The Internet and sports radio have been abuzz lately with current USA Men’s Basketball players claiming that they could beat the 1992 “Dream Team,” which is widely considered the greatest team ever assembled.
Prominent players on both teams, such as Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley and Chris Paul have all weighed in on the debate. Each has predictably stated that their team would emerge victorious.
Even current coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was an assistant coach on the 1992 team, has been asked about the matchup, though he didn’t disclose much of an opinion.
Lost in all of this hubbub, however, is a debate that is much more fun and ridiculous:
Which was the best bronze medal-winning USA Men’s Basketball team?
The 1998 Seoul team comprised of amateur players
The 2004 “Nightmare Team” that featured a dysfunctional roster of NBA guys?
Our own Jon Washburn recently did a thorough breakdown of the 1992 and 2012 teams. It was sensible, based in fact and reasonable speculation, and well thought out. I suggest you read it, along with this post today that analyzed the combined rosters to choose the Ultimate Dream Team roster from the two teams. Jon is a basketball mind I deeply respect.
What follows will likely be exactly the opposite.
I will attempt to compare the rosters of each team and determine who is the best, mostly without the aid of fancy stats, logic, and common sense. Random, irrelevant information culled from various web searches and Wikipedia pages will be used copiously, though.
Keep in mind that “best” doesn’t necessarily mean who would win a game, at least not in my book. My definition of “best” is completely arbitrary and nonsensical, and if you don’t agree you’ll just have to sound off in the comments.
Breakdown by Position
We’ll start with the guys running the show – the point guards.
1988 Team Point Guards:
- Charles Smith IV – Georgetown University – 20 years old
- Bimbo Coles – Virginia Tech – 20 years old
2004 Team Point Guards:
- Allen Iverson – Philadelphia 76ers – 29 years old
- Stephon Marbury – New York Knicks – 27 years old
On name recognition alone, the 2004 squad has a huge advantage here. On name coolness, however, 1988 wins in a landslide.
Inexplicably, Iverson and “Starbury” both started all 8 games in 2004. I know Iverson was always more of a 2-guard trapped in a point guard’s body, but it seems like a horrible idea to play a couple of selfish, shoot-first, under 6-2 ball hogs in international basketball, which places a premium on spreading the floor and ball movement. Well done, Larry Brown.
Marbury set a U.S. Olympic scoring record by scoring 31 against Spain. This was pre-head tattoos and Isiah Thomas feud, so Marbury was actually considered a pretty talented basketball player. He and Iverson combined to shoot under 40% for the Olympics in 2004.
As for the amateurs, Roman numerals and a dude named “Bimbo?” A lot to like there.
Plus, did you know Coles was still in the NBA in 2004? Me neither. His Basketball Reference page says his most comparable NBA careers were those of Gerald Henderson (the first one, not the Blue Devil Michael Jordan drafted) and coaching mastermind Vinny Del Negro.
Smith weighed just 149 lbs., which would basically make Iverson look like Cee-Lo Green. A couple years ago, Smith was non-fatally shot, and police later found cocaine and evidence of a gambling operation in his house (he had a conviction for vehicular manslaughter in 1992 as well). Iverson, also a former Georgetown Hoya, had some well-publicized legal issues of his own.
There are so many comparisons between these two, other than the fact that, you know, Iverson was actually a good basketball player.
Talent means little to me though. I give the edge to Bimbo and the string bean.
- The Verdict: Advantage – 1988
1988 Team Shooting Guards:
- Hersey Hawkins – Bradley – 21 years old
- Willie Anderson – Georgia – 22 years old
- Mitch Richmond – Kansas St. – 23 years old
- Jeff Grayer – Iowa St. – 22 years old
2004 Team Shooting Guards:
- Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat – 22 years old
- LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers - 19 years old
This is the first position that features players of similar ages. Of course now we understand the greatness of Wade and James (so weird he was considered a 2-guard on that team), as they are fresh off an NBA championship together with the Heat. But in 2004 they were somewhat unproven commodities, and the 1988 team had a couple of college-tested guards in Hawkins and Richmond who went on to have good NBA careers.
I couldn’t care less about any of that.
What I care about are things like:
- Why did the 2004 team only have two shooting guards, one of which is more of a power forward or point guard than a shooting guard?
- Who the hell is Jeff Grayer, and why did I have to Google him to find out he was the all-time leading scorer in Iowa State history?
- Did Wade and James begin thinking about teaming up as free agents to form a super team, only with Carlos Boozer or Emeka Okafor as the third member of their “Big Three?”
Also, I used to think Hersey Hawkins was an awesome player when I was young, and I have no idea why. I thought the same thing about Clarence Weatherspoon and Eddie Jones. I wasn’t a great basketball mind as a youngster (as I clearly am now).
2004 gets the nod here because I have a feeling that at their respective ages, Wade and LeBron could probably win a two-on-four game against the collection of mediocre 2-guards from 1988.
- The Verdict: Advantage – 2004
1988 Team Small Forwards:
- Dan Majerle – Central Michigan – 23 years old
- Stacey Augmon – UNLV – 20 years old
2004 Team Small Forwards:
- Carmelo Anthony – Denver Nuggets – 20 years old
- Richard Jefferson – New Jersey Nets – 24 years old
- Shawn Marion – Phoenix Suns – 26 years old
I know I talked about names in the point guard section, but this position is all about nicknames.
For the 1988 team, you have two absolutely awesome nicknames, “Thunder” Dan Majerle and the “Plastic Man” Stacey Augmon. We’re talking truly elite nicknames here, people. With the possible exception of “The Admiral,” (more on him in a bit) these are the best two nicknames on either of these teams.
Anthony’s nickname is merely a shortening of his first name (boring), and Jefferson doesn’t even have a nickname that I’m aware of (unless you count calling him “R.J.,” which is as lame as every athlete going by their first initial and a shortening of their last name, a la C-Webb).
Marion has a respectable nickname – “Matrix” – but that’s too little for me. Plus, his jumpshot remains the ugliest I have ever seen.
- The Verdict: Advantage – 1988
1988 Team Power Forwards:
- Charles Smith (the other one) – Pittsburgh – 23 years old
- J.R. Reid – North Carolina – 20 years old
- Danny Manning – Kansas – 22 years old
2004 Team Power Forwards:
- Carlos Boozer – Utah Jazz – 22 years old
- Lamar Odom – L.A. Lakers – 24 years old
- Amare Stoudemire – Phoenix Suns – 21 years old
- Emeka Okafor – Charlotte Bobcats – 21 years old
From a basketball standpoint, you could argue that Danny Manning, fresh off a stellar NCAA tourney run with the Jayhawks, was as good as any of the players on the 2004 team at their respective ages. But as you’ve surely noticed by now, that has no bearing on my choice for the best team.
For the collegians, I’ll go over the most prominent things I remember about each guy over the course of their careers:
Charles Smith – This sequence:
J.R. Reid’s Haircut:
Danny Manning’s Knees:
As for the 2004 guys, I think of the following:
Carlos Boozer’s spray painted hair:
Lamar Odom’s Wife:
Amare Stoudemire’s Hand and Knees:
Emeka Okafor’s contract: 6 years, $72 million. No picture necessary.
This one is simple – the clear advantage is to the freak show that is the 2004 power forward unit.
- The Verdict: Advantage – 2004
1988 Team Center:
- David Robinson – Navy – 23 years old
2004 Team Center:
- Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs – 28 years old
As a Spurs fan, this is a treat. These are my two favorite players ever, and choosing won’t be easy. Since we’re all square so far in this sham of a breakdown, this one is going to decide it.
Robinson was an exceedingly nice guy, model human being, freakish athlete, and respected serviceman. Duncan was perhaps the greatest power forward ever (though he played center on the ’04 team and pretty much has for the Spurs since then as well) and was a competitive swimmer before getting into basketball as a youngster.
“The Admiral” brings a spectacular nickname, membership on the amazing 1992 “Dream Team,” a 71-point game, and an embarrassing playoff series spent being demolished by Hakeem Olajuwon.
Duncan brings a bunch of nerdiness – Dungeons & Dragons, sword collecting, video games and a Merlin tattoo - 4 rings, a couple MVPs, and the distinction of being a television ratings killer when leading his team to titles.
This really is a tough one, but Duncan has to be the pick here. He was one of the few actual bright spots basketball-wise on that 2004 disaster of a team, and he’s still plugging away in search of championship number five.
- The Verdict: Advantage – 2004
If you’re still with me, you’re either interested in making fun of the shortcomings of a couple of teams or you’re severely confused about all of this.
The 1988 amateur Olympic team had many things to be proud of – nicknames like “Bimbo,” the “Plastic Man,” “Thunder” Dan, and “The Admiral.” They had some dudes I hadn’t even heard of, some dudes I’ll probably never hear of again, and some guys who went on to have productive NBA careers (or Hall of Famer in the case of Robinson).
In the end, though, it just wasn’t enough to compete with head tattoos, 38% shooters, superteam engineers, spray-on hair, mangled hands, reality shows, and embarrassing on-court play.
I hereby declare the 2004 USA Men’s Basketball Team – winners of the coveted bronze medal – the greatest bronze medal-winning U.S. team of all time!