Kobe Bryant has come under much scrutiny and been subjected to loads of abuse regarding his stated belief that the current NBA-fed 2012 USA Olympic basketball team could have beaten the 1992 Barcelona Olympics squad of legend.
Fact is, he's right. Those 1992 guys - most of them in or approaching their 50s now - would be giving away 20 years in age to the current team. It would be a blowout in favour of the 2012 team.
OK. Time to get serious. And while Bryant continues to backtrack and try to clarify, I'm not sure why. The fact is, he's right. At worst, his contention is open to argument.
Who's to say the current squad, if a time warp were possible, couldn't have beaten the 1992 squad? In a series or one game? We'll never know of course and other than having a fun speculative argument, the whole issue is essentially pointless. You can't compare eras, great players and so on. They're all great in and of their times and great teams and great players would be great in any era were it possible to place them there.
Which is why it's so absurd to make declarations such as Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player ever (anyone ever hear of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, etc.?) or Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever (er, anyone ever hear of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc.?). It usually depends on when you grew up. As Montreal Canadiens' Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden once said, the best era of sports is when you were 12 years old. No matter when that was.Yet people, perhaps naturally, tend to take offence when 'their' era is unfavourably compared to another.
Back to the Kobe-Dream Team controversy and why Kobe is by no means out of line. Just because the 1992 'Dream Team' ran the table does not mean it is the best team ever assembled (again, there is no such thing, or player), or impervious to criticism or reasoned analysis.
Let's consider some things:
Does it matter that the 1992 'Dream Team' features 11 basketball Hall of Famers and the current squad none? No, of course not. And the 1992 players are much more 'my' era than are those of 2012. But the 2012 guys are still playing; so none of them can possibly be in the Hall of Fame yet - that only comes upon retirement. Hence, a silly and as-yet impossible comparison to even attempt.
Does it matter that the 1992 tournament has been played and the 2012 one has just begun and there's no guarantee the U.S. will win? No. Were time travel possible, these teams - 1992 and 2012 - could compete at any time.
Now, some things that do matter and that most commentators seem to overlook:
The 1992 team faced essentially no competition. Team USA won every game by at least 30 points (often in arrogant/juvenile fashion, by the way), including a 32-point win over Croatia in the gold medal match.
BUT: Two countries that might have provided some real competition - Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union - had in 1991 broken up into various countries, including Croatia and Lithuania (we'll get to that in a minute). It's not the 1992 Dream Team's fault that happened, but the fact is Michael Jordan and friends faced less than top competition during an era when relatively few players from outside the U.S. played in the NBA or were exposed to NBA players. The NBA was not nearly the world league it is now.
But within just two Olympics, the world had caught up. I was in Syndey in 2000 on the night the NBA-powered USA team escaped with an 85-83 win over Lithuania (yeah, that small country once part of the broken-up USSR) in the semifinals and then beat France by just 10 points in the gold medal match where so much was made of Vince Carter's soaring dunk over a French player. Hey, it was just two points, when all was said and done.
By 2004 in Athens, Team USA could only manage a 3-2 won-lost record in group play and didn't even make the gold medal game, losing 89-81 to Argentina in the semis. Why? Well, same thing happened to the U.S. as happened to Canada in hockey: the rest of the world, once exposed to the professionals of the NBA and/or the NHL and indeed upon helping populate those professional leagues, caught up. The 'awe' factor was gone. Nobody should be surprised.
The U.S. rebounded to win the 2008 Olympics - as Canada rebounded to win assorted hockey tournaments including the Olympics - but never again will, for instance, Team USA be unopposed, or be able to send college stars to the Olympics as it did pre-1992 and expect to win, as Canada (with non-NHLers) found out in hockey many years before the U.S had the same experience.
So rather than criticizing Bryant, his critics should be praising him for understanding the reality of the situation.