Dirk Nowitzki of Germany and Tony Parker of France have been named MVPs of the NBA Finals. Yao Ming of China and Andrea Bargnani of Italy have been the No. 1 pick in the draft. Manu Ginobili of Argentina and Pau Gasol of Spain are perennial All-Stars.
None of it would have been possible without The Dream Team.
They not only won the gold medal as the marquee attraction at the Barcelona Olympics, but also lifted basketball to a place of prominence globally and opened the gates for today’s flood of international stars.
That is the message delivered by the 90-minute documentary debuting Wednesday night on NBA TV (9 p.m. ET) that chronicles the tale of the 11 Hall of Famers – led by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan – who took the basketball world by storm in 1992.
Along, of course, with confirmation that Charles Barkley is one pretty entertaining fellow.
The film follows the Dream Team from the spark of its origin inside the competitive spirit of Magic, who sold the notion to Bird and a reluctant Jordan, all the way through the poignant victory ceremony following the gold medal clincher over Croatia.
In between, executive producers Dion Cocoros and Danny Meiseles have assembled current interviews with all 12 members of the team in addition to international notables Toni Kukoc of Croatia. He became the victim of a personal vendetta by future Bulls teammates Jordan and Scottie Pippen en route to the gold-medal game. There’s also an interview with Herlander Coimba of Angola, who was famously elbowed in the throat by Barkley in the team’s very first Olympic game.
There is footage of the legendary loss to a team of college players led by Chris Webber and Bobby Hurley on the first day of pre-Olympic practice that Mike Krzyzewski, then an assistant coach, now says was a tactical ploy by Team USA coach Chuck Daly to “throw” the game in order to get his players’ attention and respect. There is also a frank discussion of the controversial decision to leave All-Star guard Isiah Thomas off the Dream Team at the wish of Jordan and others.
“A lot of these things, we all kind of heard these stories,” Cocoros said. ” ‘Hey, I heard they lost to the select team. Did they really have these intense practices?’ To show it takes it to the next level. A lot of this has been discussed for 20 years but never seen.”
Barkley, as usual, is often the showstopper and scene-stealer, as when the topic is raised whether Daly would be able to control the larger-than-life personalities and the huge egos of the team.
“He coached the Bad Boys,” Barkley said. “If he can coach those (bleeps), he can coach anybody.”
It is a tale of career-long rivalries and blood-feuds transformed into bonding and friendships, as players who battled for years to beat each other grew to respect and enjoy each other’s company. But not before Magic and Jordan had to go head-to-head, nose-to-nose on the practice court to determine ownership of the team.
“He didn’t want to relinquish his hold from the ‘80s even though it was the ‘90s,” said Jordan.
“He’s a young puppy. I’m the big dog,” said Magic.
Jordan prevailed, but in the end the pair of superstars together forged the steely will of an unmatched team on the court and in the public eye.
There are scenes of Barkley in the role of the Pied Piper, strolling through the crowded nighttime streets of Barcelona, leading an entourage that numbered in the hundreds. There is a priceless scene of John Stockton strolling with his wife, two children and a video camera on his shoulder through the daytime streets and going totally unrecognized.
There are golden nuggets of new information, shining jewels of game highlights and poignant gems of reflected memory from a different time when they re-made the game and took it to the whole wide world.
“If this was the end, this was the way I wanted to go out,” said Magic.
“Nothing in my life ever felt like standing on that podium,” said Barkley.
For once, even Chuck wasn’t joking.