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The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw
JACK MCCALLUM
July 02, 2012
The toughest competition faced by the best team in basketball history was, in fact, its own: at a closed scrimmage in Monaco between sides led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, the details of which remained a secret for nearly 20 years
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July 02, 2012

The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw

The toughest competition faced by the best team in basketball history was, in fact, its own: at a closed scrimmage in Monaco between sides led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, the details of which remained a secret for nearly 20 years

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If the gentleman from Italy—whose name nobody remembers—had it all to do over again, I'm sure he would toss the ball to his fellow referee, assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo, and proceed rapidly to the nearest exit of Stade Louis II, the all-purpose arena in the Fontvieille ward of Monaco. For soon he will become the unluckiest person in town, and that includes all those who are surrendering vast quantities of French francs at the tables.

He tosses the ball up between Ewing and Robinson, and Robinson taps it—on the way up, illegally—toward his own basket. Robinson's teammate on the Blue Team, Duke's Laettner, the only collegiate Dreamer, races the White Team's Pippen for the ball. Take note, for this is the first and last time in history that this sentence will be written: Laettner beats Pippen to the ball. Laettner sweeps it behind his back to his Blue teammate Barkley, who catches it, takes a couple of dribbles and knifes between the White Team's Jordan and Bird. Jordan grabs Barkley's wrist, the whistle blows, and Barkley makes the layup.

"Shoot the fouls, shoot the fouls," Chuck Daly yells, sounding like that character in Goodfellas, Jimmy Two Times. It's morning and almost no one is in the stands, but Daly is trying to install gamelike conditions because even the best of the best need a kick in the ass from time to time. As Jordan calls for a towel—it is extremely humid in the arena, and almost everyone is sweating off a little alcohol—Barkley makes the free throw.

Magic Johnson's Blue Team 3, Michael Jordan's White Team 0.

And so the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw gets under way.

About 12 hours earlier the U.S. had finished an exhibition game against France. It was awful. The players were still getting used to local conditions—meaning the steep fairways at the Monte Carlo Golf Club and the nocturnal bass beat at Jimmy'z—and even the seemingly inexhaustible Jordan was tired after walking 18 holes and arriving back at the Loews not long before the 8:30 p.m. tip-off. The Dream Team was sloppy and allowed France leads of 8--2 and 16--13 before it woke up and went on to win 111--71.

It didn't matter to the fans, though, who had gobbled up the 3,500 available tickets in a 15-minute box-office frenzy. The opposing team's guys, at least half a dozen of whom had brought cameras to the bench, were deemed heroic by dint of being slain. Happiest of all was the French coach, Francis Jordane. "He was very excited because he figured that his last name would give him special entrée to Michael," recalls Terry Lyons, the NBA's head of international public relations. "We took a photo, and sure enough, there is Jordane right next to Jordan, with his arm around him."

By breakfast this morning Daly had decided that his team had better beat itself up a little bit. The Dream Team had scrimmaged several times before this fateful day, a couple of the games ending in a diplomatic tie as Daly refused to allow overtime. He normally tried to divvy up the teams by conference, but on this day Drexler was nursing a minor injury and Stockton was still recovering from a fractured right fibula he had suffered in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Lord only knows how this morning would've gone had Drexler been available. Jordan had already taken it upon himself to torture the Glide in scrimmages, conjuring up the just-completed NBA Finals—in which Jordan's Bulls had beaten Drexler's Trail Blazers in six games—and taunting Drexler, "Stop me this time!"

So with two fewer Western players than Eastern players, and only two true guards (Magic and Jordan), Daly went with Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Chris Mullin and Laettner on the Blue Team against Jordan, Malone, Ewing, Pippen and Bird on the White.

The gym was all but locked down. The media were allowed in for only the last part of practice. A single cameraman, Pete Skorich, who was Chuck Daly's guy with the Pistons, videotaped the day. It was a closed universe, a secret little world: 10 of the best basketball players in the world going at each other. Daly had a message for them: "All you got now. All you got."

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