30 years later: How the ‘Dream Team’ forever changed the NBA by opening doors for international players

The 1992 United States men’s basketball team, known simply as the “Dream Team,” went to the Barcelona Olympics with sky-high expectations. It was arguably the largest gathering of talent in sports history as the roster included several Hall of Famers including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

It wasn’t long before the slew of American stars showed that expectations weren’t high enough. The “Dream Team” rolled over every opponent in their path with a perfect 8-0 and 32-point win over Croatia in their last game to win the gold medal on August 8, 1992.

“You’re going to see a team of professionals again at the Olympics,” said Team USA coach Chuck Daly. “But I don’t think you’ll see another team like this. This was a majestic team.”

But the influence of the “Dream Team” went far beyond its dominance on the pitch. It brought the very highest quality of basketball to a generation of international players.

As Juan Antonio Samaranch, former President of the International Olympic Committee, said at the time: “The most important aspect of the Games was the resounding success of the basketball tournament as we witnessed the best basketball in the world. “

Thirty years after gold medals were placed around the necks of members of The Dream Team, the impact is still being felt.

In numbers: The rise of international players after the “Dream Team”

At the beginning of the 1991/92 season, 23 international players from 18 countries were in the NBA squad. At the start of the 2011/12 season, there were 74 players from 35 countries.

Another decade later, on the opening night of the 2021-22 NBA season, there were 109 international players from 39 countries in the leagues. The Raptors alone had 10 international players on their roster, nearly half the entire 1991-92 NBA.

However, the international explosion was not just about quantity. Many players born outside the United States have achieved incredible success in their careers.

Hakeem Olajuwon made history in 1993-94 by becoming the first non-US born player to win the NBA MVP award. He was also the first player to receive MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP awards in the same season. Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic have followed in Olajuwon’s footsteps, winning a total of seven MVP awards in their careers to date.

Of course, the national player’s story cannot be told without mentioning another Rockets center. Houston picked Yao Ming pick in the 2002 NBA draft, making him the first international player who didn’t play college basketball to make the draft board.

Aside from being an 8-time All-Star and 5-time All-NBA selection, Yao is one of the most important figures in the history of the sport in terms of NBA globalization. His mere presence allowed the Rockets to become China’s team. The doors Yao opened to the Chinese market allowed the league to forge a multi-billion dollar relationship.

More recently, an international player has won the last four MVP awards (two times Antetokounmpo and two times Jokic) and four of the last five Defensive Player of the Year awards (three times Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert). Three of the five members of the 2021-22 All-NBA First Team were international players (Antetokounmpo, Jokic, and Luka Doncic).

Quotable: What prominent NBA figures have said about the impact of the “Dream Team”.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern: “I think the point was that the basketball world invited the NBA to join them and we said yes. And they have benefited greatly from it, as have we – and basketball as a whole. Now we see Dirk Nowitzki and Ricky.” Rubio and Tony Parker and Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili. And Luis Scola and Serge Ibaka and Luol Deng.”

Six-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion Tony Parker: “It had a big impact in Europe. If you see interviews that I or Dirk or Pau Gasol did, we were all affected by the ‘Dream Team’. Manu Ginobili – we all talk about it. That was the point where we were like, ‘Wow, basketball is cool’ and ‘I want to go to the NBA. Maybe that’s possible.” That was the first time I saw them in real life, because before that the tapes were… Now they were in Europe and everyone was there. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty cool experience. It definitely started for me after the Olympics.”

Six-time All-Star and two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol: “That [‘Dream Team’] inspired and shaped international basketball during the Barcelona [1992] Olympia. I was one of those kids inspired by that team. Many Thanks.”

ESPN analyst and Curt Gowdy Media Award winner Mike Wilbon: “It changed the sport as we know it. They showed the world how to play basketball. What other team can say that? I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again. It’s an insult to compare anyone else to this team.” .”

‘Dream Team’ squad, Olympic results

Here is the complete Team USA lineup for the 1992 Olympics:

Michael Jordan 14 5 6 6
Karl Malon 14 2 0 0
Magic Johnson 12 3 5 3
Larry Vogel 12 3 3 2
Patrick Ewing 11 0 0 0
Charles Barkley 11 1 0 0
David Robinson 10 1 2 0
John Stockton 10 0 0 0
Clyde Drexler 10 0 1 0
Scottie Pippen 7 0 6 0
Chris Mullin 5 0 0 0
Christian Lattner 1 0 0 0

And here are the full results of the 1992 Olympics:

United States of America 116 Angola 48 68
United States of America 103 Croatia 70 33
United States of America 111 Germany 68 43
United States of America 127 Brazil 83 44
United States of America 122 Spain 81 41
United States of America 115 Puerto Rico 77 38
United States of America 127 Lithuania 76 51
United States of America 117 Croatia 85 32

“Dream Team” highlights from the 1992 Olympics

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