Reports last week that the Basketball Hall of Fame would be moving up the 2010 induction ceremony, so as to avoid conflict with the FIBA World Championship tournament and thus focus the hoops universe’s full attention on the 1992 USA Olympic team enshrinement, got me to reminiscing about that seminal game in basketball history: The gold-medal match between the Dream Team and Team Croatia at the Barcelona Olympiad.
While few observers at that time thought the game would even be close after The Greatest Team Ever Assembled (still) had demolished the competition in Barcelona, everyone was well aware that regardless of the final game’s result, the match would literally be one for the books, internationally.
And history has borne out that feeling, ultimately culminating in the unstoppable twelve entering the hallowed halls of Springfield later this year. The Dream Team’s influence was profound and immediate with the jump of basketball to near-preeminence among the world’s most beloved sports, the final burgeoning of the NBA to global sports juggernaut status, and a new emphasis among national sports committees worldwide on basketball. Some credit Spain’s masterful dominance of The Continent today on the Barcelona Games, as though the shine and glamour of Team USA had permeated the country to produce Gasols and Navarros and Rubios.
Twenty years later – and who’d’ve imagined this back then? – that game remains at your fingertips, available for viewing on YouTube in eight parts – Awesome.
Scroll onward to relive a key time in international basketball (Kudos to poster zXenergy and mojKanal for providing these clips on the ‘Tube.), the final game played by the greatest team ever and, one may point out, one of the best international teams of the 1990s.
• Part 1. For one reason or another (though certainly related to the highly effective and mysterious culling methods employed at YouTube in wiping out certain fan videos of certain sports leagues wholesale), the opening few minutes of this game prove a bit elusive. Here’s a bit of a low-quality version; don’t worry, it’s only three minutes long and the rest of the clips are clean.
(Incidentally, that roster for Croatia, which didn’t make the YouTube cut: Dražen Petrović, Velimir Perasović, Danko Cvjetičanin, Toni Kukoč, Vladan Alanović, Franjo Arapović, Žan Tabak, Stojko Vranković, Alan Gregov, Arijan Komazec, Dino Radja, and Aramis Naglić)
• Part 2. In this video, go past the warm-ups to about 45 seconds in to pick up the action at USA 16, Croatia 8. This was edge-of-seat viewing at the time, as Team USA was just a sliver short of perfection while Croatia finds a rhythm. (The anachronistic Eminem goes off at about 1:40, by the way.)
To watch for: Magic’s coast-to-coast layup (3:15). Are they booing Charles Barkley (6:40)? Petrovic slick from way outside (6:50). A monster dunk from Franjo Arapovic to give Croatia the lead (7:35).
• Part 3. Optimism about the “unthinkable” is still abuzz, but Charles Barkley, the tournament high-scorer, is everywhere: backing the would-be low post defender down, passing, even leading the fast break. Sir Charles’ relentlessness after entering the game is representative of the Team USA attack: No matter how hot any combination of Kukoc/Petrovic/Tabak/Radja gets, the Dream Team overwhelms while Team Croatia simply can’t maintain perfection. And Larry Bird hasn’t even entered the game yet.
To watch for: A brilliant floater by Petrovic, made as though David Robinson and Clyde Drexler aren’t even there (2:18). Kukoc from waaaaay out there (2:55). Barkley, with “just brute strength,” muscles down a jam (4:17). Mullin to Drexler (8:00)! Along the perimeter, it’s Drexler to Mullin to Magic (8:37).
• Part 4. Proclaim the announcers: “The average winning margin [by the Dream Team] in this tournament is 42.” It doesn’t look like they’ll do that today (yet), and in fact Croatia’s continued sheer doggedness – check out the hustle at 4:10 as Vrankovic tips the defensive rebound to Radja, who brings it all the way home for the slam –makes this game still a hoot to watch.
To watch for: That’s why his nickname was “The Glide” (1:38). Radja draws the foul from Barkley, whose thunderous “you’re fucking crazy” shocks millions of British households while drawing the admonishments of the color commentator (3:25). Greatest basketball-match celebrity-sighting ever? And couldn’t he have gotten better seats? (4:50)
• Part 5. The good news: Team Croatia comes out to play at the half. The bad news: So do the Dreamers, who eventually expand the lead to 23. Michael Jordan then switches his focus to shutting down Petrovic – “must be something left over from those Nets-Bulls games” notes one commentator. Ha! More like M.J. is looking for the next challenge to obliterate.
To watch for: Air Jordan flies (0:38). Petrovic takes it to Bird (2:45). Christian Laettner sighting (3:31)! Nice follow-up jam by Kukoc (5:38). Vrankovic blocks Jordan (8:20)??!!?!?!?!
• Part 6. When Pippen draws the foul from Arapovic and still makes the circus shot for two, there’s a brief shot of Arapovic looking stunned and clearly thinking “What are we supposed to do?” Indeed. Meanwhile, Jordan, still pursuing the heart of Team Croatia, forces a couple of bad plays out of Petrovic.
To watch for: Now there’s the way to stop Team USA’s shooters (3:25). A nice sequence in which Jordan’s steal becomes a USA turnover which becomes a pseudo-illegal pseudo-alley oop (7:10). Petrovic reminds MJ he’s still there by banging another sweet three (8:50).
• Part 7, alternatively titled “Waiting for Laettner.”
To watch for: Arnold (1:42)! “Lovely” passing between Stockton, Drexler and Barkley (3:50). Drexler (5:40)! Nearly 20 years down the road, we should still be asking, “What was up with Barkley taking all those threes?” Here’s another sharp one (8:10). Laettner enters the game (8:49).
• Part 8. Petrovic leaves the game to start the portion and Croatia finally depletes the bench. Soon, it’s all left to the historians. At 4:38, it is declared that “The USA has added a new dimension to Olympic basketball.” Make that international basketball: No team can ever change this game like the Dream Team did; no wonder NBA commissioner David Stern still believes this to be the crowning moment in his extraordinary regime, for this was a sports history-changing group.
To watch for: The Dukie scores (2:46).