The 1992 USA Men’s Basketball team is likely the greatest team, in any sport, ever assembled. The team was put together after the United States was unable to bring home the men’s hoops gold medal in 1988, instead taking the bronze medal, prompting the U.S. to change course for the 1992 Olympics.
Prior to 1992, the U.S sent its brightest amateur players, usually college players, to participate in the Olympics, but in 1992, America decided to send in the big guns. The team was comprised of 11 future Hall of Famers, the lone member not inducted into the hall being Christian Laettner, who was also the only college player on the team. During their undefeated run through the ’92 Olympics, Team USA averaged 117 points, including two games in which they scored 127 points.
As great as this team was, there was some controversy over player selection. The biggest omission on the team was obviously point guard Isiah Thomas. Thomas was a two-time NBA Champion, as well as a superstar in the league. He had as much fame and skill as any player on the team, yet he was not invited to play for his country. It is widely believed that Michael Jordan was behind the decision to leave Thomas off the roster. Some reports even say Jordan gave Team USA the ultimatum of “him or me.” It is no secret that Jordan and Thomas had bad blood, stemming from Thomas’ Pistons knocking Jordan out of the playoffs throughout the 1980s. The other omission, which became much more glaring in the years following 1992, was the fact that college superstar Shaquille O’Neil was not on the team. We will get more into that when we reveal number 12.
With 11 Hall of Famers on the team, it is tough to rank them, but hey that is our job. So lets get into it! Here are all 12 players from the 1992 Dream Team in order from worst to first!
16. P.J. Carlesimo
P.J. Carlesimo was an assistant coach on the 1992 Dream Team and it eventually led to him getting a head coaching job in the NBA. Two years after he won the gold medal, he was hired to be the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. Carlesimo’s run in Portland consisted of three straight playoff appearances, but also three first-round exits. He was fired following the third straight playoff exit, Carlesimo was fired by Portland, but landed a job in Golden State.
Carlesimo’s run with the Warriors was not as successful, missing the playoffs twice, then getting fired midway through his third season. His run in Golden State is best known for his altercation with star player Latrell Sprewell. All in all, Carlesimo’s head coaching career was a failure, finishing with a total record of 239-315.
15. Chuck Daly
Chuck Daly was chosen as the head coach of the 1992 Dream Team after leading the Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons to much success in the NBA, winning back to back championships in 1989 and 1990. By the time 1992 came around, the Pistons’ time at the top of the NBA was over and the Bulls’ was just beginning. Daly coached Isiah Thomas, the same player Michael Jordan had omitted from the final roster, so you wonder if there was tension between Daly and MJ.
Nevertheless, Daly led the dream roster to the gold medal in Barcelona, then resumed his NBA career coaching the Nets for two seasons before retiring. He would come out of retirement late in the 90s to coach the Magic for a couple of seasons. Daly’s coaching career ended with a record of 638-437 with two championships to show for it.
14. Lenny Wilkens
Lenny Wilkens had by far the most experience on Team USA’s coaching staff at the time of the 1992 Olympics. He had been a head coach in the NBA since the 1969-70 season, coaching Seattle, Portland and Cleveland prior to the 1992 games. Wilkens’ lone NBA Championship came in the 1978-79 season, leading the Seattle SuperSonics to their lone NBA title.
Following the 1992 games, Wilkens would continue coaching until the mid 2000s, adding the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks to his coaching resume before retiring. Wilkens’ career record finished at 1,332-1,155. Unfortunately, his teams would often make the playoffs, but never progressed past the second round following the 1991-92 season. Still, his longevity in the NBA was something outstanding, as coaching for 32 seasons in the NBA is an incredible accomplishment.
13. Mike Kryzewski
Even though Coach K never coached in the NBA, choosing to remain loyal to Duke University when NBA coaching opportunities came along, he deserves the spot as the best coach on this list. He’s become the most decorated head coach in NCAA history, winning five national titles and amassing a career record of 1,043–321, for an incredible winning percentage of .765.
On top of his success at the collegiate level, Mike Kryzewski also returned to coach Team USA in 2008, following a disastrous finish in the 2004 games in Athens. He’s coached the last three USA teams at the Olympics and has won three more gold medals.
Even with all his success and so many years in the game, Coach K has given no hint at retirement, as he continues to build his legacy at Duke.
12. Christian Laettner
As the only college player on the team, it was hard for Laettner to find his groove with the team. Even harder was trying to find minutes for the 22-year-old Duke star. Christian did get his time on the court though. In fact, coach Chuck Daly was able to get Laettner into every game the team played. The fact that Laettner was able to average 7 points per game in incredibly impressive, especially since him even being on the team was a point of contention for some people.
In 1992, Laettner was the golden boy of college basketball, winning titles with Duke and hitting game-winning shots. However, there was another college player named Shaquille O’Neal who also was considered for the sole collegiate player spot on the team. Ultimately, the spot went to Laettner, but Shaq would go on to be one of the greatest players in NBA history. I guess it didn’t really matter at the end of the day, but I am sure Christian Laettner is happy to have been part of such an amazing experience.
11. Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin was one of the most elite shooters the NBA has ever seen. He is often overlooked when recounting the great players of the past quarter century. Mullin helped lead the Golden State Warriors to many deep playoff runs as part of “Run TMC,” which was a play on Run DMC, except TMC stood for Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin. Many believe part of the reason Mullin has been underappreciated is because he played a very similar game to Larry Bird, except Bird was a little better at everything. Nonetheless, Mullin was clearly viewed as an asset by the powers that be for Team USA Basketball as he ended the Olympics posting 13 points per game, good for fourth on the team. Mullin was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
10. Patrick Ewing
The man who saved basketball in New York City was also the man holding down the paint for USA Basketball in 1992. Ewing, who has countless awards, both collegiate and in the NBA, is now coaching with the Charlotte Hornets. During his playing days, Ewing led the New York Knicks to incredible heights. Many times, he had them on the verge of the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for Ewing, he played in the same era and the same conference as the great Michael Jordan.
Jordan’s Bulls, and Ewing’s Knicks had many great playoff battles, with Jordan and his teammates usually getting the best of Ewing. Patrick led the red, white and blue with just over five rebounds per game during the team’s eight-game sweep through the Olympics. Aside from the All-NBA Defensive First Teams, the College Player of the Year Award, and the Hall of Fame induction, Ewing also has his number retired in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of Basketball.
9. Clyde Drexler
Clyde “The Glide” Drexler was one of the smoothest ballers the league has ever seen. Since he retired in 1998, the game has seen numerous players emulate his style of play. The greatest player to have a Drexler style would probably be Dwayne Wade, but there have been several others, including Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Paul George, to name a few. During the Olympics of ’92, Clyde played a well rounded style, averaging better than 10 points a game while still grabbing over three rebounds, and dishing out three plus assists per contest.
During his time in the NBA, Clyde was a 10-time All-Star as well as a five-time All-NBA Team selection. He spent most of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, setting many records along the way, including the most career points by any Portland player before him. In 1995, he left Portland and joined Hakeem Olajuwon. The two of them were able to lead the Houston Rockets to the NBA championship and help cement the legacy of Clyde Drexler.
8. Charles Barkley
Big Chuck was one of the loudest mouthpieces for the Dream Team. Charles has never been one to bite his tongue and that trend continued during his run with Team USA. Barkley, however was not just loud with his voice in 1992; he was the team’s leading scorer with just over 18 points per game. Not only was he putting up points in bunches, but he also grabbed boards. It was part of the team’s offensive strategy to have Barkley grab the rebound and push the ball up court, ala Draymond Green of today’s NBA. Barkley finished the Olympics third on the team in rebounding.
During his NBA career, he was just as dominant. He is the proud owner of a league MVP Award. Aside from the ’93 MVP, Barkley also has 11 All-NBA Team selections to his credit, and his number 32 was retired by two teams, Philadelphia and Phoenix, as well as his alma mater, Auburn University.
7. Karl Malone
Karl Malone was a scoring machine. With the help of his point guard John Stockton, Malone was able to amass over 36,000 career points in the NBA, placing him behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabaar on the all-time scoring list. “The Mailman” was as reliable as his nickname would lead you to believe, as he delivered night after night without doubt. Malone was a two-time league MVP, an 11-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA first team, and three-time All-NBA defensive first team.
Malone pretty much did everything a player would want to accomplish in his career, except the single most important thing, which is to win an NBA title. Malone was never able to get his team over the hump that was Michael Jordan. Malone and Stockton are arguably the greatest guard/forward combo in NBA history, yet they were always thwarted by the great Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
6. John Stockton
Speaking of Karl Malone, it is impossible to gush over him without mentioning the man who set him up for a major chunk of his points. John Stockton retired in 2003 after spending 19 years with the Utah Jazz. The small, skinny guard retired as the NBA leader in assists, as well as steals. As a point guard, you are asked to lead your offense, distribute the ball to your scorers, and guard the opposing team’s quarterback. Stockton handled his duties as good or better than anyone else who ever played the position. Stockton only played in four games of the Olympics, averaging a mere two assists per game.
The situation did not call for John to lead the team, and with Magic Johnson on the team, in what appeared to be his last time on a basketball court, Stockton maturely took a backseat and soaked it all in while allowing others to get the glory. Stockton was a first ballot Hall of Famer and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time by the NBA.
5. Scottie Pippen
Arguably the most undervalued player of all time, Scottie Pippen was the ultimate Swiss army knife player. During his incredible run with the Chicago Bulls, Pippen helped lead the team to six NBA Championships. Pippen had the ability, like very few, to play All-Star caliber basketball on offense as well as defense, including the ability to handle several positions on the defensive end. Pippen made the All-NBA Defensive First team an incredible eight times.
Always being second fiddle to Michael Jordan has lessened people’s appreciation for his incredible talents and basketball IQ. During the 1993-94 season, when Michael Jordan retired to pursue his baseball career, Scottie led the Bulls to 54 wins, and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. If Pippen had been able to lead the Bulls, or another competent organization, there is no telling how far he could have taken them.
4. David Robinson
“The Admiral” David Robinson is a two-time NBA Champion and an NBA MVP. During his time with USA Basketball, he was a machine, averaging over 11 points per game, along with 5.3 rebounds, and a team-leading total of 11 blocks. Robinson is a leader as well as a stand-out player, as evidenced by his pupil Tim Duncan’s career successes. As the anchor for many San Antonio Spurs teams, Robinson was an original hybrid type player with his combination of size, strength, athleticism and agility. Robinson has led the NBA in rebounding, blocks, and scoring on at least one occasion.
In 1994, Robinson went into the final game of the season trailing Shaquille O’Neal for the scoring crown. Robinson went out that night and put up a cool 71 points, and snatched the scoring title by less than 0.5 points per game. Robinson is also the last player to have a quadruple double, when he recorded 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks against the Pistons in 1994.
3. Larry Bird
Arguably the greatest small forward in NBA history, it is hard to think that there are still two players ahead of him. Larry Bird has done all there is to do in the sport of basketball. He is the owner of three NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, and three NBA League MVP Awards. Bird did not play as much as he would have liked during his time with the ’92 Dream Team, however. He was nursing several injuries by 1992 and it was clear his career would soon be over, but in only four games, Bird still led the team in three-point shots, and along with Magic Johnson, Bird was named co-captain of the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
Earlier, we mentioned Bird has done everything there is to do in the sport of basketball. We also mean as a coach and as an executive. Bird has won the Coach of the Year Award in 1998 and in 2012, he took home the Executive of the Year Award as well. Larry Bird is a true renaissance man of the NBA.
2. Magic Johnson
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson revolutionized basketball, what else can be said? He and Larry Bird had one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time. He brought an element of fun to a sport that can sometimes become routine and boring. He spent his career making his teammates better and more often than not, he led his teams to greatness. Magic went to nine NBA Finals during his HIV-shortened career, winning five of them, and was named Finals MVP three times. Magic also won three NBA League MVP awards.
When you watch old videos of Team USA, it is clear that Magic is having the most fun. He (as always) had a huge smile on his face, and he was constantly joking and messing with his teammates. Johnson was the definition of a point guard during Team USA’s run to gold, averaging 10 points, four rebounds and nine assists. Magic had his career cut short, but he will always be regarded as one of the greatest players ever, and in 1992, his style of play transcended the game of basketball across the world .
1. Michael Jordan
He is undoubtedly the greatest of all time. There is little that can be said about Jordan that has not already been said. His perfect record in NBA Finals is the first thing that sets him apart from the rest, as well as the fact that he won Finals MVP in all six trips. Jordan was the catalyst for Team USA in ’92, and there was an unofficial passing of the torch from Magic and Bird to Michael. In ’92, the world knew it was time for MJ to take over the league, but the older stars, like Magic and Larry, were reluctant to give up the throne, so Jordan took it.
There is an amazing documentary about a 5-on-5 game that took place during a Team USA practice in 1992. It was team Jordan vs. team Magic, and for all intents and purposes, it was a game to determine who still owned the NBA. In this epic battle, that has very little footage, Jordan took over the game, and in that very moment it was decided –the league now belonged to Michael.