The golden standard
Chris Mullin wants teams to keep trying to match 'Dream Team'
Last Updated: 23/07/12 3:03pm
Kobe Bryant: United States star trying to better the 'dream team' of 1992
Twenty years on from the Barcelona Olympics, the United States 'Dream Team' remains basketball's gold standard and one unlikely to ever be reached again.
Chris Mullin, a member of that star-studded squad and now a Hall of Famer, cannot imagine a team matching the achievements of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird et al, however he hopes nobody ever stops trying as he watches the current United States team prepare for London.
He said: "I think guys like myself who were on the team would never imagine another team could beat us. But other guys should feel the same (about themselves). They should think they can beat anyone. You have to be loyal to your own team."
"They should think they can beat anyone. You have to be loyal to your own team.
Chris Mullin Quotes of the week
That was precisely what current United States star Kobe Bryant was doing when he told reporters last week that the 2012 edition of Team USA is better than the 1992 vintage.
Bryant has since stepped back from those remarks, but Mullin wants the Dream Team to be the bar every team strives for.
He added: "Kobe's pretty smart. He's saying that to motivate his team, to light a fire because he's a leader. You want your team to think that way, especially before they start competing with the best in the world."
The truth is likely that even if a team was put together now that formed a stronger unit than coach Chuck Daly's fabled squad, they could not dominate an Olympic tournament like the Dream Team did.
The 1992 Games were the first at which NBA players were allowed to play, and the rest of the world did not seem to know what had hit them when the Americans came swanning in.
Opposing players were more likely to be in line asking for autographs as they were to be in the faces of the players on the court.
They did not merely march unbeaten to gold, but won every game by at least 30 points, an average margin of 43.8, and Daly never even had to call a time-out as he watched his team cruise to win after win.
Their adventurous performances helped explode the popularity of basketball around the world, in turn accelerating the process of other countries closing the gap as youngsters across the planet took up the game.
That in itself is one reason why their dominance will surely never be matched, with all the top teams in the world now boasting at least some NBA players who will not be overawed by their club colleagues on the international stage.
However, Mullin insists nobody should underestimate how good the rest of the world already was by 1992.
He said: "I played in the 1984 Games and those teams were catching up too. This hasn't just happened. 1992 helped it explode, but even in '84 there was a feeling the teams were closing the gap.
"The one thing that doesn't exist anymore is the fear factor. Each team has guys on their roster who play in the NBA. Those guys are not intimidated."
Mullin arrived in Barcelona 20 years ago already an Olympic gold medal winner, having been on that 1984 squad along with the likes of Jordan and fellow future Dream Team member Patrick Ewing.
Back then though, the US squad was made up entirely of amateur players drawn from the college ranks, but they nevertheless went unbeaten to claim gold on home soil in Los Angeles.
Mullin said: "It was a totally different experience back then, but also a totally underrated team. You talk about whether the '92 team could be beaten, you might want to try to beat the '84 one first."
In a tournament missing the Soviet bloc countries - several of which excel in basketball - the Americans won every game by double digits to take gold.
Mullin imagined then that Los Angeles would be his only taste of the Olympics as the rules of the day prevented NBA players from taking part.
There could be a similar situation again in the future, with NBA bosses floating the idea of making Olympic basketball a football-style under-23 tournament after London, with more emphasis put on FIBA's rebranded World Cup.
NBA owners say they want to protect their top players from burnout, though Bryant recently branded the idea as "stupid" and insisted it was about nothing more than protecting teams' investments on highly-paid athletes.
Bryant claimed if he were an NBA owner, he would much prefer to have his players playing Olympic basketball where they are under the watchful eye of coaches and medics, rather than spending their off-season playing pick-up basketball back home where problems might go undetected or untreated.
While Mullin admitted he did not know the full details of the proposals, he said he would be suspicious of anything that came down from the marketing side of the game, rather than the basketball people.
He added: "I'm not quite sure of the motivation and I'd like to know the reasoning. If it's a decision on basketball made by non-basketball people, I would question it."
A return to the days when the sport's best players were locked out of the Olympics would ensure nobody got close to the Dream Team again.
Their place in history is secure as the time when the best players in the world came together to form an unbeatable team.
Mullin recalled: "It was an incredible collection of all-star talent, but we functioned as a team.
"That's to the credit of coach Daly and his staff. It was about respect for each other and a vision of what we were there to do, not just to win gold but to set a standard, and to set it high for those behind us.
"We wanted them to try to be as good as us, knowing they probably never could but to aspire to it anyway."