Nobody knows when it began but Kobe Bryant has seemingly sought to eclipse Michael Jordan before he was even an 18-year-old NBA rookie. His next championship would be his sixth, like Jordan, and his next gold medal would give him two, like Jordan. He even grew a goatee similar to the one worn on Jordan’s face during the ’92 Olympic Games.
However, his comments about whether the 2012 incarnation would defeat the original Dream Team show he’s got a little Clyde Drexler in him as well.
You may or may not remember the other quote Drexler gave Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum after he discussed Magic Johnson’s inclusion on the Dream Team.
“I don’t fear anyone. I don’t think anybody was better than me,” Drexler told McCallum. “I had a lot of success against Jordan. I beat him often. At his game. Which is also my game. I was bigger, faster. I did everything he could do. Except shoot more.”
Drexler was right that Jordan couldn’t do anything he couldn’t do but Jordan as McCallum points out Jordan did everything better. The same could be said for Jordan’s career versus Bryant’s and for the Team USA comparisons.
Injuries to Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Dwyane Wade prevent this team from being considered on the same talent level as the Dream Team but it’s not vastly overmatched.
Many fans have a romantic view and love affair with the 80′s through early 90′s that influences their view of the game because it marked the beginning of the NBA’s rise. It was the first time professional basketball players were also becoming cultural icons (see: Magic, Bird and His Airness).
As a result of this and the league’s expansion to 30 teams, there is a perception that the NBA’s elite players don’t compare to those of yesteryear. Contemporary players have been waging a losing battle against Jordan, Magic and Bird’s legacies.
Much like how Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were able to average 30 rebounds a game because of the paucity of seven footers in the game during their era, athletes today are bigger, stronger and more athletic on average than they were 20 years ago.
They’re also younger. While President Obama has addressed the importance of a college education, Team USA 2012 is two years younger on average (28.8 to 26.2) than the Dream Team’s but both rosters average approximately seven pro seasons per player.
In addition, the 1992 team, which had 11 Hall of Famers has had the benefit of time to fluff their resumes. The 2012 team has zero Hall of Famers — currently. However, the 2012 team has seven likely future Hall-of-Famers plus Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis who are in the nascent stages their careers but have the potential.
According to ESPN’s John Hollinger, the Dream Team’s combined player efficiency rating is three percent higher than the 2012 team. However, let’s examine each team more carefully. If you were to put the 24 players that comprised the 1992 Dream Team and the modern-day Team USA into a pool and drafted the top 12 based on how they performed the previous seasons, here’s how they’d pan out.
The top six is evenly divided between 2012 and 1992 but doesn’t require much of an explanation. Magic Johnson had only been retired for a year and David Robinson is the top true center in the field. The chair that defended Yi Jianlian during his pre-draft workouts would replace Christian Laettner. After the then-Duke rookie, it gets a little controversial as Larry Bird, John Stockton, Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler would not make the 12-man roster.
1. Michael Jordan- 27.2 PER in 1992 title season
2. LeBron James- 30.7 PER in 2012 title season
3. Kevin Durant- Durant’s .610 true shooting percentage, which combines free throws and gives more weight to three pointers, dwarfed Jordan’s ’92 percentage (.571).
4. Kobe Bryant- In 20 years, team historian, Kobe Bryant, will probably be as much of a quote machine as Drexler has been this summer.
5. Magic Johnson- Stockton actually led the league in assists per game during the final four years of Magic’s career but Magic had unique size for a point guard.
6. David Robinson
7. Chris Paul- Paul would earn the second point guard spot over Stockton because while the Jazz guard led the league in assists for nine straight seasons, his PER rating, which experienced a significant drop-off in 1991, is significantly lower than Paul’s. Chris Paul’s. Paul was second in the league behind only James. Stockton’s rating was in the ball park of Ty Lawson and Jeremy Lin’s during the 2012 season.
The only difference is that Stockton held a Ph. D in the pick and roll. Paul is Stockton’s equal as a passer but he has more scoring responsibilities and better scoring ability in the vein of Isiah Thomas. Despite the fact, he was leading the league in assists for the fifth of nine straight seasons, his ’92 assists-to-turnovers ratio of 3.91 would be third in the league behind Paul’s 4.38.
8. Karl Malone- Malone kept in better shape and as a result played near his peak longer but in 1992 he and Barkley were neck and neck as the league’s top power forwards.
9. Charles Barkley- Barkley’s skillset was a mix of Kevin Love and Blake Griffin in a 6-foot-6 frame.
10. Patrick Ewing- If Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon” had acquired his citizenship a few years earlier, Ewing would not have been on this team.
11. Scottie Pippen- In the race for the point forward position, Pippen compares to a rich man’s Andre Iguodala while Carmelo Anthony resembles Chris Mullin with a tan and a Baltimore accent. Surprisingly, Anthony isn’t even in Pippen’s ballpark. Plus, this team has plenty of scorers. It needs a strong and versatile perimeter defender. Pippen made ten straight All-Defensive Teams and after Jordan retired his PER rating remained among the league’s elite. Anthony’s career-high PER of 22.2 doesn’t approach the 23.2 rating Pippen earned in his first post-Jordan Bulls season.
12. Kevin Love- If you wanted to add another point guard, John Stockton would be the choice here, however, Kevin Love is as unique as they come nowadays. He’s not a transformative talent but neither was Stockton. Anthony can play the stretch four but Love’s rebounding prowess gives him the edge. Not only is Love a vastly superior shooter to Malone or Barkley as he recently won the 2012 Three-Point Contest but he’s even better on the glass than both of them. Love led the league in offensive rebounding percentage in his first two seasons while the renowned Round Mound of Rebound only accomplished this feat once.
Jordan and Barkley may have laughed at the notion of losing to Bryant’s Team USA but it’s not a crazy thought by any means.
Two of the top players from that era (Bird and Magic) were shells of their former selves while James and Durant are still in their primes. Bryant was last season’s second-leading scorer. The 2012 Olympic Team doesn’t have the same size as the original Dream Team, however, in international competition, versatility is an advantage for bigs.
Thursday night’s 54-point win over the Dominican Republic was a great start but before Bryant and Team USA can compare to the Dream Team or even the ’96 Dream Team II, they’ll have to bring matching hardware home from London.