This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the legendary Dream Team, the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team that dominated the competition to a historic degree during the first Olympic Games in which NBA players were allowed to compete for their countries. But before Team USA headed overseas to Barcelona for the Summer Games, the squad had to qualify for the Olympics at the 1992 Tournament of the Americas in Portland. That’s where the world got its first look at the greatest basketball team of all time.
“I remember the first time I saw the team walk out, I got the chills,” legendary play-by-play announcer Marv Albert told Lang Whitaker for a 2012 oral history of the Dream Team published in GQ. “It was, to me, the greatest collection of players comprising a team sport I had ever seen. The first game, they beat Cuba by seventy-nine points.”
And now, thanks to FIBA, we can all see just what that 79-point beatdown looked like:
— FIBA (@FIBA) July 26, 2017
Ah, yes: just as I thought. The Dream Team was extremely good!
Someone had to be the first victim set in the path of the U.S. buzzsaw; Cuba just happened to draw the short straw, forced by tournament scheduling to take the Washington Generals role in a 136-57 pasting that nearly doubled the average margin of victory the Dream Team would manage at the Olympics. To their credit, though, the Cubans turned an embarrassing blowout into embarrassing-blowoutade by controlling the one thing they could: getting a memento from the proceedings. From Jack McCallum’s great 2012 book, “Dream Team”:
Before the first game, representatives of the Cuban basketball team had sought out Kim Bohuny, the NBA’s point person on matters related to the international teams.
“We would like to take photos of the Dream Team,” one of them asked her.
“I’m sure we can arrange that after the game,” Kim said.
“No, we want to do it before,” the man said. “So we make sure there is no problem with it.”
Kim shrugged, then sought out [Team USA head coach] Chuck Daly and bounced it off him. “Whatever,” said Daly, upon hearing about the thousandth weird request put before him since he signed on. […]
And so the Cubans grabbed their cameras, waved posing instructions to their heroes, and snapped as many photos as they could, like doomed men demanding favors from their hooded executioners. I marveled at the absurdity of it, but in retrospect, I’m glad it happened. The Cubans were just a bunch of guys who recognized that this was their moment, guys who would never play in the NBA or even in Europe, but who could one day walk into their living room, point to a photo on the wall, and tell their grandchildren, Mire, es tu abuelo. Con Michael Jordan! […]
What would become the boilerplate reaction of the vanquished was provided by Miguel Calderón Gómez, coach of the overwhelmed victims: “For us it was an elegant game, a historic game. We can take back to Cuba a beautiful photograph of us with them.”
So the Cubans got their souvenir, the Americans got the first of many extremely one-sided wins, and the basketball-watching world got a glimpse of the overwhelming style — all forced turnovers, beautiful fast-breaks, high-percentage finishes and stellar shotmaking — that would come to characterize (most of) the U.S. men’s national teams in years to come.
Hat-tip to DIME.
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