The U.S. was tired, tired of hearing how the world had caught up. Tired of seeing replays of the 1972 Olympics and the screw job put on us. Tired of Russia running their mouths and saying they were better. There was only one thing to do: throw that “amateur” status out and bring our real big guns. Besides, it wasn’t like other countries didn’t pay their players right? Right. So USA Basketball and Suns owner Jerry Colangelo assembled the greatest team EVER, in any sport, and…kicked the h-e-double hockey sticks out of everyone they faced, physically (Barkley) and mentally.
The first few rounds, against teams like Angola and Puerto Rico, were exactly what they were supposed to be – epic blowouts so bad Chuck Daly never once called a timeout. During a game against Croatia and newly drafted teammate Toni Kukoc, Scottie Pippen, and His Airness so thoroughly dominated and harassed their future teammate that Kukoc debated even coming over to play in the NBA.
But the Croatians, part of the group of teams made from countries out of dissolved Russia, came back from that first loss in pool play to face the U.S. again in the Gold Medal game. With leaders like the great Drazen Petrovic and, during the other games, Kukoc, there was no quit in that team. Too bad – more of the same. The score was closer, if a 32 point loss makes them feel better, and the Dream Team marched to the first Gold Medal won by professional players.
But wait – there’s more to the story. There has to be a sneaker tie-in. Wearing some of the best shoes ever seen on a basketball court, Nike completely owned the Dream Team story. Ewing had his own shoe in U.S.A. colorways, Magic and Bird had Converse on lock, but the rest of the team was draped in Swoosh. Flight Lites on Pippen and Mullin, Jordan VII on Jordan, Force 180 on Chuck, Air Force Max on Robinson, Stockton, and Laettner – all in sick gold medal colorways.
Wait, there’s more. Notice the flag placement on the shoulders of Magic and Mike, and the rest? If you are too young to know, or didn’t pay attention, here goes – the Olympic teams, all of them, were sponsored by Reebok for sweatsuits and official Olympic gear. But Mike and Nike couldn’t let the athletes be seen wearing another company, especially on the biggest stage in the world. See, back then, Nike had competition, and it was Reebok. So for your biggest stars to be seen in a Vector instead of a Swoosh? No go.
Since 1992, the United States has won Gold in every Olympics except the 2004 debacle. Domination. Although the “world” has seen its best players drafted by the NBA in large numbers since the late 90’s, overall, the League is still where the best players play, and by and large, they come from the United States. Croatia, on the other hand, has seen its glory days come and go on court, although they still have a very good national developmental program. Three players off of the national team are on NBA rosters now. And for the shoe game – Nike and Jordan used the Olympics as a jump-off to completely overtake the rest of the athletic world and establish a stronghold on anything sports.
Some things never change.