The sporting world erupted with shock and laughter last week when USA Men’s Basketball star Kobe Bryant expressed his belief that this year’s team could potentially beat the legendary “Dream Team” that outscored their opponents by an average of 44 points per game on the way to Olympic gold. With the casual confidence we’ve come to expect from Bryant, here’s how he broke down the two squads:
“Well, just from a basketball standpoint, they obviously have a lot more size than we do — you know, with (David) Robinson and (Patrick) Ewing and (Karl) Malone and those guys. But they were also — some of those wing players — were also a lot older, at kind of the end of their careers. We have just a bunch of young racehorses, guys that are eager to compete. So I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”
As you’d expect, there was a strong reaction to Bryant’s claim, including this one from none other than Michael Jordan himself: “For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.” Charles Barkley made an even bolder claim: “Other than Kobe, LeBron (James) and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”
All this chest-beating makes for great entertainment and inspires tremendous debate, but it’s ultimately pointless for the same reason why it’s always pointless to compare teams and players from different eras — until somebody builds a time machine, we’ll never know for certain which team was better.
If you think the Dream Team would make quick work of this year’s Team USA roster, you point at their Hall of Fame résumés and superior group of big men. If you’re in the minority that thinks the modern team would triumph, you’re obviously considering their superior athleticism and training methods. We can use statistics, checklists, science or flat-out bravado to make our cases, but none of them are worth the copper in a penny, much less the gold in an Olympic medal.
Every generation wants to believe that the athletes from their heyday are the greatest of all-time, and none of their opinions should be taken seriously. The Dream Team’s dominance is unquestionable, but take a good look at the rosters of the silver and bronze medalists from the 1992 Olympics and try to convince me that I should be impressed. The only events more inevitable than that team’s Olympics triumph are death and taxes.
None of this will stop the debates from raging on, and nobody who favors either of the teams spanning two decades will be persuaded by the events of this summer’s inevitable American triumph. Of course, there is a minute possibility that the unthinkable could occur and Team USA could repeat their embarrassing failure at the 2004 games in Athens. I won’t say I’m rooting for that to take place, but it might teach future American hoopsters to think twice before daring to call out the most sacred cows in America’s history of Olympian competition.