The sheer mass of talent, swagger and iconic gear in one frame
imago images / ZUMA Press

The men’s basketball team sent to represent the United States of America in the 1992 Olympic Games is widely known as the greatest team ever assembled. They were the Dream Team. They were “the big guns.” The “Navy seals.” To keep borrowing words from Patrick Ewing, they were brought in to “kick butt and take names.” The aura around the team has never been replicated … and it probably never will. There is only one original.

Today, more than a quarter of a century later, the sheer multitude of iconic elements that the team generated from such a condensed group of characters still beggars belief. Its swag was at an all-time high with the Be-Like-Mike movement in full swing. It produced legendary quotes with unmistakeable savvy and factory-like velocity. And it displayed its breathtaking style of play on the biggest of stages.

I’m not worried about playing basketball. That comes naturally. I just want to have fun. David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan … that’s like spring break in the ghetto.

Sir Charles

Also, the Dream Team did anything but disappoint when it comes to pushing the envelope from a sportswear perspective. From Mike’s iconic Air Jordan VII to Barkley’s criminally underrated Nike Air Force 180 to foam and ankle-padding galore on a variety of other models, Team USA could easily claim whatever the 1992-version of ‘the drip’ might have been.

However, there’s another critical component of the Dream Team’s mystique, and it has played a vital role in keeping it alive as well. Contrary to so many other moments, the summer of 1992, from the team’s training camp in La Jola, CA in July to the gold medal game in Barcelona on August 8th, can be pinpointed as having brought about several of, if not the most influential changes in the history of basketball.

Made iconic by Mike in Barcelona — Back again courtesy of Mitchell & Ness

One of them is the undeniable influence the US team had on the next generation(s) of basketball players watching from all around the globe. The last chapter of NBA TV’s The Dream Team chronicles its influence on an unprecedented wave of international talent in the modern game. The documentary is a must-watch for those who haven’t seen it and a welcome re-watch for those who have.

However, the summer of 1992 held another change of equal significance. This one did not occur in Barcelona, though. It took place roughly 430 miles up the southern coast of Europe. And it was a change of guards in both the literal as well as the metaphorical sense of the word.

imago images / Icon SMI

Michael Jordan recalls the moment distinctly: “Every evaluation of Michael Jordan back then was: ‘He’s good, but he’s not Magic Johnson.'” So while Magic was intent on keeping it this way, His Airness was hellbent on changing the status quo. As a matter of fact, position battles were going on all over the team’s roster. “Everyone of us felt like we were the shit.”, remembers Karl Malone. The Mailman ultimately summed up the quintessential question of the competition fittingly by asking:

“Who’s going to have the bragging rights by the end of this trip?”

While the Dream Team stayed in Monte Carlo in preparation for the Olympic tournament, an intra-squad scrimmage would answer Malone’s (and everyone else’s) question. The lineups read like cards for a heavy-weight fight. On one side Michael Jordan teamed up with Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley. Magic Johnson countered with a squad of Clyde Drexler, David Robinson, John Stockton, and Karl Malone. Meanwhile, Larry Bird and Christian Laettner found themselves watching from the sidelines because of back spasm or not having been picked by either side.

With reams of pride and egos involved and supremacy within the NBA on the line, the scrimmage resulted in the greatest game of basketball no-one has ever seen. Luckily, the action is recounted in an oral history by those involved (below). After four quarters, the torch had been passed. It may not have happened voluntarily, but it had been taken. There was a new sheriff in town!

The American’s way through the Olympic competition delivered a seemingly endless stream of iconic moments. Not all of them might have influenced the outcome of the tournament — or the NBA’s future for that matter. However, each story contributed to the uniqueness of the Dream Team experience. There’s Michael Jordan getting up extra early to take a walk to the Olympic stadium. Then there’s John Stockton anonymously walking on La Rambla and interacting with unsuspecting fans. Heck, there’s Charles Barkley strolling La Rambla in the most un-anonymous of ways on a nightly basis.

The winsome draw that the Dream Team possessed was unprecedented at the Barcelona Games and remains unparalleled to this day. Yes, the US won the gold. Handily even. But the way the team achieved this overarching goal is the origin of its now-infamous mystique. For two months in the summer of 1992, the Dream Team created treasured memories and an abundance of stories to be recounted for generations to come. The twelve stars and their charismatic coach managed to transfer their off-court chemistry and appeal to the hardwood in a way we have not seen since. In its essence, it’s a genuine embodiment of the Olympic spirit. The journey truly is the award.

Word to Boris Stankovic!

Mitchell & Ness manages to capture the exceptionality of the Dream Team by not trying to add something to a product that is already unique. Instead, the sportswear nostalgia connoisseurs stay with their distinctive and detail-oriented approach and not only bring back the iconic jerseys of the team but deliver a holistic collection including the infamous reversibly practice gear [worn in the scrimmage referenced above], warm-ups and authentic headwear. The Dream Team pack by Mitchell & Ness is now available here:

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