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Dreamers Die Hard
Phil Taylor
May 08, 2000
Eight years after Barcelona, the active members of the original Dream Team are still going strong—and teaching their younger counterparts what it takes to succeed in the playoffs
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May 08, 2000

Dreamers Die Hard

Eight years after Barcelona, the active members of the original Dream Team are still going strong—and teaching their younger counterparts what it takes to succeed in the playoffs

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Old School In Session
The six pros on the original Dream Team who are still playing in the NBA (average age: 35.8) outshot, outscored and outrebounded the current Dream Teamers (average age: 27.0) in the first week of the postseason. Here are their respective stats through Sunday's games.

PER GAME AVERAGES

FG%

3-PT.%

FT%

POINTS

REBOUNDS

ASSISTS

1992 Dream Team

47.1%

56.0%

79.2%

18.9

7.5

3.6

Active list: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton

PER GAME AVERAGES

FG%

3-PT.%

FTO

POINTS

REBOUNDS

ASSISTS

2000 Dream Team

42.1%

37.7%

80.0%

18.2

6.8

3.8

Active list: Ray Allen, Vin Baker, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Grant Hill, Allan Houston, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Steve Smith

When the original Dream Team was training in Monte Carlo for the 1992 Olympics, its members were invited by Prince Rainier to a state dinner, which required a session to practice proper behavior for the occasion. The players were told, for instance, that when the prince finished his meal, they were to put their forks down as well. Charles Barkley—surprise!—wasn't inclined to adopt that custom. Recalls Dream Teammate Karl Malone, "Charles said, 'I'm not going to stop eating just because somebody else is full.' "

Barkley is one of five members of that team who have since retired ( Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are the others), and they would no doubt be proud of the active alumni. Despite their advancing years, original Dream Team members Malone, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton spent the first week of the postseason outplaying the members of the latest Dream Team and proving a point: They're as hungry as ever and won't put their forks down until they're good and ready.

As many of the young Dream Teamers struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, their Olympic forebears showed that in the playoffs, an outrageous vertical leap and a killer crossover are no substitutes for wisdom and experience. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant of the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers, neither of whom is bound for the 2000 Games—and how badly do you suppose the USA Basketball selection committee wishes it had chosen Bryant and persuaded O'Neal to play in Australia?—may see to it that youth is eventually served, but the early postseason returns showed that when it comes to Dream Teams, new is not necessarily improved.

Malone, 36, set the tone by scoring 50 points for the Utah Jazz in the opening game of their series against the Seattle SuperSonics, which the Jazz led 2-1 at week's end. Malone's longtime partner, Stockton, 38, was masterly at point guard in Game 2, with 21 points and 11 assists. Pippen, 34, took charge in exactly the way the Portland Trail Blazers envisioned when they acquired him from the Houston Rockets last summer; he showed off his dazzling all-around floor game in leading the Blazers to a 2-1 edge over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ewing, 37, was an indispensable inside force for the New York Knicks, who swept the Toronto Raptors and demonstrated to Raptors forward Vince Carter that All-Star weekend may be for emerging stars, but the playoffs are for established ones: Through Sunday the Knicks were 11-3 over the past two postseasons with Ewing in the lineup and 4-5 without him. "Our motto is, Whatever it takes, and that's Patrick," says New York point guard Chris Childs. "He wants it in the worst way. He's going to get calls other guys don't get. He's going to knock down his free throws. No question we need his post-up play."

Finally, after the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 1 to the Phoenix Suns, the Spurs turned to Robinson, 34, to make up for the absence of last year's playoff MVP, the injured Tim Duncan, and Robinson responded with 25 points and 15 rebounds in an 85-70 Spurs win that evened the series. The Admiral could hardly be blamed for San Antonio's 2-1 deficit at week's end; in the Spurs' 101-94 loss at Phoenix last Saturday, he poured in 37 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

As the absurdly elongated first round dragged on through its second weekend, one early indicator of playoff success was to have an original Dream Teamer in the locker room, regardless of his capacity. The Indiana Pacers, who took a 2-1 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks with a 109-96 win last Saturday, even benefited from original Dream Team karma, with little-used Chris Mullin, 36, on the bench and Bird as coach. Robinson was the only gold medal oldie whose team trailed in a series (if you discount forward Christian Laettner of the Detroit Pistons, who were swept by the Miami Heat; Laettner, the only collegian on the 1992 team, spent more time carrying his teammates' luggage than playing in Barcelona).

The '92 set was so impressive that you had to wonder if the U.S. has the right roster for September in Sydney. All the infirmities that are supposed to plague the aging attached themselves instead to the young guns. Aches and pains? Duncan, Heat point guard Tim Hardaway, Pistons forward Grant Hill and Suns point guard Jason Kidd were all forced to the sidelines with leg or foot injuries. Memory lapses? Seattle forward Vin Baker, who averaged 11.7 points and 4.6 turnovers in the first three games of the Utah series, forgot how to play like the All-Star he was, looking tentative and bewildered as Sonics fans booed him at Key Arena and roasted him on talk radio. Bad vision? Carter shot an astigmatic 3 for 20 and 5 for 17 in Games 1 and 3, respectively. "You can read about the level of play in the playoffs, and guys can tell you about it," says Carter, "but you really have to experience it."

The contrast between Dream Teamers past and present accentuated the NBA's dilemma: The new players may be the future, but the original ones refuse to just live in the past. "The young guys will take over eventually, but we're not going to pass the torch," Malone says. "They're going to have to take it." Dream Team I members no longer produce many of the acrobatics that earn a place on the nightly highlight shows—and most, like Ewing, Malone and Stockton, never did. They aren't the players who will bring new fans to the game, so their presence tends to be taken for granted by the league's marketing machine, which prefers flashier types. The older stars are like comfortable pieces of furniture: valued but moved into less prominent areas to make room for the newer, showier pieces.

It's symbolic that Nike commercials featuring animated, rapping versions of Duncan, Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett and Sacramento Kings point guard Jason Williams have been airing during the playoffs although none of those players have been making a major impact, and a Gatorade spot featuring Carter going one-on-one with a raptor has also been in heavy rotation. It's likely that those ads will have a longer postseason life than the players will. "I think the young guys deserve to be promoted when they do some things, [but] when they're not in the playoffs, they're not doing anything," Robinson says. "Make them earn that [superstar status] a little bit. You get all the pressure, then you get all the accolades."

The original Dream Teamers won't win any dunk contests, but they're not wheezing senior citizens surviving solely on guile, either. Some, like Malone, work out maniacally to maintain their physical gifts, while others, like Ewing, work just as hard to recover from injuries and overcome the wear and tear on their bodies. Mullin is the only one of the six active players whose game has significantly deteriorated. Watching Malone effortlessly go baseline to baseline in the Seattle series while Baker, eight years his junior, labors to do the same makes it seem as if their ages have been reversed.

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