My friend Tony is getting married in just a couple of weeks- with yours truly as the minister (big shout-out to the Universal Life Church, which gave me an ordination by virtue of my sending them $40.) As we finalized the ceremony details, Tony asked me a hypothetical for this blog, as we get ready for the 2012 Olympic season. It runs as follows: if you could choose an ultimate Dream Team for the Olympics, composed of members of previous Dream Teams (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012), who would be on it? I think that is a great question- but first, let me set out a few ground rules, then I’ll list the team, and explain my rationales.
-First,I have to take the players as they were in the Olympic season. So, while a healthy and youthful Larry Bird would be a mortal lock for this team, Bird was on his last legs in 1992 and played very few minutes. Another great player, John Stockton, faces a similar problem– he had an ankle injury in 1992, and while he was on the 1996 squad, I’m afraid he was a bit too old and a hair too slow by that point to deserve consideration for “an ultimate team”.
-At least 3 white players (hey, we have to market jerseys and commemorative figurines, don’t we?)
So, my lineup would be as follows, and hear me out before you start posting scurrilous comments.
- Michael Jordan (shooting guard)
- Charles Barkley (power forward)
- David Robinson (center)
- Tim Duncan (power forward)
- Scottie Pippen (small forward/shooting guard)
- Jason Kidd (point guard)
- Chris Mullin (small forward)
- Dwight Howard (center)
- Chris Paul (point guard)
- LeBron James (small forward)
- Reggie Miller (shooting guard)
- Christian Laettner (power forward/center)
This works– trust me! First of all, I started on the assumption that on the basis of skill, just about any permutation of the Dream Teams had a very strong shot at winning. The only things that could STOP them have nothing to do with physiology and talent– it would have to do with bad team chemistry, selfishness, role confusion, and bad habits. Think of the Greeks in The Iliad– the greatest collection of warriors ever assembled in the ancient world– Achilles, Agamemnon, the Ajaxes, Menelaus, Odysseus. Yet, they came damn near close to losing the Trojan War because of petty feuds and bruised egos. That’s precisely the scenario I wish to avoid. So, here’s the breakdown:
- Michael Jordan as alpha-dog. You can’t have more than one; you need one dominant guy on the team and that’s that. So, it has to be Jordan, right? He is sometimes rightfully called out for denigrating teammates when they screw up, but that was usually because he had to spend the early 90s with Will Purdue and Stacey Williams. It shouldn’t be a problem here. With Jordan, you get the most complete player the game has ever known, no weaknesses to the game, and a man who is determined to vanquish at all costs.
- Lebron as beta-dog. James grew up idolizing Jordan, and thus won’t have as much of a problem submitting to MJ’s role as team captain. He gets the nod over Kobe because 1) he did a far better job co-existing with great teammates, to the point of deliberately seeking them out in Miami. Kobe, in contrast, whined and pouted until Shaq left. As a member of both the dreadful 2004 team and the 2008 redeem team, LeBron is also determined not to lose, and we saw just how great he was in this year’s finals. And if he sucks at the clutch, I’ve got three plausible replacements at small forward.
- Centers who play great defense and understand their role. With Olympic rules punishing more aggressive inside play, you need centers who won’t hog the ball in a Wilt Chamberlain-esque fashion. David Robinson and Dwight Howard do this better than any other two guys on the list– both great teammates who aren’t so pathologically competitive as to challenge Jordan and rock a very precarious boat. These guys fill this role better than more immediately obvious choices like Ewing, Hakeem and especially Shaq.
- Dual-purpose point guards- for a quick, fast break game, I have Chris Paul. For a more aggressive situation, I have Jason Kidd. Kidd’s a terrible shooter, yes, but that’s not what he is there for. With Jordan, LeBron, and the #5 guys on the team, he won’t have to shoot. And Coach Lenny Wilkens will bench him if he tries.
- Perimeter threats- three great players and three great teammates– Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, and Chris Mullin. All three excel at the clutch and will take advantage of Olympic rules favoring outside shooting. Any two of the three will provide great scoring off the bench at shooting guard and/or small forward. Better yet, play all three. Pippen, after all, was a very competent point guard when both Stockton and Magic were both momentarily out of commission in ’92. Can you imagine how much havoc it will cause the opponents’ defense to have three outside threats at the same time? Frightening.
- Charles Barkley as lightning rod- Barkley excels on controversy and the spotlight– and probably performed best in games out of the entire 1992 squad, Jordan not excepted. All press criticism will almost naturally flow to Sir Charles, who would eat it up and channel it into game play. You also get an exceptional rebounder, dramatic dunker, and a mercurial alternative to the team’s steady-as-she-goes power forward, Tim Duncan.
- Christian Laettner as whipping boy- The team needs someone hapless to dunk on during practice, someone for Sir Charles to play practical jokes on, someone for Jordan to berate during practice, and someone for nice-guy David Robinson to feel sorry for and encourage. Laettner, the laughably bad college addition to the Dream Team of 1992, serves this purpose. He’ll keep the bench seat warm in this hypothetical Olympic match-up, but on a psychological level, the team falls apart without him.
So, we start with a quick and powerful starting lineup- CP3, Jordan, LeBron, Barkley and Robinson, bring out some Miller/Pippen/Mullin combo as 6th and 7th men to let Jordan and LeBron rest. End the first half with a tenacious defense to preserve the lead, with Kidd, Duncan, and Howard coming in,Jordan returning, and Pippen remaining in. Repeat in the second half, but with Jordan at point, Miller at shooting guard, Pippen at small forward, Duncan and Robinson during the final minutes.
Other guys who I really wanted to include, but just couldn’t get it to work are Run-TMC-mates Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond, one of my favorite new players, Russell Westbrook, and Magic Johnson as the 12th man, serving in a mentor capacity. But humiliating Laettner seemed a lot more fun.