Monday, September 10, 2012

Dream Team by Jack McCallum

Why I read it: These were the NBA stars of my youth.

Summary (also the subtitle): How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever.

My Thoughts: How soon we forget.

The average non-NBA fan in America is now a Dream Team hater. There's this reactionary belief out there that it's the big, bad Americans flexing their muscles by allowing their top professional basketball players to take to the court during the Olympics and obliterate the competiton. How sad. How ignorant, and how sad.

First and foremost, it wasn't even an American idea. It was a Yugoslavian, Boris Stankovic, who came forth with the concept, and presented it to the Americans. Let's face it, other countries were already using professionals by the 1980s, so if we're talking level playing field, there is no discussion to be had. You want to send your pros? Fine, we'll send ours. Yes, there was a lot to lose (the innocent sense of amateurism that came with the games), but there was so much more to gain - for all basketball players around the world.

The NBA was in no position to simply let its players walk onto the national stage without handwringing. These were franchise players (save for Christian Laettner, who at that time was at Duke, not yet a pro) whose fortunes drove the fortunes of their respective teams. And, at the beginning of the individualistic era of the NBA, names like Michael and Charles would drive the prosperity of the league. The NBA collectively had a lot to lose if anything went wrong.

So yes, Magic, Larry and the gang marched into Barcelona and kicked the world's basketball ass.

Since that time, the game has grown tremendously around the world. Look at NBA rosters now - would Yao Ming have played on an NBA team in the 1960s? - and witness the globalism represented. Kids all over the world got to watch the American stars they had hear or read about, and inspiration hit. Do Canadians root for their hockey team to lose, just because they're so damn good at it? Do the Brits hate their national soccer team? Basketball was born in the United States, like baseball; we should be good at it by now.

McCallum's book brings back the memories of the Golden Age of '80s NBA basketball, when just the mention of a first name brought smiles - Clyde, Charles, Michael. It's almost completely behind the scenes, as McCallum followed the team for Sports Illustrated. There are laughs in the book that are nostalgic. I laughed at some of Charles Barkley's antics like I was a teenager again. If you miss those days, read this book.

But please, the next time you watch Olympic basketball, don't hate the Americans for being damn good at what they do. You have my permission to dislike LeBron for his ridiculous ego or Kobe for whatever it is you dislike about Kobe. But think more broadly about what the Dream Team concept has done for the basketball world.

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