Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the original Dream Team’s gold medal victory (and ceremony) at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It also ended a once-in-a-career summer adventure for about a dozen journalists who covered the team during the training camp in La Jolla, at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Portland, another training session in Southern France before leaving our luxurious seaside accommodations in Monte Carlo for the short flight to Barcelona.
Tough work if you can get it. Hanging with Hall of Famers Bird, Magic, Charles, Michael, Stockton, Malone, Mullin, Pippen, Ewing, Robinson and Drexler? And all expenses paid?
Here are 10 of my favorite memories:
The scrimmage in La Jolla – The Dreamers arrived in a great mood but not the best of shape. They were stunned in the opening day scrimmage against a group of college stars that included Bobby Hurley, Chris Webber and Grant Hill.
The photo shoots – Before Cuba’s Olympic team took the court against Team USA in the qualifying tournament in Portland, the players whipped out their cameras and asked the Americans to pose for a group shot at midcourt. Every other team followed the leader. Photo shoots became pregame fixtures.
Magic and Bird make history – With the USA pros eligible for international competition for the first time, it seemed only fitting that in the Dream Team’s first official possession against Cuba, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird accounted for the first two points: Magic dribbled downcourt and passed to Bird for a jumper.
By the book – Brazilian icons Oscar Schmidt and Marcel de Souza delighted reporters during a news conference in Portland by reciting facts, figures and other details about their idol, Larry Legend. Bird’s biographer, Globe columnist Bob Ryan, hurried out and bought two copies of his book, then went to Bird’s hotel room had them autographed. Christmas in July.
Charles and the princes – After Charles Barkley boasted that he planned to ignore dining etiquette at an upcoming formal dinner with Prince Rainier and Prince Albert of Monaco, team officials seated him near the back of the room, surrounded by assistant coaches and trainers, aka babysitters. Alas, disaster was averted. Charles and the princes had an enjoyable evening, and it turns out, the future TNT star was just warming up.
Magic’s warm international welcome – Several international players had expressed reservation about playing against Johnson, fearing that his AIDS virus was contagious. Admittedly, U.S. officials were anxious about the reception Magic would receive overseas. But the issue was put to rest in a USA-France exhibition. The sellout crowd embraced the Lakers star throughout, chanting his name, showering him with the most robust applause, and demanding that he take a bow every time he left the game. Goosebumps all around.
Back to bed – Bird’s lower back problems were so severe that USA Basketball arranged for a special bed on the overseas flight. The pain precluded him from walking in Opening Ceremonies, much to his disappointment.
Just an average John – John Stockton took great pride in his ability to wander around Barcelona without being recognized. Accompanied by his wife, Nada, and children, and armed with a video camera, he occasionally would stop tourists for a Jay Leno man-in-the-street moment. By contrast, all of his teammates (except Christian Laettner) were mobbed any time they left the hotel.
Angola and the elbow – In a moment that would live forever, Barkley elbowed Angolan forward Herlander Coimbra in the opener, drawing whistles of disapproval from the crowd. Later, Barkley was chastised sharply by Jordan and his other teammates and urged to temper his behavior. And he did. Sort of. Charles most evenings was seen strolling along the Las Ramblas in bermuda shorts and matching shirt, followed by hundreds of fans, many of whom he treated to beers in the local pubs. By the end of the Games, he arguably was the most popular American player. Everyone wanted to know about … Charles.
Drazen, we miss you – Drazen Petrovic, the Croatian guard who died in an auto accident the year after the Olympics, scolded Toni Kukoc and his other young teammates after they were overwhelmed – and totally awed – in their first game against the U.S. The Nets star would have none of it. In the rematch in the finale, Croatia was more competitive, though it was all relative. The Dreamers won their games by an average of 44 points and never called a timeout.
OK, one more for the road – This was just too much fun. In the bronze medal game between Lithuania and the former Soviet Union – featuring their teammates before the breakup of the USSR – Sarunas Marciulionis and friends prevailed in a tension-packed squeaker. In the locker room afterward, the Lithuanians sobbed uncontrollably, sang the national anthem, and wandered into the hallway and hugged journalists, fans, anyone within reach. They wore their trademark tie-dyed T-shirts at the medal ceremony later that night, though they were minus one player: Arvydas Sabonis apparently celebrated a little too enthusiastically after the game and didn’t make it back to the arena to receive his medal.