It was the perfect storm of basketball talent. Michael Jordan. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Charles Barkley. On and on and on.
When FIBA announced in 1989 that NBA players would no longer be banned from international competition, USA Basketball immediately went to work assembling the best possible team, with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as the target.
The rest is history. USA Basketball's efforts produced the Dream Team, which destroyed every team they faced en route to an easy gold medal. Their victories were expected, but the way they executed them was incredible.
So what can we learn from a team that had the best 5 players on the court at all times, and had every game won before halftime even hit?
Ok, they were ALL superstars. Players like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were wrapping up amazing careers. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were just starting their dynasty. Even Christian Laettner, the lone college player on the team, had just come off two straight national championships for Duke.
But look closer at the results from their Olympic romps. Specifically, look at the scoring averages for each player:
- Charles Barkley, 18.0
- Michael Jordan, 14.9
- Karl Malone, 13.0
- Chris Mullin, 12.9
- Clyde Drexler, 10.5
- Patrick Ewing, 9.5
- Scottie Pippin, 9.0
- David Robinson, 9.0
- Larry Bird, 8.4
- Magic Johnson, 8.0
- Christian Laettner, 4.8
- John Stockton, 2.8
John Stockton played in just half of the games due to an injured hand. Christian Laettner often deferred to the pros. The other 10 players averaged between 8 and 18 points per game, and five different players led the team in scoring in the eight-game run.
It was truly a team effort—remarkable, considering all of them were superstars on their normal squads.
Tip: If you're one of your team's best players, what do you do to sacrifice individual glory for the team?
The Dream Team was labeled unbeatable long before the Olympic Games started. And if they thought that was true, they sure didn't act like it.
When the Dream Team was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, Karl Malone reminisced about the experience with the Desert News. He admitted that the games were a cakewalk—largely due to talent but also because of preparation.
"The most competitive and most challenging thing I ever did was the practices. It was truly off the charts," Malone said. "Once the game started we all felt that was fun. We were representing our country."
Tip: Think about a game you played against a team you know wasn't that good. Did you prepare the same, or take it easy? What did you get out of that game, besides a victory?
Before the 1992 Olympics, the Chicago Bulls offered Croatian Toni Kukoc a large contract, one he would eventually accept. With that in the back of his mind, Jordan stood up in front of his USA teammates before the round-robin game against Croatia. He announced that only he and Pippen would be guarding Kukoc—an initiation of sorts for their future teammate.
Kukoc was 2-of-11 shooting for four points. He also had seven turnovers in the 33-point USA win. Jordan and Pippen dominated him, turning a blowout of a game into a personal challenge for the pair.
Tip: Blowouts happen in all levels of basketball, and it's natural to want to mail it in when the game is out of reach. Don't do it. Instead, find new challenges for yourself on the court. If you're losing by 30, try to cut the deficit to 20. If you're winning by 30 and you've already scored 25 points, try to see how many times you can set up a teammate for a basket. Work on skills you would consider your weakness.