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Magic Johnson discusses Dream Team's superiority to Redeem Team

August 4, 2011 |  3:55 pm

The nostalgia swept over Magic Johnson so much that he couldn't sit still.

Now, it doesn't take much for Johnson to get excited. He's practically worn a smile on his face his whole life. But this was something else. After The Times' Bill Plaschke asked him about the 1992 Dream Team's competitive scrimmages during practice, Johnson leapt out of his chair and began demonstrating the moves Michael Jordan used during those intense sessions. 

In frame-by-frame detail, Johnson imitated Jordan sticking out his tongue, adjusting his shot in mid-air to avoid being blocked by David Robinson and delivering a 360-degree-spin dunk, a sequence that Johnson said was the "greatest shot I have ever seen." He also told that story to bolster his argument about why the 2008 Redeem Team would have no shot against the Dream Team.

"When you think about the Olympics and the Dream Team, I have to throw it to you," Johnson said. "Kobe [Bryant] and them won by 22 points. Ehh, 22 points? We won by an average of 44 points. So when they want to step up to that, you tell them we'll be waiting on them."

Johnson is actually selling the Dream Team short -- it beat opponents by an average of 45.8 points. That included a 155-77 victory over Puerto Rico in the quarterfinal, a 127-76 pounding of Lithuania in the semifinals and a 117-85 win over Croatia in the gold-medal game. Meanwhile, the Redeem Team beat opponents by 27.9 points per game

But that's not the measure that highly regarded NBA writer Jack MacCallum of Sports Illustrated uses when explaining why the Dream Team is superior, considering there's now more NBA-caliber talent in international basketball. He simply looks at the talent.

In addition to Jordan's playmaking abilities on offense, he applied full-court pressure that usually resulted in a turnover, fastbreak layup or both, a reason Larry Bird cited in Jackie MacMullan's book "When the Game Was Ours" as the single biggest reason the U.S. dominated. Bryant filled that role with the Redeem Team, but LeBron James, McCallum argues, proved the better overall player.

The Dream Team also had a size advantage featuring Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley versus the Redeem Team's Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. And even if the 2008 team boasted more point guard depth (Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Deron Williams), the Dream Team had plenty of options to make up John Stockton's limitations from a leg injury. Of course there was Johnson, who fulfilled his dream in the Olympics by firing a no-look pass to Bird in one of the games. But Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler could run the offense as well. 

The team proved so dominant with most of the team other than Bird and Johnson in their prime. So much so that Lakers author Roland Lazenby said in an interview last year that the Dream Team would beat the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, which featured Jerry West and Oscar Robertson and beat teams by an average of 42.4 points through eight games.

"I hate to do this because I give those pioneers their full respect," Lazenby said. "If you removed modern elements, the things that changed the game with weight lifting, modern training and the three-point shot, you remove all those factors and line up the competitive spirits, I think it's game on. ... It would be the meeting that drives the energy of basketball competition for years. But I would say if you threw them together, you would have to give the edge to '92 because of the experience level.

That's because in 1989, the International Basketball Federation voted to allow professionals to play, paving the way for the Dream Team. It was a team that left Coach Chuck Daly so giddy that he once compared his players to rock stars and expressed the hope that he wouldn't have to call a timeout. 

But Daly certainly played a role in those scrimmages. With the first two scrimmages ending in ties, Daly immediately stepped in and ended the game, because, as Johnson recalled, "You guys are playing so hard, somebody is going to get hurt." That's because in their eyes, Jordan, Johnson and Bird -- heck, everyone -- thought bragging rights for those matchups truly revealed who was superior.

"Everyday we would scrimmage against each other," Johnson said.  "Man, you talk about some of the greatest basketball I've ever played in or had been a part of, that was it."


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-- Mark Medina

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