When the 1992 Dream Team finally played 2012’s Team USA, the first bucket was a wide-open 3 drained by “Sir” Charles Barkley. The second bucket came after Michael Jordan was fed on a fast break by Magic Johnson, following a missed Kobe Bryant jump shot. Jordan caught the ball, dribbled it between his legs and then behind his back while he side-stepped around Tyson Chandler and elevated several feet into the air for a one-handed windmill that started on his hip.
Larry Bird was Dream Team’s starting small forward and guarded Kevin Durant, which was a mistake. In the opening minutes, Durant scored seven of his team’s first nine points. Between free throws and jukey jumpers from Jordan, the Dream Team got long-range buckets from Bird and Clyde Drexler. Barkley was lit up in the post by LeBron James, who started at power forward on Team USA.
Then the secret weapon was deployed.
Magic Johnson cannot guard Russell Westbrook, but the Lakers great was too proud to admit it. Magic was 32 when he played for the Dream Team; Westbrook is 23, and a transcendent athlete. Again and again, Westbrook would blast by Magic for floaters and layups. Westbrook attacked every time he got the ball, leaving a frustrated Magic bewildered, shaking his head.
There were a lot of free throws in the first half, and a lot of fouls. John Stockton ran a pick and roll with David “The Admiral” Robinson that resulted in a huge, crazy slam. The score at halftime was 33-32 Team USA, which took the lead on a rebound-and-tip-in by Kevin Love off a Carmelo Anthony miss with one second left.
Barkley opened the second half with a straight-on 3 from the end of the key. A congested fast break of bumping bodies nonetheless finished with an alley-oop from Magic to Jordan, who two-hand flushed over a hopeless Chris Paul. Paul then, on the next play, hooked up with his old Hornets teammate Chandler for a reverse alley-oop that left Barkley staring skyward with his mouth wide open.
Magic had a terrible time staying in front of Team USA’s point guards. Paul blew by him to initiate an offense that turned into scores by teammates, rather than scoring himself like Westbrook. Magic on offense, though, bullied Paul easily. Magic worked him toward the bucket and lofted up a layup before help defenders could close in. Old-man game, run perfectly.
Jordan, meanwhile, switched to decoy on offense for a few plays, while keeping Kobe shackled with straightjacket defense. Kobe was actually getting pissed, especially after a fading jumper was blocked by the shorter Jordan. Regardless, Scottie Pippen’s best defense was not enough to prevent Durant keeping from scoring, so the game remained within just a couple points in the third quarter.
The biggest dunk of this Mount-Olympus showdown wasn’t Jordan’s crazy early Airness slam, but actually a one-handed spike from well above the rim by Ewing, roaring untouched through the key on a pick-and-roll with John Stockton.
No, wait. There’s a Sprite Dunk-O-Meter that comes up after huge slams. According to that authority, a dunk by Westbrook at the beginning of the fourth quarter was actually bigger than Ewing’s, 88 to 82. Westrook put his whole forearm through the hoop and hooked his elbow around the rim, to show off and buy more airtime.
Jordan had the two big dunks by that point, but his scoring plays were mostly non-flashy. Surgical. A short fadeaway. A layup in traffic. He would intermittently score four points in a row during the third and fourth quarter. Tough runners were hoisted by Jordan as he bounced off Kobe’s chest.
Kobe had a brutal game, but with 1:15 left and his team down four points, he started sprinting around teammates’ screens and took a pass at the wing with Pippen swooping in to stop him. Kobe twisted, skipped, and threw up a suicidal layup that missed wildly because Barkley meteored off the weak-side to meet him. The midair hit was so hard it looked dirty and spiteful. Kobe got up, strolled to the line, and dropped free throws.
Lead cut to two, Pippen handled the ball. He started backing down Durant at the 3-point line while Barkley and Robinson collided with their defenders like wrecking balls swinging back and forth beneath the basket. They moshed to get each other open off vicious screens, and it worked. Pippen zipped a one-handed rocket pass through a tiny window where Robinson could make the catch. The resulting dunk registered only a 42 on the Dunk-O-Meter, but it was huge for the Dream Team, which led 61-57 with 1:05 remaining.
Barkley was on LeBron, who dribbled from behind the 3-point line. LeBron passed off to Durant, who burst around Pippen only to have his tear-drop shot attempt sent back by Robinson, flying in for the block from what seemed like seven feet away. The Admiral’s block went out of bounds off a Team USA player, so it belonged to the Dream Team.
An eight-second violation by Magic! He was dribbling the ball up too slowly, pointing around while the crowd went nuts! He turned toward the referee, incredulous. Durant then hit a fadeaway from only a couple feet away, a rainbow that soared lightly over Pippen’s outstretched hand and nestled into the nylon net. Two-point game. Twenty-nine seconds left.
Durant steals the inbound! What has happened to Dream Team!? Durant didn’t run back on defense after he scored, and Robinson threw it right to him! Robinson didn’t even see him!
The ball finds LeBron, who attacks and gets fouled far from the hoop by Magic. LeBron goes to the free-throw line with 19 seconds left and his team down two points.
Clang. “Can’t get the first one to drop,” says announcer Kevin Harlan.
Clang. “So he comes up empty, missing both.”
Magic was fouled immediately and hit one of two shots, making it 62-59 with 15 seconds left. Kobe got the ball on the inbound and crossed half court, where Jordan jabbed and almost made a steal. In the ensuing scramble it was somehow Kobe who plucked the bouncing ball up off the floor. He immediately lifted and fired over a shocked Jordan. The shot from eight feet away swished through to make the game 62-61 with 10 seconds left.
Jordan fought through a Kobe hold to receive the inbound pass from Robinson. Jordan grabbed it, squeezed it like a football player desperate not to fumble, and got slapped hard on his arms by Kobe. With 8.8 seconds left and his team up one point, Jordan calmly hit both free throws.
Magic smothered Paul, as Dream Team played strictly to prevent a 3. Paul lobbed the ball to LeBron, who was underneath the basket with Barkley and easily elevated to dunk the alley-oop pass. With two seconds left, Dream Team led 64-63. Jordan received the ball and ran with it. Kobe grabbed him but too late. The buzzer went off. The game was over. Dream Team won by one point.
Kevin Durant led Team USA with 13 points. In five minutes, Russell Westbrook scored 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He had to be mad afterward over not playing more in the second half. Kobe scored 10 points and was probably inconsolable in the post-game locker room. LeBron was 3-for-6 with eight points. He was 2-for-4 on free throws.
Stockton scored five points and had three assists in six minutes. Magic had five points and six assists. Barkley was the only Dream Teamer besides Jordan in double figures, with 10 points. He and Robinson each had five rebounds. Robinson’s three blocks led all players.
Jordan was the player of the game, with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting.
Christian Laettner did not play.
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