The debate over the last few weeks has been interesting regarding the latest gold medal winning USA Men's Basketball team and how it would fare against the original "Dream Team".
Debating different times in history has always been a fun thing to do in sports. Can you imagine Babe Ruth playing baseball today? Could the Klitchko brothers have competed against Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier?
Here is my take on the 1992 team against today's current group.
First, there has been a lot of discussion about the age of the original Dream Team with one side claiming that the team was too old and the other side saying that the average age of the superstars on that team was only late 20's. My personal recollection is that for the most part, that team was past their prime. If you look up the original Dream Team, the teams core was Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley.
Sounds pretty formidable!
If you take a closer look, Larry Bird retired from the NBA the season after the Olympics so clearly he was not in his prime. Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV a year before the Olympics and had not played much competitive basketball before the Olympic games so clearly he was not in his prime. Even Michael Jordan's best statistical years were before 1992. This is also the case for Barkley, Drexler and Mullin whose best years in the NBA were prior to 1992. David Robinson, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing had some of their best years after the Olympics but even this second groups best years came prior to the 1992 games.
The next interesting issue is how the game has changed since 1992.
If you look at the rosters of the teams the USA faced in the 1992 games, you would realize that there is not a lot of name recognition. In the 1992 Gold Medal Game, the USA faced Croatia who had two very good players, Toni Kukoc and Drazen Petrovic both of who had some good years in the NBA. But the rest of the roster had very little talent. And the same could be said for the rosters of the other teams in that Olympics. People forget that the popularity of basketball in the rest of the world has taken off in the past 20 years and the amount of prominent players from the rest of the world is much greater today.
Now, lets look at the 2012 USA squad. Lebron James and Kevin Durrant appear to both be in their primes and in the case of Durrant, he is only in his early 20's so we could see him become even better! Chris Paul, James Harden, and Kevin Love also appear to be younger than their 1992 counterparts. The inside game for this current team does appear to be thin as both Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin were lost to injury even before the games began.
Before looking at what might happen in a mythical game, keep in mind that the competition has improved tremendously. The Spain team that the USA defeated for the Gold Medal in 2012 consisted of not just NBA players, but NBA stars and starters up and down the roster. The Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderone, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez are names known to even the casual NBA fan.
I think if the there was some way of playing such a mythical game when every player was in his prime than the original Dream Team would probably win. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in their primes would have made the difference. But, in 1992, Bird and Magic had supporting roles much like Kobe Bryant did in the most recent Olympics.
The real question would be could Michael Jordan at 6'6" score at will against defenders such as Carmelo Anthony or Lebron James who would easily have size and strength advantages over him. And, could Charles Barkley have dominated the boards at 6'6" for easy put backs against the taller current lineup.
My take is that it would come down to the younger, better athletes of today's team who could easily shoot over their 1992 counterparts from the outside versus the better overall players in 1992 who had more NBA smarts and experience.
And though I am in a distinct minority, I believe that the current team would beat the 1992 team simply from an athletic standpoint. I think Barkley and Jordan would be neutralized by the speed and quickness of today's players such as Durrant and Lebron. Though I think that Robinson, Malone and Ewing were probably better inside than Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love, I do not think that either of the two teams were built to play an inside pick and roll game. I actually think that the game would come down to conditioning and that this current team would be able to keep up a run and gun pace better than the 1992 team who really never had to face any highly skilled, formidable opponents.
Shade of Gray
Is there anything left to add regarding the Penn State situation?
I think the issue that is most difficult to come to grips with is linking the horrible crimes of Jerry Sandusky to the current state of the football team and the alleged crimes of the Penn State leadership.
For many years, Joe Paterno had as squeaky clean a reputation as any person involved in sports forget just college football. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of coaches in any sport all time, Paterno would have had as good a chance as anybody to be considered for such an honor. It was well known and well publicized that he ran a clean program, that he personally paid for the library at Penn State, that his players graduated and that he emphasized academic and intellectual growth every bit as much as better statistics on the football field.
But of course, we all learned that he most likely went to his grave possessing knowledge of Sandusky's heinous crimes and actually played an active role in suppressing the information that could have led to an earlier arrest and conviction of Sandusky.
Unfortunately, we will never know exactly what Paterno knew or did not know and what possibly could have motivated him to keep quiet. Is there something that Sandusky knew about Paterno that Paterno was afraid the public would find out? Was Paterno really concerned only with his own legacy and that of his football team?
In any case, as is often the case, the ones who will pay the most dearly besides the poor kids who were abused, will be those involved with Penn State whether directly or indirectly related to the football program. Whether right or wrong, the football program financed every other sport and almost every other business associated with that university.
In a world of black and white, is it possible to applaud Joe Paterno for his dedication to thousands of students and student athletes over 60+ years of service, yet still deplore him for his lack of candor when it came to the actions of a former assistant coach? Apparently not. I am not sure I can recall any public figure in recent times who dropped so far in public perception as Joe Paterno did.