By Matt Citak
This summer represents the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. It was here, at the Pavelló Olímpic de Badalona, where the greatest basketball team to ever be assembled won eight games during a two-week stretch, and left Spain with gold medals.
The Dream Team put together the most dominating performance in basketball history. But it was a match that took place before the start of the Olympics that Michael Jordan says is the greatest game he has ever played in.
In the days leading up to the Olympics, the USA Basketball team trained in Monaco. While the team had several practices here, in addition to numerous sessions at the team’s training camp in La Jolla, California, it was the famous scrimmage on July 22, 1992 that is unanimously held in the highest regard. In his book “Dream Team,” Jack McCallum provides an in-depth look at the “greatest game nobody ever saw.”
About 12 hours prior to the scrimmage, the Dream Team had finished an exhibition match against France. It was an incredibly sloppy effort by the United States, who allowed France to lead 8-2 and 16-13 before picking up the slack and winning by a final score of 111-71. After the game, head coach Chuck Daly decided his team needed a wake-up call to get them going before the start of the Olympic Games.
The scrimmage took place in what was essentially an empty gym. There were no fans, press, TV cameras, written records or official box scores, and the lone video footage came courtesy of one of Daly’s video guys with the Pistons. Daly normally split the teams by conference, but with John Stockton and Clyde Drexler both nursing injuries, there were two fewer Western players than Eastern players. This left 10 guys on the roster to be split into the blue and white teams.
Jordan led the white team, and was joined by Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Larry Bird, and Patrick Ewing. Magic Johnson took hold of the blue squad, and was teamed with Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Chris Mullin, and Christian Laettner.
Around thirty minutes before tip-off, during leisurely full-court lay-up drills, Johnson stopped and threw the ball into the gym’s empty seats. “We’re here to practice!” he yelled at his teammates. This was his message that the team was not taking their training serious enough, and immediately, the day had turned.
With Drexler sitting on the sidelines, Jordan and Johnson were matched up. “Those two going against each other,” Dream Team assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski told McCallum in 2011, “was the pimple being popped.”
When asked about the scrimmage years later, Jordan responded: “Greatest game I’ve ever played in. All the beautiful things about the game of basketball were illustrated in that one particular game. If you culminate everybody in the Hall of Fame and every game they played in, and you envision a game being played, that’s how that game was played.”
While there were no official stats from the scrimmage, McCallum’s book contains a play-by-play account of the game. Based on this, the white team wound up winning, 40-36, thanks in large part to Jordan and his game-high 17 points. Barkley was the next highest scorer with 11 points, while Laettner finished with 10 and Malone with nine.
Once the Olympics began, the Dream Team showed utter dominance over the rest of the competition – the U.S. did not win a game by fewer than 30 points. But prior to their historic run, it was the scrimmage that took place in Monte Carlo that truly set the tone for what followed in Barcelona.