Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Led by Bryant, current members of the 2012 USA Olympic basketball team told reporters during practice in Las Vegas last week that they are confident this year's team could beat the proclaimed best team in the history of basketball. Could they?
It's a classic Rocky versus Ivan Drago…a David versus Goliath…literally. That is the matchup: speed versus size.
Let's look at the Dream Team roster against the 2012 roster and their NBA stat lines from the seasons before their respected Olympic Games. The 2012 roster is my opinion based upon the matchup against the Dream Team.
Starters Stats/Game PTS REB AST BLK STL
David Robinson 23.2 12.2 2.7 4.5 2.3
Charles Barkley 23.1 11.1 4.1 0.6 1.8
Larry Bird 20.2 9.6 6.8 0.73 0.93
Michael Jordan 30.1 6.4 6.1 0.9 2.3
Magic Johnson 19.4 6.9 12.5 0.2 1.3
Bench: Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton
2012 Starters PTS REB AST BLK STL
Tyson Chandler 11.3 9.9 0.9 1.4 0.9
Kevin Love 26.0 13.3 2.0 0.5 0.9
Kevin Durant 28.0 8.0 3.5 1.2 1.3
Kobe Bryant 27.9 5.4 4.6 0.3 1.2
LeBron James 27.1 7.9 6.2 0.8 1.9
Bench: Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
The X-Factors: Larry Bird was old (36) for a basketball player. He dealt with numerous back issues due to his blue-collar work ethic that included diving into stands and onto the court for loose balls. This was the year after Magic Johnson retired due to testing positive for HIV. He was not in the NBA for the '91-'92 season. He was not in his prime. Johnson returned to the Lakers for one more season in 1995.
The 2012 team is without probable starters Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, and key players Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and most recently Blake Griffin who tore his meniscus in practice before the July 12 exhibition against the Dominican Republic.
So who wins?
Michael Jordan, considered the greatest basketball player ever, would have to carry the ailing backcourt of Johnson and Bird. Johnson was not the Magic of old due to his body battling with HIV and Bird was far from his spry, agile former self. Could Jordan take Bryant by himself? Sure. Could Jordan beat Bryant, James and Durant? No way. A slight (emphasizing the slight) backcourt advantage has to go to the 2012 squad due to their ability to make mismatches with any of the Dream Teams' guards, and a past-prime Magic could not handle the current LeBron.
However, the reason why I believe the Dream Team would defeat the current squad is that head coach Mike Krzyzewski would be calling upon a rookie in Davis who has no NBA experience, Love, Anthony and Chandler (keep in mind Dwight Howard is not available due to injury) to guard Robinson, Malone, Laettner and Ewing.
There is no answer for a dominant big man surrounded by sharp shooters. Excluding Robinson and Ewing, every player on the Dream Team roster could shoot from the outside. Robinson and Ewing would have their way in the post against Love/Davis and Chandler, and every other player on the floor could knock down outside shots.
Robinson and Ewing were two of the best big men to ever play the game. Karl Malone has scored 36,928 points in his career, second most in NBA history only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The two best centers in the NBA right now, Andrew Bynum and Howard, are not even on the 2012 Olympic roster.
There is also a level of physicality that the Dream Team had that goes unmatched. Basketball today is participating in the new sensation of "the flop." If James went into the paint against Ewing, he would club James to the ground before letting him get to the rim. The physical mindset of the old school against the pampered new school would play a part in the Dream Team's success.
It is unfortunate it is impossible to duplicate the scenario of the athletes of today against the legends of the past. All we can do is analyze numbers. The Dream Team scored 938 points, winning all eight games. The Redeem Team from the 2008 Olympics (which I think is better than the current team) in Beijing scored 850 points in their eight wins. The average margin of victory for the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona games was 43.75 points. The Redeem Team's was 27.87 points.
Argue all you want that international basketball in the 1990s was weaker than now, but the statistical difference is intimidating. Maybe if Bryant made this claim four years earlier, he could have made a case. Kudos to him for believing they could compete, but talent needs to recognize talent.
Beau Tiongson, the Reporter's summer intern, is a sports radio talk show host for KTCU-FM 88.7 The Choice in Fort Worth.