“So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”—Kobe Bryant on whether the 2012 Men’s team could beat the 1992 Dream Team
“I absolutely laughed.”—Michael Jordan on Kobe’s quote.
In any sport, it’s difficult to compare guys from different eras. Athletes today are healthier, more athletic, and smarter than they were twenty years ago. NBA rules have changed to make the game more open, allowing point guards to flourish. The league has gotten softer as players have become more physically gifted—the guys on the 1992 Dream Team were probably disgusted by how the playoffs were called this year. But if a hypothetical game between the Dream Team and the sequel to 2008’s “Redeem Team” happened, would the 2012 squad have a chance? Before we get into match-ups, here’s what we know:
The two greatest players of their generation are at the apex of their powers. At age 28 in 1992, Michael Jordan came off a 30-6-6 year, embarrassed Clyde Drexler in the 1992 Finals after a “Who’s Better: Jordan or Drexler?” debate was started during the playoffs, and promptly seized Finals MVP (the famous Shrug Game being the highlight). At age 27, LeBron James is coming off an MVP 27-6-8 campaign and a Finals MVP, settling a premature and unfair “Who’s Better: Durant or LeBron?” debate. Jordan at his peak versus LeBron at his peak? And if Gus Johnson is calling the game… Instant cumshot for every basketball fan.
Every player on the Dream Team is an NBA Hall of Famer except for Christian Laettner. If Isiah Thomas wasn’t hated so universally in 1992, he would’ve made it over Laettner (Chuck Daly, the Dream Team’s coach, and Thomas’s coach on the Pistons didn’t even pick him), giving the Dream Team 12 Hall of Famers in 12 roster spots. Alas, they’re 11 for 12 (unless Laettner’s College Basketball Hall of Fame spot counts. He’s enshrined in the same building as Jordan, since the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield covers all areas of basketball). It’s hard to project who will be a Hall of Famer on the 2012 team, but surely the likes of Andre Iguodala won’t make it to Springfield. For historical purposes, the Dream Team reigns supreme.
The 2012 team lacks size. Tyson Chandler is the lone 7-footer on that roster, and offers nothing offensively. The Dream Team had 7-footers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Dwight Howard is missed just for his size and post strength alone. Chandler can’t play the entire game though, leaving the likes of Kevin Love, LeBron, and Anthony Davis to protect the post against Ewing, Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone.
The Dream Team is slow at point guard. Magic Johnson didn’t play in the NBA in 1992, but he proved in the Olympics that he was still the best point guard in basketball. At age 31, however, he was a huge liability defensively. His backup, John Stockton, was no burner either. Meanwhile, the 2012 team has the most explosive point guard available in Russell Westbrook, and Magic’s heir, Chris Paul.
The 2012 team is injured. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Blake Griffin are all out with injuries for Team USA. Howard’s size, Rose’s speed, Wade’s scoring, and Griffin’s power are all huge misses for the 2012 team. These guys would’ve made a real difference. Howard and Griffin would help patch a weak spot inside for the 2012 team, Rose could further exploit Magic and Stockton, and Wade is a huge upgrade at shooting guard over Kobe’s current backups.
Now that those facts have been hashed out, who wins the individual matchups at each position?
Magic in his prime was better than Chris Paul is now, but in 1992, Magic was at the end of his career. A Paul/Westbrook/Deron Williams combination would tear up Magic and Stockton (who got regularly got beat by the speedy Gary Payton throughout his career), beating them with pure speed and stealing ability. 2012 Team wins.
Here, the two biggest alpha-dogs of their time would be paired up against each other. Nobody in basketball was more competitive than Jordan, although Kobe would definitely have something to say about that. Jordan and Kobe would kill each other out there. Although Jordan in his prime blows an aging Kobe away physically, Kobe wouldn’t make it easy—he’s too much of a competitive killer. Drexler wasn’t the same player after Jordan took his soul in the 1992 Finals (seriously, Drexler went from being a top 5 player to barely an All-Star after that), but he’s still superior to James Harden and Westbrook at the 2. Drexler was in his prime in 1992, while Harden, Gordon and Westbrook are still figuring themselves out. Dream Team wins.
Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, and Scottie Pippen (and maybe Barkley?) against LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. While LeBron will play any position 1-5 and would probably guard Jordan, Durant and Anthony could hold their own. Larry Bird was still a maverick with the ball even when he retired, but his back was shot by this point. The uber-athletic speed, strength, and length of Durant and Anthony would cause too much trouble for Bird, Mullin, and Pippen to handle. Have LeBron actually play the 3, and this matchup is no contest. 2012 Team wins.
Barkley in his prime was better than any forward not named LeBron that the 2012 team could offer against him. He’d make Love question his own abilities, as Love is hardly an apt defender. Barkley would remind Davis of his rookie status over and over again, as an undersized but thick Barkley would plow through Davis. Malone coming off of a world-beating 28-11 season only makes things worse for the 2012 team. Davis is the only one who could potentially defend Barkley and Malone—2015 Anthony Davis that is—not rookie Anthony Davis. Dream Team wins.
A Pity Party is needed for Tyson Chandler here. He’s going to have to do the bulk of the interior defending with Davis against Ewing and Robinson in their primes. Chandler is the best defensive center in basketball today, but he couldn’t hold on against Robinson and Ewing rotating in and out. Too many big, fresh bodies for the Dream Team, and not nearly enough offense or size inside for the 2012 team. Dream Team wins.
The Dream Team wins 3-2 in the matchup battle. These are teams that will come bringing different styles of basketball though, and matchups aren’t everything. The Dream Team would have more emphasis on attacking the weak interior of the 2012 Team with their bigs, while having Jordan and Magic do everything they can on fast breaks. The 2012 team is going to try and win on speed and athleticism down the wings and in transition, with Chris Paul and LeBron in a power-point guard role spearheading attacks to Westbrook, Durant, and Davis down the court. If I’m Coach K, I go with a Paul, Kobe, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Chandler starting five, but eventually settling in with a Paul, Westbrook, Durant, LeBron, Davis lineup to make the game a track meet. It’s their only shot against the size of the Dream Team.
Who wins? The Dream Team. Never bet against Jordan. No way he lets this game get away.
Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49