1992 Dream Team vs. 2012 Bean Team

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Kobe Bryant, I am the rock of ages. Crash upon me and be broken!

I’m on vacation in DC right now, and I’m watching WAY too much ESPN. Earlier today I saw Skip Bayless and Rick Bucher debate the point that Kobe Bryant made earlier this week when he declared that the 2012 US Men’s Olympic basketball team could beat the vaunted Dream Team thanks to team speed (Kobe explained it well and had a good point). Rick sided with Kobe Bean. Rick’s argument was essentially that the game has changed and speed trumps power now, so the faster, more athletic 2012 team would run the 1992 team off the court. Bayless took up the Dream Team cause and his entire rationale was 28 year old Jordan is better than 34 year old Kobe, therefore the 1992 team would win.

Obviously this is an exercise in fan geekery more than a real contest since it can’t be played out on the court except in video game format, but I need to weigh in, not so much on the question of who would win but on the rationale that our “expert analysts” have provided. We see it again and again, a team sport is broken down to individual matchups, and both the art and science of the game are ignored.

Bucher’s concept of this game is that Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant are just too fast for the likes of Stockton, Mullin, Barkley, and Malone to stay on the court. I can understand where he’s coming from on this. The problem is that it ignores two factors. First up is that effective running, and that’s what we’re taking about here, transition offense, requires consistent defensive stops and securing REBOUNDS. The size advantage that the 1992 team could ruin both the 2012 team’s ability to get defensive stops and their ability to secure defensive rebounds. With Howard and Love both sidelined with injuries, the only elite level rebounders on the 2012 team are Tyson Chandler and Blake Griffin, either of whom limits the Bean Team’s quickness advantage while on the floor. Without them Barkley, Malone, Robinson, and Ewing may run rampant on the offensive glass and certainly could score at will in the post.

Bayless’s argument that the Dream Team would win the matchup because Jordan trumps Bryant is equally short-sighted. He seems to think that Michael and Kobe will play a game of one on one with 8 bystanders watching from the edges of the three point line. If that were the case, I’d place my bet on MJ as well. MJ at 28 was as good as anyone ever. Kobe at 34 isn’t there anymore. That’s pretty easy. Unfortunately for Skip, that’s not the way basketball is played. It’s 5 on 5. Just like it was when Bill Russell won 11 titles as the game’s best player without ever leading his team in scoring.

The true beauty of the 1992 team wasn’t their undeniable athletic advantage but the way they played together. Their passing was more important. Watch the games on youtube. You’ll see sequence after sequence where the ball never touches the floor or maybe one dribble takes place to get the ball to the middle of the zone. The team DID have great athleticism too. Jordan, Pippen, Drexler, and Robinson were all absolute elite level NBA athletes who could probably win their matchup against the 2012 team in a race or a jumping contest. Really only Westbrook and LeBron are crazy stupid athletes who no one can matchup against. But that’s not even the point. The point is that matching up isn’t as crucial a factor as it’s made out to be.

As I said above, basketball isn’t a one on one sport. Well that is true of 5 on 5 play as well. It’s not about who has more players capable of winning their one on one matchup. You only need one or two players who can do that. After that you need players capable of making open shots when the defense doubles those one or two guys. You need rebounders. You need a defensive scheme. Think of the Shaq / Kobe Lakers. They won three titles with only two players capable of getting their own shots or creating shots for others. But they surrounded those two players with great jump shooters and defenders, and they executed Tex’s triple post offense. It doesn’t matter that on old Horace Grant isn’t capable of getting his own points against Rasheed or Garnett or Duncan or Webber. Who cares if Rick Fox isn’t killing Bonzi Wells off the dribble? Kobe is killing Ruben Patterson off the dribble, and Shaq is killing Dale Davis in the post. Fox needs to catch and shoot. That is how basketball works.

So what if the 2012 team can beat the 1992 team off the dribble at 3 out of 5 positions. When the dibbler gets into the paint and finds Robinson or Ewing waiting for him and Pippen or Jordan closing in, does he have a great shooter like Larry Bird or Chris Mullin on the court to pass the ball to? If the driver manages to get the ball on the rim after drawing backline defensive help is there a big man near the basket ready to get the offensive board and slam it home the way Sir Charles would? There is a chemistry to the sport of basketball. On both sides of the ball. Boston didn’t have the best defense in the league because they were the most athletic group last year. Far, far from it. They were the best defensive unit because they had great defensive fundamentals as a team and great leadership.

None of this is to say that the 1992 team would definitely win or the 2012 team would definitely win, only to point out that it’s more important to have complementary pieces working in unison than it is to be able to chart players’ abilities to win their head to head matchups. Even more so in the international game than the NBA game, because of the zone defense and the ability to set moving screens and hand-check. Remember that the Spanish team had the Redeem Team on the ropes prior to a Kobe outburst in 2008. The two Gasols presented a size disparity. 17 year old Ricky Rubio kept the pressure on and the ball moving. The Spanish wings made jumpers. Team USA overcame, but it was closer than the final score, and it goes to show that there’s more to the game of basketball than who can beat whom off the dribble.

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One Response to “1992 Dream Team vs. 2012 Bean Team”

  1. PBinLosAngeles Says:

    8/16/12 – Not long ago, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was asked about the 1992 Dream Team and specifically about Magic Johnson saying it may have been “the greatest team of basketball players ever assembled”. While acknowledging it was a “great team” Kareem flashed his famous half smile have shrug expression, and said that Magic better have a look at the 1972 Western Conference All-Star roster, and opined that given an equal amount of time to prepare, the 72 Western Conference All-Stars would have been “the greatest roster ever assembled” – I checked that roster and my response to the people who say “who would guard Jordan?” is quite simple; against Kareem and or Wilt, Jordan – or any player for that matter – would have been lucky, just to get a shot off inside twenty feet. For the record, Wilt averaged 19.2 RPG that season and Kareem averaged 34.8 PPG….Blocked shots and offensive rebounds were not counted by the NBA until after Wilt retired; not even close.
    1972 Western Conference All Stars:
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    Wilt Chamberlain
    Gail Goodrich
    Connie Hawkins
    Elvin Hayes
    Spencer Haywood
    Bob Lanier
    Bob Love
    Oscar Robertson
    Cazzie Russell
    Paul Silas
    Jimmy Walker
    Jerry West
    Sidney Wicks

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