This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of books I’ll be reviewing that our readers might find interesting. Ironically, most of the sports literature in my collection is about football, but having grown up in the ’90’s and having a special affinity for the sports legends of that decade, I thought this book was worthy of the first review.
With the 2012 Olympics having recently concluded and Team USA’s once again claiming the Gold Medal, there has been plenty of debate about whether or not this years team could beat the Dream Team of ’92. There was recently a documentary about the Dream Team on the NBA Network which gave us a never-before-seen look at the team off the court, including practice scrimmages against a group of college All-Stars, Magic and Jordan playfully jabbing at each other during photo shoots, Charles Barkley prowling the streets of Barcelona at night, and “The Greatest Game That Nobody Ever Saw”, an intra-team scrimmage pitting Magic’s team versus Jordan’s. While the documentary was fascinating, it was also frustratingly short, and left the viewer hungry for more. That’s where Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” steps in, and satisfies your appetite for more.
McCallum was then the head writer for the NBA for Sports Illustrated, and he was given the opportunity to follow the team through that summer of ’92 from their very first practice in San Diego, through the qualifying games in Eugene Oregon, and on to the Olympic games in Barcelona. The book opens up with the process it took for professional athletes to play in the Olympic games, as up to that point the games had been reserved for amateur athletes, and the US had always sent college All-Stars as representatives for the basketball team. One man from eastern Europe began to push for the pro’s to be allowed to play, as the Olympic’s were supposed to showcase the best athletes on Earth (not to mention the other countries had players from their pro leagues participating anyways).
McCallum then dwelves into the process of how the team was formed, how Jordan was initially reluctant to sign on until there were other big names on board, particularly Magic and Larry. What was interesting was not just who was invited to join, but who wasn’t, i.e. Isaiah Thomas. It was no secret in the NBA that Thomas was not very well liked by not only Jordan and the Bulls, but by many others as well (just check out this video of Karl Malone knocking him out in a game against the Jazz in December of 1991). Many on the team were adament that they did not want Thomas on the team, with Jordan going so far as to say that he would not play if Thomas was invited. That put head coach Chuck Daly into an awkward position as he was the head coach of the Pistons in those days, and Thomas was his starting point guard.
Each player of the team gets chapters devoted to them and the process of their selection, and each one gives insight into their personal thoughts then and now of what it was like to play together instead of against each other, as each player gave interviews for the book. One thing that stuck out was the massive amount of confidence some of these guys had in their abilities, and wanting to prove to the team that they were the best in the world at their position. There is even a chapter where Clyde Drexler, who was one of the last players invited, claims that he did everything just as good as Jordan did (Michael respectfully disagrees).
But what proves just as interesting as the forming of the team and the competitive fire fueling them against each other and their opponents, was what they did and encountered on their times off the court. Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing formed an unlikely friendship that continues to this day. Jordan, Magic, and a few others would play cards or pingpong late into the night, and there were cases were Jordan wouldn’t even sleep, having practice in the morning followed by golf in the afternoon with head coach Chuck Daly, followed by a game in the evening. And the real reason Jordan and a couple others draped the American flag over their shoulders. Then there was the pandemonium that followed these NBA gods wherever they went, from the US to Barcelona. The book talks about the massive crowds that gathered outside their hotel, waited hours just to catch a 10 second glimpse of the players getting on to the bus. Even opposing teams asking for autographs and pictures before and after games.
There are too many funny stories and interesting tidbits in this book to mention them all, the best I can do is to fully recommend you check it out for yourself. It comes in a hair under 400 pages, but is such a good read that one chapter flows seamlessly into the next, and before you know it, its three o’clock in the morning and you have to be at work in a few hours. 5/5 stars
What are your thoughts on who the better team is? Do you think the Dream Team tops the 2012 team or vice versa?