On this day: The Dream Team wins Olympic gold in 1992 The iconic squad made the world fall in love with hoops
Long before guys were accidentally walking into Brazilian brothels and inadvertently posting pictures of their anatomy to social media, there was a group of 12 basketball players that tore through the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, with a vengeance we’d never seen before. On Aug. 8, 1992, the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, known as “The Dream Team,” won gold. They smashed Croatia, 117-85, capping off the tournament run.
These days, anything less that a beatdown from the Americans is considered an embarrassment. Watching them play is borderline not fun, because there’s really no competition. But back in the ’90s, we were really here to watch the Chuck Daly-coached team run roughshod all over the world. And their uniforms are still some of the most fire this country has ever seen.
The most important thing about that tournament is that it definitely redefined the concept of success for a program that had quite a few ups and down in its history. In 1988, the team had won only the bronze medal in Seoul, South Korea, under head coach John Thompson. It would be the last time the United States did not field a team with NBA players.
In 2004, under Larry Brown — a squad featuring Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Tim Duncan and a young LeBron James — the Americans finished third again. Then, USA Basketball decided it was time to rethink things altogether. Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski took over, and after a rocky start in the 2006 FIBA World Championship (bronze), the team got things back on track with two straight gold medals at the Olympics.
Despite stories of late-night gambling and all-night parties from the ’90s in Spain — in an era when that kind of info wasn’t going to be leaked nor get anyone in trouble — it was a time when playing for your country meant a lot to everyone on the team. Losing was not an option, and the players who were famously left off the team (Isiah Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal) still don’t like talking about it much, because of the bitterness.
Perhaps most importantly, though, this team jump-started the globalization of the game on another level. Everyone saw the likes of Michael Jordan in his prime alongside Earvin “Magic” Johnson and an aging Larry Bird, all doing their thing. By the time the next Olympics came around, it was clear what happened.
The 1992 Dream Team was iconic not just for Americans, but the entire world, too.