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Starkey: No beating original Dream Team

| Sunday, July 22, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
REUTERS
Kobe Bryant reacts during an Olympic men's exhibition basketball game between the U.S. and Great Britain on Thursday, July 19, 2012, at M.E.N Arena in Manchester, England. (Reuters)

Kobe Bryant's out of his mind. This “Dream Team” is not better than the 1992 original. Not even comparable, actually.

Kobe's team — which really is LeBron James' team — features freakish athleticism and enough point guards to fill a Greyhound. But it only has one quality, veteran interior defender in Tyson Chandler.

The real Dream Team would have been smart enough to exploit that fatal weakness. It was stocked with genius basketball IQs. Not that you'd need to be a great thinker to know to feed Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson — all still in their 20's then — a steady diet of basketballs on the block.

Those four would have systematically taken apart this year's group. They would have been drooling at the prospect of posting up Kevin Love or Anthony Davis.

Michael Jordan was pretty good, too. Jordan and Scottie Pippen were in their primes (Jordan was 29, Pippen 26) and might have been the best perimeter defensive tandem in NBA history. Jordan, remember, still was four titles shy of his final tally.

So, yes, the original Dream Team would have taught these guys a lesson or two.

It still can, if Kobe & Co. only pay attention to history.

Lesson 1: The Dream Team proved that even the biggest stars can put their massive egos aside and play as a unit. That process is expertly depicted in the NBA Films documentary “The Dream Team,” which recently aired to rave reviews on NBA TV.

One of the Dream Team's first orders of business was to establish precisely whose team it was — Jordan's or Magic Johnson's. The film shows how the two butted heads, mostly in passive-aggressive fashion, before a dramatic scrimmage showdown in Monte Carlo forced Magic to step aside and admit the obvious: Jordan was king.

Once the team bonded, it decided that winning wasn't enough.

“We wanted to do it the right way,” Chris Mullin says in the film. “We shared the basketball.” Lesson 2: Anybody can lose, especially in a one-game scenario. Some on this year's team already know as much, first-hand, because they were part of the 2004 U.S. team in Athens, which lost to Argentina in the medal round and settled for bronze. But a reminder never hurts.

The original Dream Team lost the first time it played a real opponent, in a scrimmage against a team of college all-stars.

Dion Cocoros, an executive producer of “The Dream Team,” says footage of the scrimmage — which was off-limits to the media — was uncovered in the USA Basketball archives, where it had been sitting for 20 years.

Cocoros was amazed as he watched Bobby Hurley, Allan Houston and Chris Webber run roughshod over the greatest collection of NBA talent ever assembled.

“They all kind of really took it to them,” Cocoros told me in a phone conversation Friday. “As Magic, Karl Malone and the other guys said, it was a wake-up call. It got them to realize they couldn't just assume they were going to win.” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, an assistant to Chuck Daly with the Dream Team, says in the documentary that Daly “threw the game” by making no adjustments and limiting Jordan's minutes. He said Daly wanted to make certain the Dream Team knew it was vulnerable.

Still, you figure the NBA guys should have won handily.

“Coach K is obviously very loyal to Chuck, and Chuck isn't around to talk about it anymore,” Cocoros said. “Nobody else had (Coach K's) spin on it, but there was tape to back up some of his points.” Whatever the case, Jordan & Co. crushed the college kids in the rematch and never lost again.

The ironic part of the Dream Team story is that while the team was put together to prevent more international losses, it also made those losses more likely by spawning basketball prodigies all over Europe. One was Argentina's Manu Ginobili, who destroyed the U.S. team in ‘04.

“The Dream Team opened the door to some of the international stars in the NBA,” Cocoros said. “Some of these guys wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Dream Team. They definitely spread the message of great basketball all over the world.” This year's team would be wise to heed the message: Establish a leader, set aside the egos, share the ball, play smart.

Of course, even then, winning isn't guaranteed, because the game has become so ingrained all over the planet and played at such a high level.

The Dream Team's legacy lives on.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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