Here we go, the finals of the Speak Easy Tournament of Champions aka Dream Team Showdown is finally upon us. It has all the makings of a classic heavy weight fight with two worthy opponents staring each other down from across the ring. On one side in the white jerseys with blue and red trim you have The Dream Team, an unrivaled champion who won the Gold medal in dominating fashion and had time to stop for pictures along the way. In the other corner you have the Small Ball 156 team, or the 2012 USA Basketball team, who despite having no real big men dominated the competition and won the gold medal in London 2012.
I think everyone in their mother has weighed in on who would win this game ever since Kobe made that bold proclamation earlier in the summer, with most people believing that the Dream Team would completely dominate Small Ball 156. Yet it all comes down to a few things, mostly people’s belief in which era of basketball was actually better. The old timers say the game was much harder back then, they did not call all these hand checking and touch fouls, and people actually played defense. While the young bucks claim the athletes are now bigger, stronger, faster and the game has evolved into something much more athletic. They claim those old guys would not be able to keep up. Either way you look at it, there is one thing that everyone should be able to agree on and that is the fact that the competition the Dream Team faced during their run is nowhere near the level this year’s team faced. Back then the teams were scared to lace’em up against the Dream Team, much less challenge them. So their performances at the Olympics should be washed out. There is no comparing the Croatia team that Dream Team beat in ‘92 to the Spanish team today. Regardless, it really comes down to a question of eras, which one was better and which players were better.
Lucky for us, we did not have to compare, we had them playing each other for our very own entertainment. So here is how the 2012 team pulled the upset of a lifetime against the fabled Dream Team (most should know that it was not their first lost, they lost to a team of college players in the warm up games).
1. Their size did not matter that much. Robinson and Ewing were effective, however they did not provide as much of an advantage as most would have thought. Chandler and Love did a great job of defending Robinson and James was able to handle Ewing for the most part, plus he got into early foul trouble because he could not stay in front of ‘Bron on the other end of the court.
2. Charles Barkley would be average at best in today’s game. He was ineffective all game long and his size and style hurt him in the game. I will go as far as to say that Barkley would be an extremely average player in the current NBA, his skill set and size do not translate. He got by with average athleticism and using his body extremely well. Now a days he is just not as effective, he’s essentially 6’5″.
3. Magic and Bird don’t really count. They were hall of famers and some of the greatest ever, but Bird’s back was worse than Forrest Gump’s and Magic had not played in two years. They were great names, and could contribute sparingly but not enough to really affect the game.
4. No one could guard Kevin Durant. While the other guys did the dirty work, rebounding, defending, and passing, Durant did what he was built to do, score. I honestly do not think the rest of his game will ever catch up with his scoring ability but it does not need too. He was built for this, it comes too easy for him, he is like a great white shark, the perfect machine, never sleeps…just keeps swimming and hunting. That is what Durant is, a scoring machine. His 6’10” frame (because let’s be honest he is almost 6’11” not the 6’9″ they list him at) allows him to shoot over anyone that is quick enough to stay in front of him and he is too fast for any one with the height to match up with him. You think Barkley could take Durant? Maybe Pippen would give him problems, with his length and tenacity, but once he gets hot it’s game over.
5. Chris Paul cemented himself as one of the top point guards. His control and poise is unrivaled. He is a bigger, stronger, faster John Stockton. He is a true pass first point guard and understands the game, what the situation calls for and exactly what to do at all the right times. The Dream Team could not match up against him.
Notice I did not mention Kobe, Lebron, or Jordan once in the reason why Small Ball 156 pulled the upset. That’s because Kobe was a non-factor, Coach K FINALLY realized that he has no place on the court with this team (and this is no way related to what just happened in the real life gold medal game… ). Let go ahead and say it, Kobe is not the same player he used to be. He has tons of miles on the tread and he still plays the game with the same mentality as a 20 something player. Instead of him learning his lesson, he keeps getting bailed out. I mean he single shot the Lakers out of the last two playoff series, playing terrible down the stretch and non-stop hero ball. But still he gets a pass, he is called tough, he is beyond clutch. WRONG, he is not!! He is not the reason they won their last championships. Against the Celtics in 2010 he shot 6 for 24!!! Nearly costing them the game on several occasions, who hit the big shot in game 7? Ron Artest and then Sasha Vujacic hit clutch free throws…. So I guess I am tired of Kobe’s hero ball and everyone loving him for it. First off, he is single-handedly the biggest rip off artist the game has ever known. NOTHING in his game is his own, from his mannerisms (Jordan), to his pump fake (Iceman), to everything else in his offensive game he has stolen. He is great, but I would probably say that he could be one of the most over-rated players of our time. So luckily for us he was clubbed in the parking lot before the game, because I did not need him ruining the upset chances with one of those Kobe games were he scores 26 on 8-29 shooting, no assist, and 4 rebounds.
So with that it comes down to Jordan, who at the time was coming off his second title and was on the top of the world. He will always be one of the most mentally tough individuals ever and the greatest of all time, YET at this time he was not those things yet! It’s still ‘92 and he still had some things to learn. He was not the force on the defensive end just quite yet. His post moves were still developing into the unstoppable-ness they eventually came to be. But none of that was there yet, still an amazing basketball player, but not the complete legacy that we look at today. So while he would be extremely effective, I think he would run into some problems against Iggy, or James, or Melo (if he tried to play D). He had an effective game, yet not the complete difference maker that you would have expected.
Lastly we have to look at Lebron, who, with the exception of Skip Bayless, has everyone realizing just how good he really can be. Skip still wants him to be Jordan, play hero ball and take all the shots, be selfish, and basically be something that he is not. He still knocks the guy no matter what he does, to the point now that it is just getting ridiculous (example: First triple double in the Olympic history…Skip’s response: triple doubles are overrated, he needed to score more). While Skip might not have figured it out, the rest of us, including Lebron, have. He is going to be Lebron James, which is the most athletically gifted player ever to lace it up. Give me all you want about how Wilt was 7 foot and ran hurdles in college. There has never been another athlete on Lebron’s level. He is 6’8″ 250-270 and moves faster than just about everybody else on the court. He has finally realized all the things he can do on the court, realized that there is no time ever he should really settle for a jump shot, ‘cause you cannot stop him when he drives to the basket. Not only that, add to that fact that he sees the game so much better than just about everyone else. You have this Magic, Bird, hybrid in an other-worldly athletic body. Now he has the confidence to close. During this past Olympics, whenever someone started to get close, Lebron closed. Now it only happened twice, but 10 points down the stretch against Lithuania and then a big dunk and dagger three in the gold medal game is exactly what the team needed. That is why Small Ball 1956 won, because their best player, James, has figured out exactly what the team needs him to do and he provides it in spades. It might not always be scoring, for someone like Skip, who thinks that is all that matters, his contributions usually go unnoticed. As for the talk about how he would not be mentally tough enough to handle all of Jordan’s trash talking and that he would fade if pushed emotionally, ask the Celtics how weak he is mentally. They thought they had him beaten as well…and we all know how that turned out.