Kobe Bryant started a firestorm when he said that the 2012 Olympic Team could beat the 1992 Dream Team. Most people disagreed vehemently with Mr. Bryant — including us. But, then we started to think about just how far athletes and the human body have come in the last 20 years.
First off, many of the Dream Team members were past their prime — with the notable exception of Michael Jordan. He was right in the middle of it. Larry Bird was 35-years-old and hadn’t won a championship in six seasons. Magic Johnson was 32-years-old and had already retired due to being HIV-positive. John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, and Patrick Ewing were each 30-years-old; and Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone were 29-years-old.
The average age of the Dream Team was 29-years-old, and that includes the 22-year-old Christian Laettner. (Rosters are below)
The 2012 Olympic Team averages 26-years-of-age. Only Kobe Bryant is over 30-years-old, and he might just be the best player on the team. That might not be the case since LeBron James and Kevin Durant are both on the team, and all three of these guys have the ability to get open looks — or drive to the basket in traffic if they don’t find one. Back in 1992, defense in the NBA was a whole lot better, but that doesn’t mean they would be able to guard today’s players. LeBron James is 250-pounds of muscle who can shoot fade-aways and is an amazing passer. Kevin Durant is perhaps the fastest 6’9″ person on the planet (Usain Bolt is only 6’5″) and might just be the best pure scorer in the history of basketball. Kevin Love has led the league in rebounds and has won the 3-point contest.
Which brings us to our second point. It’s not just about age, it’s about today’s athlete being bigger, stronger, and better than anyone was 20-years-ago. Blake Griffin throws down dunks in regular season games that would have won the 1992 Slam Dunk Contest. Seriously. Go watch a video of the 1992 dunk contest right now. The one where Cedric Ceballos “blindfolded” himself. We’ve embedded it right here to make it easy for you.
Now, take a look at what Blake Griffin did this past season.
Notice that Blake Griffin was not only dunking while being defended, he was being defended by some of the world’s best players — players who will be playing against the U.S. team for their own respective Olympic teams. Which brings us to our third point.
These players have to play against the world’s best every single day during the NBA season. In 1992 there were only 21 international players on NBA rosters. Now, 20-percent of the NBA is made up of foreign-born players. The Dream Team didn’t play an all-around game in 1992. They got rebounds and ran a fast break on all the much slower teams. If they played the 2012 Olympic team, they wouldn’t be getting nearly the amount of rebounds because every player on the team can shoot — OK, maybe Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook needs to be taken out of that list as they are the biggest chuckers of the whole team.
The point is that the Dream Team had almost no strategy whatsoever to play against the teams they faced. We all found out that this was a terrible strategy when the 2004 team won Bronze. They thought they could just win on talent alone. The world got better at defending talent, and the NBA All-Star had to get better at finding the basket. The Dream Team wouldn’t be able to keep up with the size and speed of today’s athlete. Here are Gold Medal winning times/lengths/heights in 1992 and in 2008.
- Men’s 100 meter: 1992 — 9.96 seconds; 2008 — 9.69 seconds
- Men’s 1500 meter: 1992 — 3:40.12; 2008 — 3:33.11
- Marathon: 1992 — 2:13:23; 2008 — 2:06:32
- Swimming 100 meter freestyle: 1992 — 49.02; 2008 — 47.21
- Swimming 4×100 meter relay: 1992 — 3:16.74; 2008 — 3:08.24
We could go on and on listing almost every event that 2008 athletes bested 1992 athletes. And sure, some of this is due to technology changing to help with suits, shoes, and training. Yes, we are a much more advanced society in 2012 than in 1992. So advanced that Magic Johnson is no longer HIV-positive.
And that’s the whole point of this. The Dream Team were filled with amazing NBA players who are almost all in the Hall of Fame. Today’s team has a number of players that will make the Hall of Fame, but it’s a much harder league to make an impact in today’s NBA than in 1992.
The 2012 team is younger, bigger, faster, and stronger. Blake Griffin and LeBron James are 250-pounds of solid muscle. Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were 240/250-pounds of burgers and fries.
Would it be a close game? Absolutely. We aren’t even saying that the 2012 Olympic team would definitely win — especially since many of the Dream Team members had the desire to win at all cost a lot more than today’s players — we are just saying that people shouldn’t necessarily think that Kobe Bryant is out of his mind.
1992 Dream Team
2012 U.S. Olympic Team