With the 20th anniversary of the Greatest Team of All Time coming up, GQ just came out with a long oral history of the Dream Team that's terrific and worth a read. Here's four takeaways from it.
1. The NBA office didn't actually want to play
After the U.S. lost in the 1988 Olympics, the common feeling was that the country wanted to put its best players forward to avenge the loss. That wasn't really the case.
David Stern (NBA commissioner): The notion that the NBA wanted to redeem the 1988 loss? Patently wrong. From our view, we were stuck with playing in the Olympics. We didn't see it becoming the phenomenon that it became.
Stern: We said to FIBA [the international basketball federation] that we weren't gung ho to play in the Olympics, but we would try to be good soldiers to support basketball. So they had a vote. The U.S. was against it, and the Russians were against it, too. But the overwhelming vote was in favor.
2. Christian Laettner deserved to be on the team, dammit
As a Duke alum, I will defend the unlikely inclusion of Laettner on the Dream Team. So do the people on the '92 committee.
P.J. Carlesimo (Team USA assistant coach): People look back and go, "Look at these other guys—why would they have a college guy?" People forget, Christian Laettner is arguably the best college player ever. Show me somebody else who accomplished what he did in four years.
3. But it definitely wasn't a Duke lovefest
The practices were legendary, and footage of them in this upcoming doc promises to be great, especially one early practice in which the Dream Teamers were beaten by a warm-up team comprised of college players. The team's 12 alpha males played full-speed and were more than a little contentious with each other.
Jan Hubbard (NBA columnist for Newsday): There was one moment where Krzyzewski claps his hands and says, "Okay, plenty of time." And Michael is at the other end of the court, and he shouts out: "Fuck that! We're going to win this game. Fuck that." You gotta figure Coach K never heard that at a Duke practice.
Krzyzewski: That's why he's the greatest player ever. That afternoon, the intensity of it was just beautiful to witness.
4. The games were kind of a joke
In the qualifying rounds at the Tournament of the Americas, opposing players held cameras and took pictures of the Dream Team on the sidelines. In Barcelona, Jordan and Scottie Pippen took an early opportunity to torment Toni Kucoc, their future teammate.
Hubbard: Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.
Karl Malone: You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.