The Olympics are coming, and here to get us all giddy is the USA Men's Basketball Team. While it's been enjoyable to see the 12 men spending time together with "USA" written across their chests, one conversation has dominated much of the dialogue surrounding this team:
How does the 2012 team stack up against the legendary 1992 Dream Team?
The back-and-forth started off playfully, but as each player from the ’92 team has chimed in, it's started to feel like they’re just attempting to extend their Dream Team documentary buzz as long as possible. Really, they just sound like grumpy old men who are convinced they were the best that ever did it.
My vote: Let's stop comparing them to the Dream Team. Let's leave Michael, Magic, and Bird alone, and shift our focus to the important names. You know, like Charlie. And Averman. And Goldberg.
Yes — Team USA Hockey of the 1994 Junior Goodwill Games.
While cross-sport (and cross-age and cross-reality) comparisons are never perfect, 2012 Team USA is eerily similar to the squad that saved us from Icelandic colonization in D2: The Mighty Ducks. So similar that there’s a lot they could learn from the Ducks turned Team USA. If each Olympian acknowledges his hockey-playing doppelgänger, there's no doubt this team could be just as triumphant as coach Gordon Bombay's kids. I've never been more serious about anything.
Carmelo Anthony / Greg Goldberg
Descriptors that come to mind when thinking about Goldberg: chubby, loves food, lazy, surprisingly athletic, not the best but steps up when it counts. You can't tell me those aren't perfect ways to describe Carmelo Anthony. He’s not the most talented guy on Team USA, but he's a rock. Even though the ball will most likely not be in his hands should they ever need a last-second shot (much like the substitution of Goldberg for Julie "The Cat" on the last shoot-out), his presence cannot be overshadowed. It took Goldberg some time in D2 to come to grips with the fact that he wasn't "the man" like he was in the inaugural season. I'm sure Carmelo still thinks he's the best player out there, but he’s learned to be comfortable with the fact that there's a Durant and a James and a Bryant that can do things he simply can't. If he falls into this role (which he seemed fine with in last Thursday’s exhibition game), he should be one of the most important players on this team.
Kobe Bryant / Julie "The Cat" Gaffney
Kobe is so clutch that if he’d missed two games due to injury, was plagued by the flu, and had a cast on his face, he’d still make his way onto the court when the game’s on the line. If it ever comes down to the last shot, the ball will be in Kobe Bean Bryant's hands, and he’ll make the winning shot for the USA. Sound familiar?
Tyson Chandler / Fulton Reed and Dean Portman
This Team USA is a lot of things, but "tough" isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Sure, they're big and strong, but there's a slight edge they just lack. This was also true with our Ducks. That is until Fulton Reed and Dean Portman realized they shared a love of rock music and smashing people into the boards. Once they clicked and the "Bash Brothers" were born, they began doing whatever their team needed from its sole intimidators. Tyson doesn't have a bash brother on this team, which means he has to be both Fulton and Portman. It’s a lot to ask, but he's shown that he's willing to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team. He may enjoy flashing a smile, but a Tyson Chandler block followed by a Tyson Chandler scowl is enough to scare 90 percent of the international competition. I think he's up for the challenge.
Kevin Durant / Kenny Wu
On the surface, Durant and Wu have nothing in common. One is a small Asian figure-skater turned hockey player, and the other is a man-child who scores at will and loves his mom. This is true. However, if you look at the maturation process of Kenny Wu (mainly influenced by spending time with the Bash Brothers), you see him go from a quiet, meek boy to someone who will throw a bow and go "stick, gloves, shirt" on your face, and get in trouble to psych up his teammates. If there's any criticism of Durant, it's that he needs to hit the weights, get a little meaner, and make that full transition from a boy to a man. One can only hope Tyson Chandler rubs off on him a bit and we see Durant get in the mix instead of hanging out by the three-point line with his hands out. If this happens, he'll simply become perfect.
Anthony Davis / Russ Tyler
When Blake Griffin got hurt, the young wild card Anthony Davis got the call just a week after being drafted into the league that his teammates dominate. He has something to prove. The world has seen that he has skills, but those skills are raw and untested. Everyone's waiting to see if they can translate to the biggest of stages. When D2 got urban for 10 minutes and everyone played that street hockey game on the rooftop with trash barrels as goals and "Whoomp! There It Is" blaring in the background, the world got its first taste of the most iconic fictional shot in history — Russ Tyler's knucklepuck. The shot was so good that when the team needed an extra player, Charlie went to Coach Bombay and suggested that they pick up Russ. While he struggled to fit in initially, Russ eventually got his footing, and when he got that first shot off, it was clear that he belonged. Watching Anthony Davis in his first few minutes of court time against the Dominican Republic, he looked nervous and anxious to prove his worth. Then it happened. With the game winding down, he got the ball beyond the three-point line, shot it, and got fouled while making the three. Anthony Davis had just proven himself, and his teammates looked excited to have him around. I could be making this up, but I swore I heard Calipari yell:
THE UNIBROWWWWWW! NOOOOOOO!
Could just be this wacky imagination, though.
Kevin Love / Lester Averman
Here's the thing about Averman: He was quietly really good at hockey. He never got all the attention and was known as the class clown of the bunch, but he was really good. The first time the Ducks unleashed the "Flying V" in the Goodwill Games, it was led by Jesse Hall. Do you know who he passed it back to for the score?
Kevin Love is better at basketball than Averman is at hockey, but he still fills a similar role on Team USA. He's not the star, but he will quietly put up numbers every game without expecting any credit or praise. Is he constantly telling Coach K jokes on the bench? That's yet to be seen, but I hope it gets to the point that the Duke coach tells Kevin to go sit at the other end of the bench and shut up. That's my dream.
James Harden / Jesse Hall
Jesse Hall is kind of a punk and everyone knows that. After Harden's season of aggressively obvious flops, he might fight that billing too. Even with that said, there's no denying either's importance on the team (Don't forget, Jesse made his shot in the shootout against Iceland). Also, Harden has proven that he's a goober off the court, and a large part of me expects him and Kevin Love to spend some time wandering around London and getting themselves into trouble. You know, like Jesse and Averman that time:
Russell Westbrook / Luis Mendoza
This might be the best on-court comparison between the two teams. For both of these gentlemen, their greatest strength is their greatest flaw, and it's that they play their sport like 8-year-old boys that just ate all the Halloween candy. They have one speed — "Turbo R1 R1" — and while it sometimes results in spectacular flashes of athleticism, other times it ends with a bonehead play. Luis's inability to stop is like Russell's talent for getting steals and then launching missed dunks 30 feet in the air. They also come with a feeling that you have no idea what’s going to happen, and that couldn’t be more fun to watch.
Deron Williams / Dwayne Robertson
I've long thought that Deron Williams would be one of the league's best AND1 Mixtape players. He's fundamentally sound, but still has that "I want to embarrass you so bad that you never dare guard me, look at me, or even speak without raising your hand first" quality about him that you have to love. Unless you're guarding him. Deron's killer crossover (and the malice with which he performs it) is the basketball equivalent of Dwayne's stick handling. Yes, at times, his moves are for the betterment of the team, but mostly he's just trying to embarrass you with how easy it is.
Andre Iguodala / Guy Germaine & Connie Moreau
Sometimes you wonder how lovebirds Guy and Connie made it on the team. I mean, both could play hockey and both were OG Ducks from the beginning, but on the surface they seem borderline replaceable. I'm not saying that Iguodala fits this exact bill, but there's no doubt he snuck (albeit deservedly) onto Team USA. The best thing about him is that he's solid, just like Guy and Connie. I don't know how you pulled this off, Andre, but you did it. Congrats, man.
Chris Paul / Charlie Conway
Chris Paul is the point guard and leader of Team USA, regardless of how many minutes he plays. Kobe may have more seniority, LeBron may be the most dominant, and Durant may score the most points, but this is Chris Paul's team. He's been the emotional epicenter of every team he's played for since high school, and that doesn't change now that he's surrounded by most of the best players in the world. His "team first, Chris second" mentality is the mirror image of the role Charlie Conway had on his Team USA. He's the consummate leader — giving up his spot to another player, not because he was hurt but because in Conway’s mind, the other kid was better. People claim to be unselfish at their craft, but few actually live that life like Paul and Conway. Charlie Conway and Chris Paul are America. I'm proud to share a nation with them.
LeBron James / Adam Banks
LeBron James and Adam Banks are both the most talented player on their respective teams. One could leave the comparison at that, but it's so much deeper. When Banks was forced to go from being a Hawk to a Duck in the original Mighty Ducks, his new teammates (especially Jesse) took to calling him a "cake eater.” Despite all his talent, he was easy to hate. In D2, he’s cool with everyone because they're all Americans, but when he was the only one who made varsity in D3, the Banks hate was back.
This up and down, love-hate relationship couldn't be more LeBron James. We loved him in high school and his early years in Cleveland, and thought he was a terrorist when he left for Dade County in his cake-eater moment. Now that he's a champion, his smiles make us smile again. Still, no matter if they're in our good or bad graces, everyone has to admit that they both play their sports so much better than everyone around.
Team USA will probably go through their first few opponents the way Bombay's boys handled Trinidad and Tobago, but the time may come when they reach a real foe in the finals. If that foe is Spain, there is no denying that the Gasol brothers are a collective Gunnar Stahl. It could go down to the last second, but at least we all know Coach K will put in Kobe for 'Melo, securing a victory for the Good Guys. I just hope the full story plays out the way it's supposed to and the Gasols want to shake our hands before our boys find a campfire in downtown London for the post-victory sing-a-long.
I can't wait to watch this fever dream play out.