Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To dream or to redeem?

To dream or to redeem?
by rick olivares

Both teams came into their respective Olympics with real issues.

In 1992, the Dream Team had to deal with the stigma of the ’88 team’s loss to the Russians in Seoul, Korea. Only the USSR was now several fractured republics in the wake of perestroika and glasnost. But it should be noted that the stars of those Soviet teams were Lithuanians Arvydas Sabonis, Arturas Karnisovas, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Valdemaras Chomicius, and Sarunas Marculionis so when they finally had their independence, they were still pretty much a strong squad. And they were hip if only for those Lietuva sweats that were designed by the Grateful Dead (Rooney was a star with Golden State and their coach was Donn Nelson)?

The US National Teams were losing a lot in international competition and quite frankly, the Americans had enough of sending kids to do a man’s job more so when the Europeans were sending their pros.

Yet Chuck Daly’s troops came into the Tournament of the Americas with only a few weeks’ rest and they still walloped the competition en route to their first gold that summer.

Then came Barcelona which was supposed to be the acid test.

After a 46-0 run that sent Angola scampering for cover for the first demolition job of the games, the Dream Team played Croatia in what was seen as a probable preview of the gold medal match. The Baltic country had some very good players in the late Drazen Petrovic (of the New Jersey Nets), Toni Kukoc (Benetton Treviso), Dino Radja (Virtus Roma), Stojko Vrankovic (third string center for the Boston Celtics), and sharp shooter Arijan Komazec (KK Zadar). Still the Croats fell by 33.

Germany with Detlef Schrempf (Indiana Pacers), Uwe Blab (Dallas Mavericks), and Michael Jackel (who was well versed in the American game having played at San Francisco University) was next and they should have stayed home after a 43-point loss.

Brazil had the De Souza brothers Maury and Marcel and the all-time Olympic basketball scoring leader Oscar Schmidt but it did not matter as they were routed by 44 markers.

Spain with its prolific trio of Jordi Villacampa, Andres Jimenez, and Enrique Andreau were at the receiving end of a 41-point butt kicking.

And Puerto Rico which had Piculin Ortiz, Ramon Rivas, Jerome Mincy, Edgar De Leon, and James Carter fell by a mere 38 points.

Lithuania was crushed by 51 before the rematch with Croatia for all the marbles. Yet it is as one wag said before the start of the tournament, “Everyone else is playing for the silver and the bronze.” Croatia fell once more this time by 32; the lowest margin of victory by the Americans.

There were some very good stars on the international arena then and if they weren’t household names in North Americas it was because the US Media just pooh-poohs the foreign leagues as inferior; something they would pay dearly for eventually. To date, that kind of thinking has somewhat dissipated because of the internet, cable, satellite television, and what is now a truism... the world has finally caught up.

But in ’92, for all the great stars outside the confines of the NBA hardcourt, every one still had much catching up to do as the Dream Team averaged 117.3 ppg, 36 rpg, 29.9 apg, 22 spg, and 5.9 bpg.

You might want to read that stat line again. The assists alone… who the hell averages 29.9 assists per game?

The Redeem Team averaged 106.3 ppg, 18.8apg, 12.5 spg, and 3.9 bpg.

Points-wise, Charles Barkley averaged 18 flat, Michael Jordan 14.9, Karl Malone 13 even, Chris Mullin 12.9, and Chris Drexler 10.5 to round out double digit scoring.

Save for Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Christian Laettner, every single player was in their prime.

They ran their foes out of the gym that it didn’t matter if they shot poorly from three-point range (although they nailed the shots that mattered). After they dismantled Croatia in the second game of eliminations where Jordan and Scottie Pippen embarrassed a flustered Toni Kukoc, the former Yugoslav state came back strong in the gold medal game. Remember Charles Barkley’s three-point shot that silenced Croatia after they made a run? He stared down their bench and their crowd and it was all over after that. They played physical (with Barkley, Malone, and Ewing what do you expect) and cribbed a line from Barnum and Bailey as they put on the Greatest Show on Earth.

But they too were with controversy? The Dream Team lost to the Developmental Team lead by Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston, and Grant Hill in one pick up game that when the return match began, Jordan pointed to Houston and said, “He ain’t getting any threes today.” Game over in a few minutes. Remember Barkley nearly caused an international incident when he elbowed an Angolan (the African nation almost declared war on the United States of Alabama after that)? How about the Reebok flap when the Round Mound said he has three million reasons not to wear the competitor’s brand?

While it will be unfair to compare the Redeem Team to the Dream Team’s All-time Greatest Tags only because many of these players’ careers aren’t done by a long shot, this team too faced controversy heading to Beijing. There were the failed campaigns in Athens and FIBA. And the NBA landscape is far different from 1991-92 season that preceded the Olympics. Now foreign players are common and have become franchise players.

But ’92 began the invasion. After the gold medal match, Jordan shook hands with Croatia’s Toni Kukoc and said, “See you in Chicago.” Dino Radja would become the man in the middle in Boston for three-and-a-half years. Arvydas Sabonis would show them a glimpse of his greatness when he was center for Portland. While Schrempf would be a vital part of the 1996 Seattle Supersonics who battled for the NBA title.

The Redeem Team follows the same issue that “the world has caught up to the Americans.” Unfortunately they too have to play Goodwill Ambassadors after that boorish 2004 team in Athens (it was the reverse for the Dream Team for the so-called Dream Team II and their crotch grabbing ways put off everyone in Atlanta in 1996).

Talented, quick, overpowering, the Redeem Team is every bit as relentless as their predecessors. Everyone on this team may be in their prime but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll run the Dream Team out of the gym. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were all but retired up to this point but they contributed in every way (Bird averaged 8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 1.7 apg while the Magic Man added 8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, and 4.1 apg). And speaking of Bird and Magic, the Barcelona team played hurt as Bird (bad back), Johnson (hamstring), John Stockton (broken leg bone), and Patrick Ewing (cut finger) battled an assortment of injuries. So the fascinating thing there is even if they were less than 100%, they still had the √©lan to blow the crap out of everyone pretender.

The Redeem Team more or less has been together for some time now and that familiarity greatly helped them in their play. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosch holding up a thin front line. They blitzed foes with the in-your-face defense and athleticism of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony.

The ’92 Olympians, other than the annual All-Star Game, only got to play with each other a week of practice before the Tournament of the Americas and a month before the Olympics. But they got their act together quickly and outplayed their opponents that said a lot of the team’s character and firepower.

Of course there was that reverence factor in 1992 that isn’t there anymore today. Teams are just raring to completely end American dominance. The legacy of the Dream Team was to introduce the game to more people and Pau and Marc Gasol were among the youngsters who saw them play in Barcelona. Argentina’s Manu Ginobili spent hours watching Jordan’s Come Fly With Me until the tape would no longer play.

But while Spain, China, and Argentina are way more talented than any of their previous national teams, Lithuania’s and Croatia’s are not. Their ’92 counterparts are even better. And in case anyone has been keeping tabs, where’s Serbia?

After the break up of the Yugoslav states, Serbia had a very good team with Vlade Divac, Dejan "White Magic" Bodiroga, Predrag Danilovic, Zarko Paspalj, Zeljko Rebraca, and Dejan Tomasevic but were unable to compete because of UN sanctions owing to the war in Serbia and Montenegro. This was obviously half of the former Yugoslav National Team that featured the mainstays of the Croatian squad.

Given all the circumstance of both squads, it’s almost like comparing apples and oranges. But for the sake of this fanboy debate, which squad is better?

Let then Cuban National Coach Miguel Calderon’s description of the American squad after a 136-57 dismantling in the ’92 Tournament of the Americas be the last word.

You cannot cover the sun with your finger.”

Note: The Developmental Team the Dream Team went up against consisted of:
Duke's Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, Tennessee's Allan Houston, Michigan's Chris Webber, Memphis State's Anfernee Hardaway, Kentucky's Jamaal Mashburn, North Carolina's Eric Montross, and Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers. They were coached by So-Cal's George Raveling and Kansas' Roy Williams. In their first scrimmage with the Olympic Team, the D-Team won 62-54. In the next scrimmage, the young guns were sent packing by over 40 points.

Chuck Daly never called a time out in Barcelona '92.


Pos.

Player

Pos.

Player

G

Magic Johnson

G

Jason Kidd

G

Michael Jordan

G

Kobe Bryant

G

John Stockton

G

Chris Paul

G

Clyde Drexler

G

Dwyane Wade

G/F

Scottie Pippen

G

Deron Williams

F

Larry Bird

G

Michael Redd

F

Charles Barkley

F

LeBron James

F

Karl Malone

F

Carlos Boozer

F

Chris Mullin

F

Carmelo Anthony

F

Christian Laettner

F

Tayshaun Prince

C

Patrick Ewing

C

Dwight Howard

C

David Robinson

C/F

Chris Bosh

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