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You guys aren't going to believe this, but Kobe Bryant thinks that a team that features him could beat a team that doesn't feature him. No, I know — crazy, right?
During a break in Team USA's Las Vegas training camp, where the U.S. men's national basketball team is scrimmaging with its young counterparts on the Select Team and preparing to vie for gold in a little over two weeks at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Bryant was asked how he thought this year's model would fare against the 1992 squad, better known as the "Dream Team," that first pitted American professional basketball players against global competition.
[ Photos: USA Men's Basketball National Team roster ]
Featuring an array of all-time talent unmatched in the history of the game, the Dream Team roundly mopped the floor with their opponents in Barcelona, stampeding to a gold medal by an average margin of victory of 44 points per game. Their unquestioned, unparalleled dominance has led many to refer to that '92 squad, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, as the greatest team ever assembled in any sport.
Unsurprisingly, Kobe thinks his guys could take 'em.
Faced with the question, the Los Angeles Lakers star — renowned for both the athletic brilliance and competitive fire that have made him a 14-time NBA All-Star, five-time NBA champion and the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history — didn't miss a beat.
[ Photos: No-lympians: NBA pros not playing in London ]
"Well, just from a basketball standpoint, they obviously have a lot more size than we do — you know, with [David] Robinson and [Patrick] Ewing and [Karl] Malone and those guys," Bryant said. "But they were also — some of those wing players — were also a lot older, at kind of the end of their careers. We have just a bunch of young racehorses, guys that are eager to compete.
"So I don't know," Bryant continued, the trace of a smile beginning to play its way across his face. "It'd be a tough one, but I think we'd pull it out."
The immediate response to this, predictably, has largely been to call Kobe's claim ridiculous. After months spent very justifiably feting the Dream Team in celebration of its 20th anniversary, folks have a hard time believing that Bryant's still in touch with his senses if he thinks that this 2012 squad would be able to hang with a roster that featured not only the Hall of Fame frontcourt players he mentioned, but also Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen and, of course, Michael Jordan.
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Give '12 healthy versions of Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh, and maybe ... nah, most folks would still pencil '92 in for a cakewalk. And sure, maybe it is ridiculous.
But maybe it isn't.
Maybe the clear depth advantage up front gets mitigated somewhat by the relentless slashing of '12 point guards like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams — who you'd have to believe a 30-year-old John Stockton and a 32-year-old, step-slow, injured Magic Johnson would have a tough time staying in front of — getting to the rim, banging those bigs, getting them into foul trouble and getting to the line some. Maybe Malone and Barkley aren't quite so comfortable chasing around younger, quicker, more perimeter-oriented international fours like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, and maybe the four-spot's not quite as much of a whitewash as it seems.
[ Video: Blake Griffin's nifty trick dunk ]
Maybe those confident, amazing elder statesman wings Bryant referred to wouldn't have deigned to play inside out — seriously, can you see MJ thinking the best way to play it would be to let Patrick Ewing go to work on Tyson Chandler? — and maybe that wouldn't be the best course of action. Maybe we'd all pay our last dollar to watch Pippen try to guard Kevin Durant, and maybe he couldn't always, or LeBron James try to guard Jordan, and maybe he could sometimes. And maybe in the biggest game he'd ever see, Kobe would close like he did in the gold medal game against Spain in Beijing back in 2008.
Maybe. Maybe not. I know one thing for sure: Team USA 2012 damn sure isn't Team Croatia 1992. Suggesting it'd be ridiculous for this crew to hang with a team that, after all, did once lose to a college squad helmed by Chris Webber and Bobby Hurley, seems a bit ridiculous in and of itself.
Whichever way your sympathies lie, such hypotheticals are part of the grand tradition of Team USA trash talk. Two summers ago, during the 2010 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony that saw both the Dream Team and the 1960 squad that won gold in Rome enshrined in Springfield, Mass., the talk reached a fever pitch. Dream Teamer Malone told me that '92 "would've beat ['60] by 20." That didn't sit well with '60 alum Jerry West ("No chance. No chance. No chance. ... To say I'd be afraid of those guys? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. No").
Malone's teammate Larry Bird, as he often does, got the last word in during the Dream Team's induction speech:
"I don't know who had the best team, but I know the team in 1960 was a hell of a lot tougher than we were," Bird said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Because I couldn't imagine the '92 team getting in them covered wagons for eight days, going across the country, jumping in the Atlantic Ocean, swimming for six days, then walking 3,000 miles to the Colosseum in Rome — for a dollar a day."
If the 2012 squad wins gold this summer, as they're expected to, Kobe and his mates will earn the right to sit at that table and talk junk about how badly they'd serve up their predecessors, too. And we'll all get to envision these mythical showdowns, conjuring up MJ-Kobe duels, Blake Griffin trying to put The Admiral on a poster and LeBron looking at Scottie like the proof-of-concept sketch that precedes the production prototype, filling our heads to bursting with the stuff of daydreams for those long offseason months. No matter who'd win, we all do.
Now, all that said: Who ya got? Dream Team or 2012? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below.
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