The debate over the 1992 Dream Team, who won Olympic gold in Barcelona, has been reignited thanks to ‘The Last Dance’. For the most part, the discussion has centred around Isiah Thomas’ absence, and the reason for it.
The Detroit Pistons legend, who was part of the ‘Bad Boys’ team that went to war with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, and the rest of the league, was one of the best players in the NBA at the time of the ’92 Games.
But he didn’t make the cut.
“Before the ’92 Olympics, Rod Thorn calls me and says, ‘We would love for you to be on the Dream Team’,” Jordan recalls in Episode 5.
“I said, ‘Whose all playing?’
“He says, ‘Ah, what does that mean?’
“I say, ‘Whose all playing?’
“He says, ‘Well, the guy you’re talking about, or you’re thinking about, he’s not going to be playing.’”
Thomas wasn’t a popular figure among the biggest stars in the league. He was respected, but not liked.
“I don’t know what went into that process,” Thomas says. “I met the criteria to be selected, but I wasn’t.”
And Jordan copped most of the blame behind Thomas’ omission.
“I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent,” Jordan says. “To me, the best point guard of all time is Magic Johnson, and right behind him is Isiah Thomas.
“No matter how much I hate him; I respect his game.
“Now, it was insinuated that I was asking about him, but I never threw his name in there.”
But it wasn’t just Jordan who had an issue with Thomas.
“At that point, Magic and Isiah had had their thing, Bird and Isiah had their thing, and Scottie [Pippen],” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon explains.
“I mean, it’s half the team. They did not want to play with him.
“Everybody puts it on Michael, because we knew that dislike was out in the open. But there was a lot more to it than that.”
For Jordan, it was simple: “The Dream Team based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was best harmony.
“Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes.”
Without Thomas, the Dream Team just clicked; the team cruising to a gold medal with a perfect 8-0 record.
But their most famous game might have come before the tournament, with nobody watching. The Monte Carlo intra-squad scrimmage might be the most revered practice in sports history.
“That was the greatest basketball I think that we all were involved in,” Magic Johnson says.
“Great passing, great shooting, great defence; All-NBA players going back-and-forth at each other.”
Jordan told MM: “Greatest game I’ve ever played in. All the beautiful things about the game of basketball were illustrated in that one particular game.
“If you culminate everybody in the Hall of Fame and every game they played in, and you envision a game being played, that’s how that game was played.”
It’s little wonder Jordan remembers the game so fondly. In many respects, it was the day he took his rightful place on the throne.
“They had a practice game in Monte Carlo, and Magic and Barkley’s team got off to a big lead,” USA Basketball Selection Chair, Rod Thorn, recalls.
“ … There was real trash talking going on, especially from Charles and Magic toward Michael.”
But that wouldn’t last long.
“We’re up about eight points, I think it was,” Johnson says.
“And I went over and tapped him [Jordan], and I said, ‘Look man, if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you out.’
“Man, what did I say that for?”
Thorn adds: “Michael proceeded to score every time down the court. It was like, ‘Okay, you want to know who the guy is? Here’s who the guy is.’”
And as Jordan turned the game on its head, things got fiery.
“He [Jordan] drove to the basket and the referee called a foul,” Thorn says. “And Magic threw the ball up to the top of the arena and was screaming about, ‘Just like the NBA, he gets every call. Same thing over here.’
In the small bit of footage shown, Johnson can be heard complaining: “All they did was move the Bulls stadium right here. That’s all they did. That’s all they did.”
Jordan’s team ended up winning, of course.
“After the practice they get on the bus to go back to the hotel, and for a couple minutes, there’s like no talking,” Thorn recounts.
“All of a sudden Magic says to Barkley: ‘Hey Charles, I guess we shouldn’t have pissed the man off.’
“And then everybody [comes to life and says], ‘this was the best practice ever, we love this.’”