You can’t cover the sun with your finger
by rick olivares
“You can’t cover the sun with your finger.”
Perhaps among all the platitudes heaped upon the 1992 United States Olympic Men’s Basketball Team or more commonly known as “The Dream Team”, it was that quote from Miguel Calderon Gomez, then head coach of Cuba, that best describes them.
Gomez’ charges were the on the receiving end of a 136-57 annihilation during the Dream Team’s debut at the Tournament of the Americas on June 28, 1992. In all 14 of their matches from the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, Oregon to the ’92 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the Americans blew their foes off the court by an average of 47 points a game. The one time an opponent took the lead was the Olympic gold medal game when Croatia’s Zan Tabak scored a three-point play following a flash in the lane and a zip pass by Toni Kukoc. David Robinson fouled Tabak and the Croatian center made good on his free throw to give their side a 25-23 lead with 9:41 to play.
On the other end, Charles Barkley answered with a three-point shot of his own (he was six-for-six prior from the three-point line at that point) that allowed the US to re-take the lead; one they would not relinquish again en route to another blowout.
Even during Croatia’s run (at that point only two players from Croatia had played in the NBA – center Stojko Vrankovic and gunner Drazen Petrovic as Kukoc and power forward Dino Radja would join the NBA a year later), Dream Team head coach Chuck Daly never called a time out. Not one.
The 20th anniversary of the debut of the Dream Team – June 28, 1992 – is just around the corner. Even before I caught a whiff of the nostalgia in the air, this collection of 12 basketball Beatles had been in my mind almost like in a fevered state.
I couldn’t wear a replica Los Angeles Lakers jacket the way a classmate of mine used to do back in school. I didn’t have an original copy of Michael Jordan’s ‘Come Fly With Me’ documentary until years and years later. I didn’t have the sweet jump shot of Larry Bird just like a schoolmate of mine did have on the JV. But in 1992, I could own a Dream Team shirt.
They were selling the “caricature” souvenir shirt of the ’92 Tournament of the Americas where the Dream Team made their spectacular debut. There was only one shirt left and I kept going back and forth debating its purchase as it was a bit pricey. Eventually, I walked in and forked over the dough and hightailed it home with my bounty. And when I wore it, it was with pride.
In the pre-cable and internet days that’s obviously ancient history, it was my slice of Dream Team. Anything NBA or foreign sports for the matter, were difficult to come by locally. If I did get to watch these NBA superstars, it was on one recopied betamax tape after another never mind the generation loss. I would eventually add a few more pieces of memorabilia – the Sports Illustrated issue with Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, and Earvin Johnson on the cover as well as the Dream Team book written by Alex Sachare that was autographed by the late Chuck Daly and team assistant coach Lenny Wilkens.
Today, that souvenir shirt -- all worn out, faded and now several sizes smaller for me – is still there in my closet. I even wore it to sleep a few weeks ago.
I opened up a box of my old belongings that my mother packed away when I moved out all those years ago. Inside were all those videotapes that had corroded and melted with age. But the magazines, brown with ages and all, were still there.
In my younger days, I was transfixed when Doug Collins hot two clutch free throws to seemingly give the US the win against the USSR during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Only game officials gave the Soviets three chances to win the match which they eventually did. There have been many heists in sports since but that Olympic finals game is right on top alongside the recent controversial decision that awarded the boxing match to challenger Timothy Bradley over defending champion Manny Pacquiao who pummeled his American foe.
While the NBA was shown sparingly in the Philippines unless you were one of the lucky ones who has that antenna that connected you to the US Armed Forces’ Far East Network emanating out of Clark Air Base in Pampanga. What was shown on a regular basis (if you can say that the four-year cycle of the Olympics counts as one) were the games of the Olympiad. So I saw in the intervening years the team of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, Steve Alford, and company blow out foes en route to a 1984 Gold Medal. Then there was the debacle of 1988 when head coach John Thompson put on the floor a team that was good enough to win the Big East Conference where his Georgetown Hoyas played but not the Seoul, Korea Olympics.
Sure there were the annual gatherings of NBA All-Stars in the mid-season classic but they were mostly the stuff of showtime. The Olympics were big time. It was theorized then that the world had caught up to the Americans in the sport. Barcelona was meant to take it back and show the world that it was still a myth.
For all the hoopla surrounding the Americans the manner by which they were first introduced to the world at large during the Tournament of the Americas was drab and simple. “A six-eleven forward Christian Laettner,” the Rose Garden announcer said almost dryly as he opted not to show any favoritism. He then continued his roll call in order -- David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler (who got a resounding ovation from Portland fans), Karl Malone, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, and Earvin ‘Magic” Johnson.
When the ball went up for the jump ball, the Americans dived right in like a pack of sharks. They dismantled foes in different ways and the first few minutes of the game against Cuba in the Tournament of the Americas provided the world with a view to a kill.
In the very first possession of the Dream Team’s debut against Cuba during the Tournament of the Americas, Magic Johnson fed the ball to Larry Bird who worked his way inside the lane for a fadeaway.
This is where Angola’s head coach criticized the Americans as a running team that didn’t play any defense. The US actually topped the Olympics in defensive stats. They had the most steals (177) and blocks (47).
Against Cuba, Bird hauled down the board. Passed to Magic Johnson who drove the length of the court. Magic took off, surveyed his options in the air before he handed it off to Robinson on the trailer for a two-handed stuff.
One failed Cuban offensive after Robinson’s jam, Jordan saved the ball from going out of bounds at the Dream Team’s halfcourt line by whipping a behind-the-back pass to Bird who straddled the baseline. Bird fielded the ball and in one motion hit a baseline jumper. One stop after, Magic on the break found Barkley cutting under the baseline. The Round Mound of Rebound drove in and turned around 360° for an emphatic slam.
Gomez was right. You really couldn’t cover the sun with your finger.
They continued that romp all the way to Barcelona where they were arguably the first crossover team of any sport with such immense popularity.
Their legacy is that basketball has become truly a world game. The number of foreign players plying their trade and not just in the NBA is staggering. If the Dutch football teams that espoused total football changed the sport forever so did the Dream Team for basketball. Twenty-years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play and the world is better for it.
Enjoy this wave of nostalgia because it’s all good. As for me, I’m going to rewind television announcer Marv Albert’s line during the Olympics when he said (adding to one of the best platitudes about the Dream Team aside from Gomez’ quote): “Do you get the feeling that Angola’s last basket was yesterday?”
Rick Olivares used to tape NBA matches on those old betamax tapes until he accumulated a massive collection to go with his magazines, books, posters, and jerseys. He says that writing for NBA.com completes his life. Oh, he still goes to bed wearing his Chris Mullin Golden State Warriors #17 that he first bought during the Run-TMC years.