Twenty years ago, on July 22, the Dream Team began its training camp in La Jolla, California. By the time this edition of the U.S. national basketball team secured a gold medal a month and a half later, it had set a standard many people think will never be broken. Yes, the 44-points-a-game winning margin was impressive. Even more impressive, though, was the talent: 11 of the team’s twelve players have been individually inducted into the Hall of Fame. Had the team chosen Shaquille O’Neal instead of Christian Laettner for its requisite rookie representative, an unbreakable mark would have been set.
By 1992, it was clear Arkansas native Scottie Pippen was on a path toward a Hall of Fame career. As a key member of the two-time defending Chicago Bulls, he had already established himself as one of the league’s best all-time defenders. Since his 1987 rookie season, Pippen had sharpened his skills by playing plenty one-on-one against teammate Michael Jordan and the payoff soon became apparent: In 1990, he joined Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as one only three NBA players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season; a year later, he helped slow down Magic Johnson enough to help the Bulls win Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the first of four consecutive wins ending in the Chicago’s’ first title.
Despite that loss, Magic Johnson still believed he was the league’s alpha dog by the time summer 1992 rolled around. Jordan, again with the help of Pippen, rather vigorously disabused Johnson of this notion during a series of game in one Dream Team practice. Video footage of these scrimmages are one of the most interesting parts of NBA TV’s new “The Dream Team” documentary, which next airs on July 4.
Other interesting excerpts, with a focus on UCA’s Pippen, follow:
1. On his invitation to join the Dream Team – “I didn’t feel like I truly deserved to be called, but I truly wasn’t gonna tell them that.”
2. On Isiah Thomas, leader of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” and top nemesis of the Bulls: “Isiah was the general. He was the guy who’d yap at his teammates and say ‘Knock ‘em on their ass. Do what you gotta do.’ I despised the way he played the game.”