Basketball is the prototypical comparison sport. The media and fans of the NBA constantly play the “what if” game when it comes to comparing players and teams from different eras. Of course, the main debate is centered around Michael Jordan versus LeBron James as the greatest player of all time. It’s true, there will never be a chance to watch these generational talents compete head-to-head, but the speculation provides a fun topic for fans from both eras to debate. Another common comparison has been the Dream Team versus the 2012 USA Olympic team, or what some people refer to as the Redeem Team. These two powerhouse rosters were separated by twenty years and featured some of the best players in NBA history. It has been 25 years since the 1992 Dream Team cruised through the Olympics to take the top spot on the podium, so in honor of their accomplishments, here is a breakdown of the highly-anticipated, never-to-be-seen matchup between the 1992 and 2012 USA Basketball teams.
Margin of Victory
With the way the game of basketball changed from 1992 to 2012, there really isn’t any comparable statistics to use for this matchup, except one. Considering the fact that both teams essentially dominated their competition, the only measurable statistic is margin of victory.
The 2012 team had a few close calls in the Olympics, but you wouldn’t know it by their average margin of victory. They defeated their opponents by an average of 32.1 points per game. On the other hand, the 1992 team steamrolled their opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game. You’re probably thinking at this point, it’s just splitting hairs to judge the teams by which one clobbered their undermanned opponents more. While that’s fair, the Dream Team’s closest game was a 32-point win against Croatia in the gold medal match, meaning their closest competition was equivalent to the 2012 team’s average margin of victory.
It is important to point out the drastic improvement in international talent from 1992 to 2012. In the early 90s, it was still relatively uncommon for international stars to find a place in the NBA. Sure, the Dream Team had to play against pros like Oscar Schmidt, Detlef Schrempf, Arvydas Sabonis, and Toni Kukoc, but the 2012 team faced nations full of NBA players.
For example, the Redeem Team faced Brazil and Argentina in exhibitions before the Olympics began. They defeated Brazil by 11 points and Argentina by only 6 points, which had people worried heading into the games. Brazil had four NBA players, and Argentina had five during those games. Plus, you have to remember that Argentina won the gold medal in 2004, so there is plenty of talent in South America.
As they continued to climb their way to the top of the podium, the Redeem Team had to face France and Australia before they matched up with Spain in the gold medal game. France and Australia had six and three NBA players on their roster respectively and were led by San Antonio Spurs guards Tony Parker and Patty Mills. Nevertheless, Team USA’s biggest threat by far was Spain, who had three of the NBA’s best big men in Serge Ibaka and the Gasol brothers.
Heading into the head-to-head matchup, the Dream Team has the edge in margin of victory, while the Redeem Team did their damage against a noticeably more talented field. Now, let’s take a look at some of the individual matchups on paper. Keep in mind, 11 of 12 Dream Team players are already inducted into the Hall of Fame. To be 100 percent correct, all 12 are actually Hall-of-Famers, but Laettner went in for his success at Duke, not in the NBA.
1992: Magic Johnson (S), John Stockton
2012: Chris Paul (S), Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
Chris Paul will be a Hall-of-Famer by the end of his career, despite not having reached the conference finals. That’s ok, because three of the remaining four point guards have not won an NBA title either. Although Westbrook has a little more time than the others. Regardless, Magic Johnson is one of the top five players in NBA history, and Stockton is the all-time leader in assists and steals by a wide margin.
1992: Michael Jordan (S), Clyde Drexler
2012: Kobe Bryant (S), James Harden
This matchup is actually a lot closer that people would expect. Of course, MJ is the GOAT, but Kobe Bryant is easily the second best 2-guard in NBA history. James Harden has taken his game to another level since the 2012 Olympics, but he was still only the sixth man for OKC at this point in his career.
1992: Larry Bird (S), Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin
2012: Kevin Durant (S), Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala
Larry Bird did start for the Dream Team, but their biggest contributor at the small forward spot was Scottie Pippen. Pippen was the original point forward before LeBron, leading the team in assists. Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were two of the top three players at this position in 2012, with the other one playing the 4 on this team. Bird’s back would have made him a non-factor if there two teams faced off.
1992: Charles Barkley (S), Karl Malone, Christian Laettner
2012: LeBron James (S), Anthony Davis, Kevin Love
Ok, so this is a tough one. On one hand, LeBron James is the second best player of all time. On the other hand, Charles Barkley led the Dream Team in scoring with 18 points per game and was heading into a year where he won MVP and took the Suns to the Finals. On top of that, Karl Malone, the second leading scorer in NBA history and a 2-time MVP himself, was his backup. People knock Laettner now-a-days because he didn’t live up to the hype, but you have to remember that 1992 was his heyday. At the same time, Anthony Davis was only 19 and coming off a National Championship at Kentucky. While Davis clearly has the upper hand athletically, at the time they were on these teams, they were pretty equal. Regardless, LeBron is LeBron.
1992: Patrick Ewing (S), David Robinson
2012: Tyson Chandler (S)
This is by far the easiest position to dictate. Tyson Chandler is an NBA Champion and a very good player, but Patrick Ewing and David Robinson are two of the best centers of all time. Could you imagine if Shaq was selected to the Dream Team in place of Laettner? Unbelievable.
On paper, it would appear that the 1992 team would have the edge on the 2012 guys. The difference in playing style would dictate a lot though. Although Barkley did make seven of eight three-pointers in the ‘92 Games, he joined Malone, Ewing, and Robinson as primarily back-to-the-basket big men. On the other hand, everyone on the 2012 roster, with the exception of Chandler, could consistently shoot threes. The Dream Team did have shooters with Stockton, Bird, and Mullin, but in order to take advantage of their size, they would need to slow the game down.
In all honesty, the 2012 team really could not match up with the Dream Team. The ’92 squad had seven players who were named to at least three All-Defensive teams. The 2012 team had four, but they also had players like Harden and Anthony who were so bad on defense that it would be almost impossible to put them on the floor against the Dream Team. The 1992 team has 15 MVP awards among six players (Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Malone, Robinson, Barkley), and the 2012 team has 7 MVP awards among four players (James, Bryant, Durant, Westbrook). Obviously, the younger guys still have time to rack up some accolades, but I do not see 11 Hall-of-Famers on this roster. Maybe eight guys will make it, but it’d be hard for Love, Chandler, Iguodala, and Williams to scratch their way in.