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Dream Team's gift to the world

As 1992 Dream Team is honored at basketball's hall of fame, a look at their legacy.

Scottie Pippen Michael Jordan Clide Drexler
U.S. Basketball team members Michael Jordan (middle), Scottie Pippen (left) and Clyde Drexler (right) acknowledge the crowd after receiving their gold medals as members of "The Dream Team" the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (Mike Powell/Getty Images)

BOSTON — “The Dream Team” is such a quintessentially American notion — high-school hardwood on a fast break through Hollywood — that it is easy to forget that it wasn’t an American dream in the first place.

The National Basketball Association, a visionary league regarding its international potential, had been carefully nurturing the game in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. It was dismayed at the prospect of sending a team of NBA superstars to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where it would certainly dismantle — quite possibly in unseemly fashion — and perhaps discourage teams from the game’s nascent outposts.

Rather it was the international basketball community that demanded that the United States send its best to Barcelona. It believed that only by witnessing a shining example could the rest of the world find both instruction and inspiration that would, ultimately, enable it to take aim at the game’s greatest heights. Their notion was simple: that which does not kill us will only make us stronger.

On Friday, in testament to just how right those folks proved to be, the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team, aka “The Dream Team,” will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. In the city where the game was launched with a ball and a peach basket, fans can contemplate the extraordinary revolution that the Dream Team ushered into the basketball universe.

The 1992 Dream Team, was the real deal, led by the three players who had dominated the NBA — Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan — for more than a decade. Bird and Johnson had arrived on opposite coasts — with the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers respectively — back in 1979 and Jordan would come along six years later. In the 13 years between the debuts of Larry and Magic and the duo’s swan song in Barcelona, those three players won 10 NBA championships (and Jordan would go on to claim four more).

The Dream Team stormed Barcelona in a fashion that recalled how the Beatles took New York three decades earlier. Think Bird as Lennon, the cerebral one (in a basketball sense only), Magic with his megawatt smile as popular Paul and MJ as George, the hidden genius. If you insist on a comic turn a la Ringo, well Charles Barkley was along for the ride.

Maybe there weren’t teenage girls fainting at the sight of the American ballers. But there was a frenzy of boys and young men following the players every step of the way and the gawk quotient was extraordinary. Even opposition players sometimes seemed content to stand on the court and stare; at times it was all they could do to stop themselves from applauding the basketball magic being woven at their expense.