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The Myth of the Dream Team: Where Have You Gone Oscar Robertson?

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Ahead of the June 13 documentary on the 1992 Dream Team we need to re-think what Dream Teams really are. Everyone tends to valorize the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the accolades never seem to rest. Greatest Olympic basketball team ever assembled. Jordan even said that such a combination of talent would never happen again. Maybe, but the fact it was the Dream Team was due to the fact it was laden with NBA players. The reason it was laden with NBA players was because the U.S. team only garnered a bronze medal in 1988 and for a team that rarely lost an Olympic game let alone an Olympic gold medal, the U.S. couldn't stomach the fact they could possibly lose another Olympic game. In order to rectify that (and coincidentally) after the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics, subject to the approval of the IFs. So, of course, the U.S. Olympic basketball team had to be composed of the best of the best since another bronze or silver medal just wouldn't do. In order to make that a reality and not a dream, they recruited the following:

Christian Laettner
David Robinson
Patrick Ewing
Larry Bird
Scottie Pippen
Michael Jordan
Clyde Drexler
Karl Malone
John Stockton
Chris Mullin
Charles Barkley
Magic Johnson
Chuck Daley (coach)

No one would argue that a team like that was impressive, very impressive and with a team like that it's no wonder they put up score differentials like this:

USA 116 48 Angola +68
USA 103 70 Croatia +33
USA 111 68 Germany +43
USA 127 83 Brazil +44
USA 122 81 Spain +41
USA 115 77 Puerto Rico +38
USA 127 76 Lithuania +51
USA 117 85 Croatia +32
TOTAL: +350

Yes, they were unbeatable, unstoppable, untouchable. Outscored their opponents by 350 points! But for most people, history, especially sports history, is what happened yesterday. Literally. Yesterday.

As we know, in 1960, NBA players couldn't participate and so the Olympic basketball team was "stuck" with the likes of Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Darrall Imhoff, Walt Bellamy, Terry Dischinger and the late Bob Boozer plus four AAU players from the Peoria Caterpillars and the Phillips 66ers. So, what kind of a team did they have especially compared to the Dream Team? Here were the results of that Olympiad:

USA 88 Italy 54 +34
USA 125 Japan 66 +59
USA 107 Hungary 63 +44
USA 104 Yugoslavia 42 +62
USA 108 Uruguay 50 +58
USA 81 USSR 57 +24
USA 112 Italy 81 +31
USA 90 Brazil 63 +27
TOTAL: +339

Yes, they were unbeatable, unstoppable, untouchable. Outscored their opponents by 339 points. So, in the same number of games, the Dream Team only outscored a bunch of college players by +11. That's it. Eleven points. But let's do some dreaming of our own. Let's pretend that in 1960, NBA players could have played alongside the college kids. If that were the case, then this probably would have been their 12 team roster:

Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Walt Bellamy
Jerry Lucas
Terry Dischinger
Wilt Chamberlain
Bill Russell
Bob Cousy
Jack Twyman
Elgin Baylor
Bob Pettit
Bill Sharman
Pete Newell (coach)

The oldest player on the '92 team was Bird at 35; youngest, Laettner, 22; Jordan was 29, Johnson 32. The oldest player on the '60 team was 28; youngest, Dischinger, 19; Lucas was 20, Bellamy, Imhoff and Robertson were 21 and West was 22. Chamberlain was 24, Russell was 26, Baylor was 26, Petit was 28, and Cousy was the old man at 34. Compared to the 1960 team the 1992 team were a bunch of old men who would probably have been run out of the gym by that team.

Now I don't mean to disparage the '92 Dream Team, but you've got to think about it. What kind of point differential would there have been in 1960 if the same rules applied and that Olympic team started Robertson, Cousy, Baylor, Chamberlain and Russell with anyone you wanted coming off the bench? Yes, Dream Teams do exist and that one would have been the greatest of all Olympic basketball teams... ever.

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