The Dream Team Debate: Why The 2008 Pipe Dream Team Could Win

Yesterday the USA Olympic men’s basketball team set a new US record for most points in an olympic game, beating Nigeria 156-73, connecting on a record 26 3-pointers and making 71% of their field goals.


The win has rekindled a hotly contested debate about the mythical winner between the 2012 squad and the heralded 1992 Dream Team that featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson, to name a few.  Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have each made bold statements in favor of the 2012 squad.  Jordan and Charles Barkley have consistently defended the 1992 Dream Team.

My friend Brent and I have been mildly debating this topic since the beginning of the Olympics, but this recent display of shooting prowess has brought the debate into legitimacy for me.  Frankly, this shooting outburst is the first legitimate evidence in the Dream Team v. 2012 team debate. Consider the chart below listing the Dream Team’s 8 olympic matches:

Game USA Points Opponent Points Opponent Point differential
1 116 48  Angola +68
2 103 70  Croatia +33
3 111 68  Germany +43
4 127 83  Brazil +44
5 122 81  Spain +41
6 115 77  Puerto Rico +38
7 127 76  Lithuania +51
8 117 85  Croatia
(Gold medal match)

In short, the amazement that we had at the offensive outpouring against Nigeria speaks volumes.  We were all amazed that THIS squad could accomplish such a task.  Why? Precisely because they don’t do this kind of thing with regularity.

Oh really?  The 1992 Dream Team did this kind of thing with regularity.  Just look at that average point differential again.

But let’s get past the competition and winning point differential pace, which I don’t think the 2012 team will begin to approach.  The problem with this debate is one of history.  To match the 1992 Dream Team, you would need the gather the 12 best players of a 15-year period playing in either their prime or in their twilight years.  That was what made ’92 Dream Team so special.  So let’s compare rosters.

1992 Dream Team Roster (With Bill Simmons’ Pyramid Ranking)

Michael Jordan – 1
Magic Johnson – 4
Larry Bird – 5
Karl Malone – 18
Charles Barkley – 19
Scottie Pippen – 24
John Stockton – 25
David Robinson – 29
Patrick Ewing – 40
Clyde Drexler – 44
Chris Mullin – 82
Christian Laetner – College

2012 London Team

Kobe Bryant – 8
LeBron James – 20
Chris Paul – 90
Carmello Anthony – NR
Kevin Durant – NR
James Harden – NR
Russell Westbrook – NR
Tyson Chandler – NR
Kevin Love – NR
Andre Iguodala – NR
Deron Williams – NR
Anthony Davis – College

To be fair, the updated Pyramid rankings will likely show Kobe being higher and LeBron being much higher.  However, the updated rankings will not suddenly insert 9-10 other people into the Pyramid.  That being said . . .

A Team That Could Beat The Dream Team

While I do not believe this current roster could beat the Dream Team, I do think we could create a roster that, in theory, could beat the Dream Team.  What you would have to do is collect the best 12 players in the NBA from a 15 year period who are playing in either their prime or their twilight years. The logic behind the last characteristic (prime or twilight years) is crucial because of historicity.   Kevin Durant may be a transcendent player.  Kobe Bryant is a transcendent player.  The difference is track record.  In order to beat the Dream Team, you have to bring a proven track record to the table.  Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook are likely to be better than Mullin and Stockton.  But they have proven nothing yet.

Timing is crucially important because you have to assemble the best talent from a 15-year period at a time when the players could all play together in their prime or twilight years. The year when this could have occurred was during the 2008 Olympics.

For ease, we can refer to this team as the Pipe Dream Team.

2008 Tim Duncan – 7
2008 Kobe Bryant – 8
2008 Shaq – 12
2008 Lebron James – 20
2008 Kevin Garnett – 22
2008 Dwayne Wade – 28
2008 Jason Kidd – 43
2008 Paul Pierce – 47
2008 Ray Allen – 62
2008 Dwight Howard – 78
2008 Chris Paul – 90
2008 Kevin Durant

Just for comparisons sake, and taking into account the historiographical considerations, at the time of the 1992 Dream Team you had the collective accolades that accompanied the Pyramid rankings:

  • 9 MVP’s (3 each for Jordan, Bird, and Johnson)
  • 12 NBA Championship Team Representatives (2-Jordan, 2-Pippen, 5-Johnson, 3-Bird).
  • 2 Defensive Player Of The Year Awards (Robinson and Jordan)
Now consider the same accolades for the 2008 Pipe Dream Team:
  • 5 MVP’s (2 for Tim, 1 for Shaq, KG, and Kobe)
  • 15 NBA Championship Team Representatives (3-Kobe, 4-Duncan, 4-Shaq, 1-KG, 1-Pierce, 1-Ray, 1-Wade).
  • 2 Defensive Player Of The Year Awards (Duncan and Howard)
While the current Pyramid rankings may not be in the same sphere, the subtle accolades trend towards the Pipe Dream Team becoming—gulp—better than the Dream Team. Kevin Durant will certainly be a better pro than Laetner.  And, consider the starting fives:
  • Dream Team: Magic, Jordan, Bird, Barkley, Robinson
  • Pipe Dream Team: Kidd, Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, Shaq  

Now let’s get really unfair.  The Pipe Dream Team boasts a starting five who, in retrospect, each won NBA Championships and have 4 starters with at least 1 regular season MVP. The Dream Team has 5 starters with at least 1 regular season MVP and 4 starters who have MULTIPLE NBA championships. Advantage: Even

The Pipe Dream Team’s worst player in 2008 has already won 3 scoring titles and a Western Conference Championship.  The Dream Team’s worst player had an above average NBA career with one all-star appearance. Advantage: Pipe Dream Team

The “potential” advantage has to swing in the way of the Pipe Dream Team as well. The Pipe Dream Team could do it.

Final Thoughts:

If you are scoring at home, please don’t make the argument that the 2012 team could beat the Dream Team.  To quote a popular internet meme, “Your argument is invalid.”  However, if you want to talk the 2008 Pipe Dream Team as a better squad than the 1992 Dream Team . . . then I think you have something.  

I must admit, however, that I belelieve with all my heart that Michael Jordan would single handedly beat any team assembled at any time in any universe.  And if not him, Magic and Larry would take care of his light weight. That is how transcendently great the 92 Dream Team was.  I just don’t believe anybody would touch a Michael Jordan-led team at any time.  Period.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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