The Dream Team had flown from San Diego, California, to Portland, Oregon, after its celebrated training camp against a group of collegiate hotshots. I was exhausted but somewhat invigorated with the fact we had just staged the first NBA Draft event held outside of New York City. On the road since mid-April, it was time for a new ballgame. I was one of a handful of people in charge of the media operation and, really, the overall operation of the pre-Olympic qualifying event, the Basketball Tournament of the Americas.
Yes, the United States had to qualify for men's basketball at the 1992 Olympic Games and we had a pretty good team. Scratch that. We had the greatest team ever assembled.
I didn't realize it until the first game in Portland. Although I was intimately involved in every personnel announcement, including the naming of Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly to head up our adventure, I was perhaps too pre-occupied with my NBA assignments to consider the massive impact about to be made. To a man (or woman), no one involved with the NBA nor the nation's basketball governing body, ABA-USA, realized the juggernaut we held in our midst.
We were working in the old Portland Memorial Coliseum and I knew the building well. Capacity was 12,666, a figure I will never, ever have to look up or double check. It was chosen because of its intimacy and the fact the NBA and its new business partner, now called USA Basketball, doubted its ability to market tickets for just six basketball games featuring the U.S. squad and 24 others involving unheralded teams from North, Central and South America attempting to qualify for the Olympics.
As the first game was about to tip-off, I found myself counting up the number of chairs along press row, making certain every reporter had a place to work. I glanced up just as the United States team had broken its huddle and took the court.
Chuck Daly juggled the starting lineups throughout the tournament and the Olympics, but, as I recall, that first huddle broke and Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan took off their USA shooting shirts and walked towards the center circle for the Dream Team's first official jump ball in international competition. The opponent was Cuba and those players must've been thinking the same thing I was: Holy shit.
As the U.S. players headed out from the bench, their names emblazoned on the backs of their uniforms, years of hard work came together in a moment. Dating back to some light lifting at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics when collegiate basketball players represented the USA -- while every other nation utilized its non-NBA professionals -- I had worked in some capacity to help our basketball federation. On April 8, 1989, the international governing body for basketball, FIBA, conducted a vote to create a fully "open competition" for basketball at the Olympics, World Championship and other major competitions. The USA and then-Soviet Union were amongst the "nay" voters but the resolution passed overwhelmingly, 56-13 with one abstention.
I was on the phone with David Raith, Turner Broadcasting's head of the Goodwill Games, and I relayed the message and the vote totals from Munich, Germany, to NBA Commissioner David Stern in our midtown Manhattan offices. Stern was lukewarm on the whole concept and was happy to have a selection of the college stars represent the U.S. and then come to the NBA as hand-delivered household names, mostly for their efforts in the NCAAs but partially due to their Olympic triumphs.
Stern realized the long, long road from the '89 vote to the '92 Olympics and he assigned NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik, Stern's trouble-shooter extraordinaire, to the task of negotiating the mess. In 1990, I was among a small group of sports executives who attended a conference in Colorado Springs to lobby-for, and eventually create, the first "PR" job for USA Basketball. Now, it was late June 1992 and our efforts had come to fruition.
In particular, Granik's work was extraordinary and it resulted in this unbelievably gifted collection of athletes taking to the court in Portland to tip-off what would be a 136-57 dismantling of Cuba. The Dream Team worked towards a 6-0 record and, obviously, a Tournament of the Americas gold medal and successful qualification for the Barcelona Olympic Games. Even then, I don't think anyone associated with the inner workings of the team realized what was ahead.
Comparing the Dream Team to the Beatles is quite a comment. So, in my view, Portland was the Cavern Club and Barcelona was Shea Stadium. And, just like the Beatles, the best had yet to come.
This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store. This story appears in Issue 7, available Friday, July 27.
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