Dream Team Rumors
The 1992 U.S. Dream Team is largely credited with starting a revolution across European basketball. For the NBA, though, the revolution came a few years earlier. In 1989, the league welcomed a wave of eastern European players led by Vlade Divac from Yugoslavia, Alexander Volkov from Russia, Drazen Petrovic from Croatia, and Sarunas Marciulionis, a 25-year-old shooting guard from Lithuania. Marciulionis adopted basketball as a full-time passion midway through his childhood. But even as he took to the game, it wasn’t clear that he’d be a superstar. While friends like Arvydas Sabonis were marked for a bright future early on, Marciulionis took longer to establish himself. He went to college and studied journalism, he played club basketball in Lithuania, and while the Soviet National Team monitored his progress as part of its juniors program, he was cut from the senior team three times throughout the 80s.
Serbia was banned from participating in the Olympic Games of Barcelona due to the ongoing war and that put an obstacle to the national team in more ways than one according to Paspalj. “Surely we weren’t, but that’s not the question,” Paspalj said when asked if Serbia could beat the Dream Team, in an interview with Sputnik. “We lost three or four years of continuity, we lost one generation, a generation which was the best in Europe. Our players started playing in the NBA back in 1989, and probably after a few years, we could be an equal opponent (to the Dream Team). It is sad when you know they took something from you, something you earned it. I think we suffered a great injustice, but later we compensated that and we became the heroes of the nation.”
Spurs great David Robinson was in New York this week to help accept the George M. Steinbrenner III Sport Leadership Award on behalf of the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. Fellow Hall of Famers’ Clyde Drexler and Lenny Wilkens, who was one of the team’s assistant coaches, accompanied Robinson to the United States Olympic Endowment’s annual luncheon.
With Pippen and Jordan taking turns guarding him, Kukoc didn’t score his first points until the end of the 1st half. By the time the final whistle blew, Kukoc’s line in the box score showed four points on 2-11 shooting with seven turnovers and zero trips to the free throw line. Said the Croatian star afterwards: “I’ve never seen that kind of defense before.” Jordan finished with eight steals, tying his U.S. Olympic record set just 24 hours previously against Angola while Pippen had five steals of his own. Their 13 combined steals were more than they ever had in 691 games as teammates with the Bulls.
The game Jordan referenced was the famous scrimmage in Monaco, where the team trained for several days leading up to the Olympics. Though there were other scrimmages and practices in Monaco and at the team’s training camp in La Jolla, California, prior to this one, this final scrimmage on July 22, 1992, is unanimously held in the highest esteem. When asked by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon several years ago about the competitive nature of that day in Monte Carlo, Jordan’s response says it all: “Greatest game I’ve ever played in. All the beautiful things about the game of basketball were illustrated in that one particular game. If you culminate everybody in the Hall of Fame and every game they played in, and you envision a game being played, that’s how that game was played.”
Despite trailing 7-0 and being down by as many as nine points, Jordan’s white team prevailed 40-36 thanks in part to a 17-4 run fueled by jumpers, drives and trash talk. Nobody came close to touching the Dream Team once the Olympics got underway in Barcelona, as each of the USA’s eight games was decided by more than 30 points. Yet before these legends took the court for the world to see, this scrimmage in Monte Carlo set the tone for what followed in the coming weeks.
Among the most vivid memories of the Dream Team in Barcelona was what’s known as “the Kukoc game.” That was the game in which Jordan and Pippen vowed to shut down Tony Kukoc, the Croatia star who had been offered a big contract by the Chicago Bulls at the same time management had refused to extend Pippen. In a Friday morning roundtable the Dream Teamers had joked about how all of them had vowed to shut down Kukoc on behalf of Pippen. Which is exactly what happened. So several hours later it was jarring to see Kukoc featured so prominently and saying nice things about Scottie in the taped segment that preceded Pippen’s induction. In truth, though, Pippen always felt a little guilty — emphasis on little — about “the Kukoc game.” For after the tall and talented Croatian joined the Bulls, he became one of Jordan’s and Pippen’s favorite teammates for his versatility.