The ‘92 vs ‘07 USA Team Face-Off
Part I: The Guards
Part II: The Forwards

The Centers
Patrick Ewing and David Robinson are two guys whose NBA careers will probably be defined by the words “choke” and “failure” more than anything else. Note: before reading any further please take note that I’m a harsh critic of both these players despite their “decorated” careers. Maybe I’m being unreasonable but I find it hard to be awestruck by two hulking physical specimens who failed to come up big when it counted and were constantly outclassed and outplayed by the true champions of their era – namely Jordan and Olajuwon (even when D-Rob did win his titles they were clearly Duncan’s titles). But this is all thanks to hindsight – back in ’92 in Barcelona, Ewing and Robinson were two star centers entering the prime of their careers, presenting a formidable frontline for the international world of basketball.

Lining up to face this frontline for the ’07 team is Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, and while they might not have the recognition and fame of their Dream Team counterparts, they do pack a punch. Literally. If there was an on-court brawl Chandler and Howard would beat the shit out of Ewing and Robinson – Ewing would be scampering around for Oakley or Mason to hide behind while D-Rob would probably try and talk his way out of it… not before Tyson ripped his face off. I’m not a violent person, really. My point is that Ewing and Robinson were two big guys who did all the big-guy kind of things – grab rebounds, block shots, throw down dunks – but most of the time played like little girls. Ewing got smacked around by Jordan and Pippen (who are much smaller than Ewing) for years on end – I don’t look at someone the same way when they get posterized like this or this. I mean, how can a guy be called a winner when a fully fledged theory exists to explain how his absence actually improves his team?

And D-Rob, where do I get started with D-Rob… He got his ass handed to him in one of the most embarrassing match ups between so-called “marquee” players I can recall. In the 1995 Western Conference Finals Hakeem Olajuwon didn’t just dominate Robinson (who was the league’s MVP that year), he violated him. It was more one-sided than the Cartman-midget fight. I honestly believe David Robinson was never the same after that Houston series. I think it completely broke his basketball spirit and it took Tim Duncan to revive him.

Now that I’ve pissed off the D-Rob and Ewing fans, let me turn to Howard and Chandler. Fighting ability aside, these guys are a bit raw when compared to the Dream Team centers. I think Howard will be better than D-Rob or Ewing because he’s only 21 and already dominating the league, and he’s more athletic than both of them combined – which is a huge statement because D-Rob is probably one of the most athletic big men ever. But can you imagine him doing this?

Chandler meanwhile has that mean Zo-like defensive streak in him – he seems to enjoy blocking shots and that desire is priceless on the defensive end, you can’t teach it. He’s the perfect role player for this ’07 Team because he won’t demand much of the ball, he will run the court for the opportunistic put-back or trailing jam, and he will hustle until he’s out of breath. It looks like the Bulls already regret letting him go because realistically, he’s going to be as defensively-active as Big Ben ala 2004 over the next five years and I’m not saying that about any other center right now.

I’m comfortable with Chandler defending D-Rob or Ewing in the block. I’m comfortable with watching Howard posterize both of them at the other end. What I’m not so comfortable with is whether Chandler and Howard can bring it consistently, at both ends of the floor, for the full 48 minutes like D-Rob and Ewing could in ’92. Coach Daly didn’t really lose a thing when substituting D-Rob for Ewing and vice-versa – Coach K loses something when he makes that sub, whether it’s the freak athleticism of Howard or the defensive intensity of Chandler. Pains me to say it, but the chokers have this one.

The Score Board: 3-1 to the Dream Team again. The ’07 boys would get the edge if A) the game turned into a street fight or B) the game went down to the wire and required the centers to make a clutch play. Barring these unlikely scenarios (if the ball went to any of these guys down the stretch of a close game with the likes of Jordan/Magic/Bird/Kobe/Melo/Lebron on their teams I would puke) the Dream Team front-line duo is just too consistent and too methodical at both ends of the floor.

Final Score:
’92 Dream Team: 14
’07 Dream Team: 6

So the final score is 14-6, the ’92 Team coming out on top 3-1 at every position except small forward which was a tie. What does this mean? Nothing really. I was hoping it would be a little closer; I was hoping the position-by-position break down might reveal a chink in the Dream Team armor. But it didn’t. The ’92 Dream is at least twice as good as the ’07 version. The 14-6 score is undeniable scientific fact. Or is it?


The Scrimmage
Here’s the scenario (i’m picturing a Mike vs Mike kinda thing)…

The 2007 USA basketball team has just finished training, Billups and Lebron are working on their three-ball, Coach K has his players surrounding him in a huddle. The gym lights are turned off leaving only a tiny spotlight on the court; Billups and Lebron keep shooting, a few of the others join them. It’s dark, and all the media has gone home. They hear the creak of a gym door, then it slams. Footsteps, lots of them. Someone from the darkness bellows out “The champ is here!”. Charles Barkley’s face appears from the shadows, behind him Michael Jordan, Magic and Bird winging him. Lebron looks at Billups who raises an eyebrow. “Y’all didn’t think we were gonna let you play alone?” Karl Malone yells, arms crossed chewing gum. “What the f—k man?” Melo blurts out. Kobe is locked in a gaze with MJ. Mullin is the last one to appear, ball in hand. He releases his perfect jump shot which swishes through the rim 35 feet away. Mike Miller craps his pants. Dwight walks up to Ewing and pokes him; “You folks don’t belong here”. Ewing shoves the ball into Dwight’s stomach – “Prove it”. So begins the greatest scrimmage match ever seen.

Magic is pointing at his players, clapping and yelling “let’s run, let’s run!”. Kobe tells Dwight to take the jump ball, but he doesn’t stop looking at MJ. Lebron goes over to Pippen and shakes his hand, Pip smirks. “Sit your fu-ken ass down!” Barkley yells as Laettner gets off the bench. The ball is thrown up and Howard tips it straight to Kidd. The clocks counts down from 20:00, the first of two halves. This ain’t your average NBA game.

1st Half
19:56: Kidd dribbles down the court, throws it to Melo, who eyes off Bird on the wing in the triple-threat position. He resists shooting and throws it back to Kidd who quickly dribbles right and heaves the ball towards the hoop. Lebron comes flying in base line, catches it two feet above Bird’s head and throws it down so hard he almost breaks the rim. Bird looks blankly at D-Rob who was standing in the middle. Robinson gives him a look as if to say “Man, I couldn’t have even caught that”.

18:41: Magic runs off a pick and gets it to Malone. He pump-fakes Melo, fakes again, then rises up and sinks the 15-foot J. “All night long” Malone howls.

17:42: Melo cuts through the lane and catches it beyond the 3-point line. Bird stays off him. Melo drains the three. It’s 10-9 in favour of the ’07 team.

17:11: Lebron misses a runner in the lane, Magic grabs the rebound and hurls it to D-Rob who is already at half-court. He gives it to a streaming MJ who slams uncontested. The whole thing happened in about three seconds.

16:14: Amare is on the court, backing down Malone. He spins base line, pump fakes, pivots, and goes up for what looks like a baby hook while Malone tries to get a hand to it. BOOM! Amare throws it down, he back-pedals down the court glaring at Malone while Kidd is slapping him on the back. It’s Amare’s second straight dunk, and the Dream Team is down 19-25.

15:32: It finally happens; the match up we’ve been waiting for. Jordan gets the ball on the perimeter, Kobe steps out to him in a defensive stance. Jordan palms the ball out to his side, dribbles once left and rises for the J. Swish. Pip whispers something in Kobe’s ear as he runs back down the court. Kobe looks pissed.

15:18: Kobe is isolated on the wing, Michael guarding him. He crosses him over while moving towards the base line, head fakes… head fakes again. MJ falls for it and comes crashing down on Kobe’s left arm… no foul is called and Kobe throws up an air ball. Kobe looks really pissed.

15:05: MJ demands the ball and backs Kobe down into the post. He spins to shoot but throws it out to Mullin who is waiting on the perimeter. Swish. 25-24 and it’s close again.

13:45: Lebron swats a Ewing shot attempt from behind (no mean feat), Billups picks up the ball and gets it back to Lebron. Barkley and Pippen are in front of him and wrap him up as he drives to the hole. Lebron keeps going, Pippen has his arm. Lebron scoops it in his other arm, Barkley has his jersey now. The foul is called, Lebron is still airborne. With the ball cocked back behind his head he slams it while Pippen falls to the ground. The ’07 bench goes nuts. Barkley shakes his head. Lebron purses his lips and high fives Kobe down the other end.

11:45: Two minutes of Lebron has his team up 43-32. Two drives, a turnaround J over MJ, and a rainbow three has Coach Daly scratching his head. He instructs his team to double-team Lebron when he catches it. MJ disagrees, vehemently, but goes along with the plan.

10:33: Twenty seconds of Kobe. In back to back possessions Kobe drains open threes, the second one from about 27 feet. MJ is cursing now, the ’07 team up 41-26.

09:51: Coach Daly brings on Drexler to cool down MJ’s nerves. On his first possession he dribbles around Prince, palms the ball with his right arm outstretched, and begins to bring it down. Just before pulling off a typically smooth Drexler finger-roll, Chandler comes over and terminates it. The ball hits the ground on the other half of the court, Billups wins the foot race to the ball and holds it up… waiting, waiting. The alley-oop is perfect. Chandler flying sideways for the monster slam. He goes nuts and lets Drexler know about it. Clyde shrugs it off.

08:12: Kobe has just abused Drexler for the second straight possession, crossing him over on the perimeter before pulling up for the easy J. It’s 50-33; the ’07 Team is running away with it. Magic can’t believe his team is down by this much and starts mouthing off at Coach Daly.

07:10: Mullin hits his first three in Prince’s face. The court goes a little quiet, as if the same little thought just popped into everyone’s head – the “oh we forgot about this guy” kinda thought.

06:42: Mullin hits a three while running towards the basket. This gets the ’92 Team howling on the sidelines. Coach K pulls Prince and tells Kobe to guard Mullin.

06:13: Kobe didn’t think he was going to shoot it. Not even Kobe would take an attempt from that far out. But Mullin did and he made it. The score is 52-42. Still no reaction from Mullin. MJ is chewing gum on the sidelines clapping him on, “Every time Mully… every time”. Kobe knows that’s directed at him.

05:25: Mullin finally misses one, but Magic is there for the rebound and flicks it over his head to Malone who wasn’t there two seconds ago. Malone throws it down and Coach K calls time out.

02:52: After Chandler grabs an offensive board, Barkley bear-hugs him. He never saw the elbow coming. With Charles on the floor and Chandler screaming at his face, the refs do their best two separate the two teams. Magic pulls his players away from the ball, Ewing and Howard are mouthing off, Jordan is pointing at Kobe saying something. Malone is gripping Chandler’s jersey so tight he rips it. It’s nasty but the game is back on within seconds.

02:12: Statement dunk of the half. Off a Ewing screen Barkley gets to the hoop and posterizes Chandler who tries to take his head off. Barkley ends up straddling him like that KJ dunk from days long ago. The noise level peaks; so does Barkley’s ego.

01:15: Deron completely breaks Stockton’s ankles, blows right past him and loops it up to Amare. But D-Rob is there and catches the errant alley, before he hits the ground the ball is in Stockton’s hands. Before he dribbles it Malone has it up the other end for the easy deuce. The whole thing happened in about three seconds.

0:16: Magic is dribbling on the perimeter in that classic high-bouncing dribble you only see from Magic. He starts backing Billups down from the three-point line, eyeing Barkley in the post with Melo all over him. Five seconds to go, Magic quickly spins into the middle of the key. He’s at the free-throw line when Billups has caught him, but its too late. The 6’9” guard floats a runner that Billups has no chance of reaching. It sails over Amare, off the glass, and through the hoop. The half ends 61-53 in favor of the ’07 team

2nd Half

19:22: Stockton quietly racks up his 8th assist, a beautiful wrap-around pass to a driving Jordan. Not a good start for the second half for Redd who was too slow to recognise the switch.

17:15: MJ scores his third straight bucket for the Dream Team, another base line jumper that Redd has no hope of defending.

17:01: Another ‘07 Team turnover, and this time a Pippen dunk down the other end. The scores are tied at 65. Redd on MJ and Miller on Pippen is not working well for Coach K, but Kobe and Lebron need more rest and Tayshaun looks off his game tonight – would be nice to have Wade at this point, he thinks to himself.

16:33: Finally some offense for the young guns, Billups overpowering Stockton on a drive to the hoop.

15:51: Billups makes his second straight three – that’s eight points in under a minute. Chauncey starts to get that swagger and Coach Daly doesn’t like it. Pippen moves to guard Billups, Mullin comes on to play SF, Malone and Ewing stay on the court. Coach K scratches his head at the matchups.

14:12: Pippen is making Billups look genuinely uncomfortable, Miller and Mullin are both trying to out-token-white-guy eachother, and MJ continues to abuse Redd. Jordan is the leading scorer now with 22, the Dream Team up 77-73.

11:15: Kobe and Kidd come back on and it pays off immediately. They combine when Kobe steals an errant Pippen pass, getting it to Kidd who threads the needle perfectly for a streaming Mike Miller – yes Miller gets on the scoreboard.

10:58: Mullin sinks his fourth trey of the game – he didn’t like the last play.

9:41: Ewing rips down his 14th rebound as Howard looks on – he and Chandler have been killed on the glass tonight. The ball ends up with Pippen who strokes the three right in front of Prince on the bench. His head sinks as Coach K calls timeout. Dream Team leads it 88-80. Magic leads the high-fiving on the sidelines.

8:11: Kobe throws up an airball with Pippen right on him. The Dream Team camp goes nuts, Barkley is hollering at the top of his lungs. It comes right back to Pippen at the other end who scoops up a runner in the lane. The lead is at double-figures. Kobe looks pissed again.

7:29: Lebron finally makes a shot after missing his last five attempts. The push-off sent Bird tumbling to the ground, and he looks hurt. Coach Daly takes Bird out of the game, six minutes is all he could play tonight.

6:22: Deron Williams gives Kidd a brief break and makes a perfect alley-oop pass to Howard for only his sixth point. Kobe gets in Howard’s ear as he runs back down the court. The ‘07 need him to be big over the last six minutes.

5:11: Magic is back on and the tempo of the game picks up. Drexler subs for Pippen and gets an easy fast-break dunk. After a Kobe miss at the other end its Jordan’s turn for the fast-break dunk. It’s Showtime, and the Dream Team still lead it by 10 with under five to play.

4:32: Kobe misses a runner in the lane but Howard is there for the ferocious put-back slam. Robinson’s arms go flailing as he tries to block the dunk. Dwight almost starts wagging the finger Mutumbo style as Robinson picks himself up, but he holds it in… for the next play…

4:11: Jordan never got the call – he flew in for the shot, hung in the air… still hanging, waiting for the center’s arm to come slamming down. But it doesn’t. Howard swats it out of the air and Jordan stands there perplexed – could he have hung in the air longer than me? Surely not… Howard is down the other end before Robinson can get to him, the 3-on-1 break is executed perfectly by Lebron who throws it off the backboard for Howard who catches it twelve feet in the air. BOOM! The man-child flexes his muscles at his team mates on the bench. Chandler is going nuts and almost punches Amare out of excitement. Jordan gives Robinson a look – who’s fault was that one?

3:21: Magic restores the calm. Sinking a baby-hook over Kidd – the point-guard matchup is hopeless with Magic.

3:05: Lebron drains a three. Dream Team by five.

2:48: Magic drives through the lane like there’s no one there. It wasn’t a jumpshot, or a layup, or a finger roll. Just the kind of free-wheeling floater that only Magic could make look that easy. Kidd holds him arms up and shrugs at Coach K, who points at Kobe.

2:14: Kobe is clapping madly, demanding the ball. But he’s missed his last five shots and Kidd doesn’t give it to him. Instead it goes to Lebron who hits another three, the lead down to four. Pippen was right in his grill that time but it didn’t matter. Lebron now leads all scorers with 28. Coach Daly can see the nightmare unfolding – how to stop LBJ over these last two minutes?

1:49: Kobe is guarding Magic now, Kidd on Jordan, Lebron on Pippen. Melo is trying to force Barkley out of the post, Dwight stays in front of Robinson. Magic makes his move, comes off a Robinson screen and drills a pass to Pip on the base line, only it doesn’t get there… Kobe ran behind the screen and deflected the ball. Kobe picks it up, dribbles round his back past Magic and sees Melo ahead. The pass is too strong, Melo heaves it behind his head just before crashing over the base line. The ball goes straight back to Kobe who jams it in front of MJ. Jordan barely blinks and picks up the ball, Kobe starts puffing like a bull.

1:14: Jordan goes to work on Kidd and drains the fadeaway J. Coach K calls timeout, Kidd on MJ is straight out of the “How to Lose a Game of Basketball” coaching manual. He moves Lebron on to Mike, Kidd subs for Amare and Melo slides down to the three-spot. It’s 100-96.

0:51: Jordan tries the same move but sees half as much daylight with Lebron’s massive frame in the way. The shot rims out but Barkley snares the rebound. He goes up strong, Amare gets a clean piece of it… the ball is on the floor and Barkley dives on it. He scoops it out to Robinson who throws up the short runner. No good! The ball is tipped around seemingly straight to Lebron but Barkley flies in again and inhales it. His elbow hits Lebron in the gut, but Lebron doesn’t flinch. The ball goes back out to Magic. There’s 30 seconds on the clock, 8 on the shotclock. Magic kicks it back round to Jordan, who is too far out. His three comes up short and Howard finally grabs a freakin rebound.

0:22: Coach K would have liked his team to run a bit more time off the clock. As it was, he’ll take it. Kobe’s three soared straight over Pippen’s head before splashing through, cutting the Dream Team lead to one. It didn’t matter he missed his last five outside shots – it never matters with Kobe. Timeout. Coach Daly draws it up – Magic will take the inbound and throw it to Mullin who subbed on for Pip. They expect the ‘07 boys will go for the foul and Mul is the FT gun.

0:11: They didn’t go for the foul. Kobe hounded Mullin on the perimeter who almost lost it, but got it back to Magic. He’s fouled. Magic makes the first free throw as Coach K subs on Chandler for Amare. Impossibly, Magic misses the second… Dream Team still up by two. Chandler grabs the rebound and calls time out. The scene is set.

0:05: Melo throws the ball straight to Kobe who has Jordan on him. He catches it at the top of the key, slides left, pump fakes… Mike doesn’t fall for it and keeps his hand in Kobe’s grill. Kobe rises for the J and seems to elevate forever. The ball splashes through with 1 second on the clock. The ‘07 Team goes crazy. Kobe’s steely glare doesn’t let up as he fists pumps while strutting towards the bench. Deron mauls him, Amare bear-hugs them both. Coach Daly meanwhile is yelling in a huddle, half his team deep in concentration, the other half – MJ, Pip, Magic, and Bird seemingly tuned out. The X’s and O’s get drawn up but it doesn’t matter. MJ knows he will get the ball. So does Coach K. He tells Kobe to stay in front of MJ and for Lebron to look out for the help defense. He puts Amare and Howard on the court to try and deflect the deep lob – ain’t no way any one is jumping over those two. The ref’s whistle blows time in.

0:01: Pippen has it on the sideline, Melo darting up and down in his face. Kobe is smothering Mike, almost gripping his arm. Lebron has one eye on Mullin and one eye on Jordan. The play starts to unfold… Jordan cuts towards the hoop and Robinson steps up. MJ cuts hard baseline while Kobe slams into the D-Rob screen – the perfect screen. Jordan is streaming towards the sideline where Pip has the ball high above his head. Lebron sees Kobe tangled up in the D-Rob/Howard wall and bolts towards Jordan. Pippen releases the pass and it sails towards Mike. Kobe’s face is covered in pain and fear, Lebron has nearly made the ground… Jordan’s tongue is wagging as he moves his hands up to catch it. But he can’t. The pass is too high and Jordan can’t even jump in time to get a hand on it. Kobe’s face turns to surprise as he finally catches MJ and grips his jersey tight – he doesn’t let go. Melo turns to see Jordan watching the ball sail past him – the ‘07 Team has escaped.

Amare realises the fact before anyone else does – the pass was not meant for Jordan. The ball floats cross-court and lands safely in the hands of Mullin. He launches the three in an effortless release. Players on both teams watch the ball sail… Bird knows it’s in before any one else and raises both arms silently. Miller knew soon as Mullin caught it… so did Mul.

As the ball falls through the bottom of the net a blinding light engulfs the stadium for an instant. Then darkness. Lebron lifts his gaze, still shielding his eyes. The ‘07 Team is alone. Thud. The ball hits the hardwood directly under the rim, the swaying net is the smoking gun. Howard picks up the ball and looks up at the ring. Kobe looks down at his hand, still clasped tight. Coach K looks at the scoreboard: 0-0. He pauses. “Let’s call it a day fellas”. Dwight throws the ball to Miller; “You might wanna practice a few more of those” he says, while pointing to the three-point spot. Miller steps up to the mark and quizzes himself, ”A dream?”. Billups hears him from the far side of the court, the last player to leave the gym. ”The dream, man”. Miller launches the three, Billups’ voice still trailing in the background… ”the Dream Team“.

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