With the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup finally upon us, it’s interesting to see just how much we as fans take for granted. The United States is fielding another high-caliber team that may lack the star power from the 2012 Olympic Games, but it certainly isn’t short on talent. In a sport that Team USA has dominated for so long, it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when the best players available simply weren’t allowed to participate in these events.
Two years ago was the much-heralded 20th anniversary of the first “Dream Team,” which is viewed by many as the greatest basketball team ever assembled. From documentaries to books, the summer of 2012 was spent honoring that heralded team, and rightly so. There was no way USA Basketball could match such a star-studded lineup again. However, they certainly tried by forming the second “Dream Team” two years later.
If the ’92 Dream Team was about showcasing the best of the best at the time, then the ’94 team was built to showcase the future of the NBA. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and while “Dream Team II” didn’t have 11 Hall of Famers among its ranks, it was still a team to behold for that time.
In fact, looking at the complete roster, the ’94 squad was a living highlight reel that true hoop dreamers craved. Coached by Don Nelson, the team boasted a roster of Derrick Coleman, Joe Dumars, Kevin Johnson, Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Dan Majerle, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Price, Steve Smith and Dominique Wilkins.
Think about that lineup for a second: A world-class team featuring Shawn Kemp and Larry Johnson during their peak years was insane. With all due respect to the strides made in improving the international game as a whole, a team of this caliber was designed to have its way against all of its opponents.
No, the United States may not have had Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird on hand for the 1994 World Championships, but it truly didn’t need them. This gold medal-winning team dominated just as much, if not more, than its predecessors. Besides, who could front on a team that included Mark Price in the roster? During the throwback era, his jersey was one of the more coveted treasures of the time. He will never be considered on a Hall of Fame ballot, but the rest of us know the deal.
That’s what made this ’94 team so unique in its own right. It consisted of timely players of that era who developed their own cult following. Kevin Johnson might be moonlighting as the mayor of Sacramento these days, but once upon a time, he was a bad man on the court. His playoff performance in 1990 where he bested the Magic Johnson-led Lakers and Malone/Stockton Jazz in the same postseason was the stuff of legends.
We’ve already seen Alonzo Mourning get his just due, but Derrick Coleman was as explosive as he was controversial at the time. The inclusion of Dominique made up for the ’92 Dream Team exclusion (though, to be fair, he was recovering from an Achilles injury). Oh, and let’s not forget a certain player that we need only refer to as Shaq. Many seem to ignore the fact that not only would Shaq have made the original Dream Team if he was of age, but he is one of a handful of players in his prime who would have made any United States national team, excluding nobody. You could argue a list of players who may or may not have made their respective teams if players from all eras were able to travel through time and compete, but Shaq is definitely one of the few constants.
USA Basketball may have swung and missed on predicting the future legends of the game, but there were still a few names they got right. They fielded a team that consisted of fan favorites and promising potential, which is what the average fans spend hours upon hours of arguing among each other all day. There are so many “what if” and “should have been stories” that we tend to ignore the silver linings when they are placed in front of us. This 2014 team may not have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but I’ll certainly settle for DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Rose, James Harden and Anthony Davis for the next month.
At the end of the day, this is just basketball. It’s not a political upheaval that will alter the course of history. It is perfectly fine to enjoy this team solely based on how good these players are now without worrying about what accolades they may never have 20 years from now. Looking back on 1994’s Forgotten Dream Team is the perfect reminder of that.