This whole Summer of Heat really has its roots in the whole “Dream Team” concept. But was the Dream Team even necessary? The answer is no.
After the 1988 US Basketball team disappointed everyone by taking home the bronze medal, it immediately became accepted conventional wisdom that the United States Olympic basketball team could no longer compete internationally using college players. They had to use professionals. Was this assessment even true?
No. Not at all. The 1988 team was one of the best teams the United States ever fielded. The fact that a very weak (and final) USSR team beat them by six points on a neutral floor only proved what every thinking basketball fan ought to know (or any observer of any NCAA basketball tournament, for that matter). In a one-off tournament, any halfway decent team can beat any other team on any given night. That’s all that happened.
This post is so full of irony, I don’t know which one to mention first. Actually, let me hold off. First, I rank the strongest US Olympic Basketball teams since 1936 using point differential, and then compare the progress of their chief rival, the Soviet Union.
Strongest US Olympic Basketball Teams
1. 1956 Team….(+53.5)
2. 1960 Team….(+44.8)
3. 1992 Dream Team….(+43.7)
4. 2008 Redeem Team….(+35.7)
5. 1948 Team….(+33.5)
6. 1984 Team….(+32.1)
7. 1996 Dream Team….(+31.7)
8. 1988 “Disappointment” Team….(+30.3)
9. 1964 Team….(+30.0)
10. 1972 Team….(+28.7)
11. 1968 Team….(+26.0)
12. 2000 “Dream” Team….(+21.6)
13. 1952 Team….(+19.5)
14. 1936 Team….(+16.6)
15. 1976 Team….(+12.0)
16. 2004 “Nightmare” Team….(+4.6)
Strongest Soviet Teams (1952-1988)
1. 1976 Team….(+28.1)
2. 1968 Team….(+27.7)
3. 1972 Team….(+18.5)
4. 1964 Team….(+14.4)
5. 1960 Team….(+12.4)
6. 1988 Team….(+11.3)
7. 1956 Team….(+6.2)
8. 1952 Team….(+4.6)
Several Disjointed Observations
1. The supposedly non-competitive 1988 Amateur Team was MUCH more competitive than two of the five pro teams, and nearly as competitive as every other pro team except the original Dream Team. The idea that the 1988 team proved amateurs could no longer compete is a joke.
2. The infamous 1972 and 1988 United States Olympic teams were FAR better than the Soviet Teams that beat them…. yet the 1976 US Team, a team that won the Gold Medal, was FAR worse than the Soviet Team it beat. (Perhaps the location of each of the Olympics played a large role in these outcomes… you can throw 1968 into that observation too. That was the Soviets second strongest team, yet they did not bring home gold.)
3. The Soviet Union actually caught the United States in 1968, not 1972.
4. In 1992, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and other factors, the international competition at the Barcelona Olympics was practically non-existent. The US could have sent a junior Olympic team and won Gold. (I vaguely remember the third best team, the Lithuanians, could not even afford uniforms. I believe they wore tie-dye jerseys donated by the Grateful Dead.)
5. How bad was the 2004 Nightmare Team? It was the equivalent of the very first team the Soviets ever sent to the Olympics, a team I imagine was just learning the sport.
6. The bottom line of this post is that the United States ruined the Olympics for me for no particular reason. There was really no compelling reason to send professionals to the Games, and it ruined the old “kid who trained at the local high school” paradigm that made the Olympics so compelling. I haven’t watched 20 minutes of the Olympics since then.
7. If a team is picked and coached properly, it can perform just as well whether chosen from the amateur or professional ranks. If it is constructed and coached improperly, it can perform just as poorly whether chosen from the amateur or professional ranks.
8. Final Point: Until I looked at the Dream Team statistics, I had forgotten just how much Michael Jordan HATED playing on that team. His Olympic statistics, and his recent comments, reminded me of his indifference. Good for him.
NOTE: I’m oversimplifying to make a point. If memory serves, it was track and field that opened the door to professionals, not the Dream Team. But who can distinguish between track and field amateurs and professionals? Also, I completely slide over the point that there really are no amateur basketball players in the US post KG. But I stick by my disgust!