3) Charles Barkley’s ‘star’ power
“Everyone in the world has an ego. The only difference with us is that we have a reason to have an ego.”
The ‘Round Mound of Rebound’ still makes a living saying whatever comes to his mind. Barkley is a fixture on TNT’s Inside the NBA show and his penchant for (trash) talking has endeared him to a new generation of basketball fans. During the ’92 Games, it was Barkley, not Jordan, who was the team’s leading scorer.
Barkley was also the Dream Team’s most visible player in Barcelona. Each night Barkley made a point to walk the tree-lined streets of Las Ramblas, where thousands followed him. Barkely posed for pictures, signed autographs and ‘hung out’ with tourists and opposing players alike.
“[Barkley] was the most memorable person in the 1992 Olympics,” long-time NBA reporter and columnist Mike Wilbon said.
While it was clear the world still held Jordan up as the game’s greatest player, it was the charismatic Barkley who captured more hearts and praise than any Dream Team member.
4) Opposing teams’ respect for the Dream Team
It would never happen in today’s game. In 2008, picture Spain’s Olympic basketball team members Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio posing for pictures with Team USA’s LeBron James and Kobe Bryant before the opening tip.
Sounds foreign, doesn’t it?
But that’s exactly what went on during the Dream Team’s run to the gold medal in 1992. Opposing players posed for pictures before games, took pictures from the bench during games and sought autographs following games.
“It was a surreal feeling,” Charles Barkley said of the other team’s adulation for Team USA.
As fans in the stands or watching at home, it’s normal to root for your team or cheer for your favorite player. Once the players start cheering for their opponents, it almost seems unnatural.
But that’s what the Dream Team was — a team so magnificent, the game became a formality.
5) Bird, Magic officially pass the NBA’s torch to Jordan
Sure, Jordan was on top of the basketball world by the time the ’92 Olympics rolled around. The Bulls had just won their second consecutive NBA title. Back injuries had slowed Bird considerably (he would ultimately retire following the Barcelona Games) and Magic hadn’t played in a year due to his HIV virus.
But the opportunity for all three players to play together was also a chance for Bird and Magic to officially give Jordan their seal of approval.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Jordan deferred at first. Although he was asked by coach Chuck Daly to join Magic and Bird as captains of the Dream Team, he refused.
“I knew how much it meant to both of those guys because they never had the opportunity to play on the Olympics,” Jordan said. “So I said, ‘You know what Chuck, don’t worry about me. Let those old dogs do it.”
Magic and Bird relished the opportunity. As the documentary’s narrator Ed Burns explains, the two were the team’s ‘most revered’ players. Their rivalry and friendship had saved the NBA and propelled it to new heights throughout the 1980s.
But Jordan got his chance to show the “old dogs” it was his time on the court. He routinely gave all of his Olympic teammates a show during team scrimmages – and Magic and Bird understood that they were leaving the league in good hands. One particular scrimmage left an undeniable impression on the team’s two oldest members. Jordan had just torched Magic’s team, where several teammates thought it was him playing against five.
“Larry and I were talking and Michael walks in and says ‘There’s a new sheriff in town,’” Magic laughs in the film. “And we both hit each and other said, ‘He’s not lying.”
‘The Dream Team’ premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV.