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As 1992 Dream Team is honored at basketball's hall of fame, a look at their legacy.
The Dream Team played its role to perfection. It treated its opponents as worthy by playing hard and playing well. In the opening game, the U.S. beat Angola by 68 points and Barkley threw a vicious elbow at a scrawny Angolan forward. American reporters decried the gratuitous cheap shot in the middle of a runaway game, but the Angolan players as well as foreign sportswriters embraced the thuggery as emblematic of newfound respect.
The Americans averaged 117 points a game and weren’t remotely challenged until the gold-medal contest when Croatia managed to lose by just 32 points. It was “Showtime” ramped to the rafters and it demonstrated to eager kids around the world — imagine 15-year-old Manu Ginobli watching in Argentina, 13-year-old Hedo Turkoglu in Turkey, 12-year-old Pau Gasol in Spain, 12-year-old Dirk Nowitzki in Germany, 11-year-old Yao Ming in China, 10-year-old Tony Parker in France — that soccer was not the only beautiful game.
The so-called “Dream Teams” that America sent to subsequent world championships and Olympics were imposters, pale shadows of the original. And it didn’t take long for effort to take on a nightmarish hue. Only a decade after Barcelona, foreign teams were schooling the cocky Yanks in the virtues of basketball played with a firm grasp on fundamentals and the concepts of team play.
At the 2002 world championships, on a U.S. home court in Indianapolis, the NBA aggregate finished a mortifying sixth. Two years later, at the Athens Olympics, the American team lost to Lithuania, Argentina and Puerto Rico before scrambling to salvage a bronze medal. And four years later, it required the most talented team since Barcelona — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony — to outlast Spain and reclaim America’s perch at the top of medal podium.
Now the Dream Teamers will take their rightful — and lofty — perch in the Hall of Fame, where so many of them are already enshrined for their individual achievements. Thanks in no small part to their performances, basketball today is that other of the world’s games. So when MJ finally soared his last, leaving behind a talent and charisma chasm, it was foreign players as much as any that reinvigorated the league with their talent and passion. That’s the Dream Team’s gift to the game and it has the added virtue of being eternal.