We could beat them.
The message was already unmistakably clear as Kobe Bryant quickly began fawning over the MJ-in-his-prime-led 1992 Dream Team, backtracking from any potential media-driven dispute he might have sparked.
Regardless, the message was clear: according to at least one of the leaders on the 2012 Olympic USA basketball team, this year’s squad could have beaten the previously-undisputed greatest Olympic basketball team ever assembled.
Bryant’s actual quote was simple, unassuming, lacking of deep implication. What he said — “I don’t know. It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out,” referencing the current Team USA’s chances at beating the 1992 version — was modest enough, especially by the superstar guard’s standards.
What perpetuated an otherwise-calm statement, aside from Bryant’s well-documented otherworldly competitiveness and penchant for publicly insinuating his alpha dog demeanor and competitive fire, was that the comment probably isn’t far off from the truth.
Assuming “far off” implies earning a silver medal just behind Team USA Dream Team #1, of course.
Bryant represents a sports enigma that has never been duplicated. Never has a player of any sport been so fiercely backed by people on two completely opposite spectrums as Bryant has. While some call it swagger, others call it arrogance. Some say he has a competitive drive unmatched, others pronounce him a loose cannon always on the verge of blaming others. He is called a scorer with a knowledge for when to pass and when to shoot, or a black hole that swallows up possessions mercilessly. Both sides can be debated flawlessly with statistics, reason, or talking-heads’ logic. Regardless, dude wins, and wins often.
As soon as he opened his mouth and gave his Olympic squad unprecedented props at the hands of the 1992 Dream Team, however, he began a game that will ultimately go down in Mr. Bryant’s rarely-touched “L” column.
Perhaps it already has. With Team USA’s “narrow” 80-69 win over Brazil last Monday and an even tighter 86-80 win against Argentina Sunday, any critics who were on the fence upon first hearing Bryant’s statement, myself included, have quickly hopped to the 1992 Dream Team’s side of the metaphorical fence.
That’s not to say Bryant’s statement, as is generally the case in all pro-and-anti-Bryant arguments, isn’t still completely up for legitimate debate in either direction.
The 1992 Dream Team did have an over-the-hill Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, yes. They also had bigger, slower players on the team compared to this year’s current all-star collection. And, of course, the one argument that keeps me from completely believing that the current Olympic squad wouldn’t stand a chance: the athleticism on MJ’s squad was certainly secondary.
That’s no disrespect to “His Airness,” or any of the other Hall-of-Famers on the 1992 squad. But what other Olympic squad in NBA history had a full line-up of players who could not only dunk, but do so well, point-guard-through-center? Aside from Kevin Love (big, but not explosive) and perhaps Chris Paul (too small-in-stature and not explosive enough to bring down the house with a dunk), this Team USA squad is stacked with high-fliers and aerial killers capable of putting nearly every member of the 1992 Dream Team on a poster.
That being said, Kobe’s militia of athletic freaks doesn’t play basketball like MJ’s Hall-of-Famers. From Charles Barkley to Chris Mullin, the real Dream Team was fraught with Springfield immortals, a far cry from this year’s squad. Aside from Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Bryant himself, no other player on the roster is a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame. In time, perhaps, but not now. Not in London. Not in 2012.
The modifiers Bryant used in his statement weren’t as far off as Jordan’s mockingly-shocked reaction would indicate. That’s just two of the greatest basketball players of all-time defending their competitive turf. Perhaps Bryant’s squad would beat the H.O.F.-laden 1992 Olympic basketball squad.
But until we see it, could might even be a slight stretch of the imagination for the 2012 squad’s chances at taking down the Dream Team.