach new levels of popularity it could never have imagined.

After the Dream Team, the players returned to the NBA where Christian Laettner never lived up to his college statics and thus is the only member of the Dream Team not in the Hall of Fame. Though the team itself would be inducted in 2010. Magic Johnson who was preparing for a comeback in 1992, stayed on the sidelines as there was still some apprehension of a player on the floor with HIV every game. He would make a brief comeback four years later but was clearly past his prime. The Olympics would also mark the end for Larry Bird who announced his retirement a few weeks after returning from Barcelona. Michael Jordan also retired in 1993, after leading the Bulls to a third straight title. However, this was to pursue a career in baseball, which he abandoned after one season and returned to the NBA to lead the Bulls to another three championships.