Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: Dream Team (2012)

By Jack McCallum

It's almost possible to imagine Jack McCallum, the respected longtime basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, giggling a bit when the idea for this book came along.

The stars certainly lined up nicely. The year 2012 marked the 20th anniversary is an obvious time for a retrospective in athletics, since all of the participants have more or less left the stage (although some moved into other roles, like coaching or broadcasting). For a basketball fan and writer, there was no bigger story than the Dream Team of 1992, the United States Olympic squad that brought the international game into a modern era.

McCallum covered that era and that team thoroughly, and thus had long relationships with the participants. Not only could he empty his notebook and memory bank when it came to writing a book, but he also could go public with his own opinions as well as interview those involved after the fact when they could afford to be more candid.

The result is "Dream Team," and it's a barrel of fun for basketball fans.

A little refresher course - before 1992, Americans could only send amateurs - read college players - to the Olympics. Standards were different for what was considered an amateurs worldwide, though, and the traditional Eastern Bloc countries always sent their best players. Team USA was always good enough to win with the collegians, with the bizarre exception of 1972, but the Americans lost fair and square in 1988. If the sport of basketball was going to turn up the volume from that point, all great players had to be invited to the party.

Thus, the Dream Team was born. It started with a Michael Jordan in his prime, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on their way out, Charles Barkley on his way out the door to party, and so on down the line. The world was captivated, or at least the basketball-loving parts of it that seemed to include everyone. You'd have thought the Beatles had reunited to put on a few shows in such places as Portland, Oregon, (qualifying) and Barcelona (Olympics).

McCallum makes it pretty clear that the most amazing part of the entire summer was how well everyone managed to mesh together, even if it took some negotiating and leadership by strong personalities to make it work. The squad was filled with alpha dogs (David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, etc.) who knew enough to let the biggest stars set the tone. There's also plenty of good information here about how the team was selection; that translates into the story about how John Stockton wound up on the team because Isiah Thomas wasn't well liked by the other players.

The author obviously spent the most time on Jordan's role - McCallum isn't stupid - but every player gets a good-sized say here. That includes Christian Laettner, a token college player picked as something of a throwback to the old way of doing things. Heck, someone had to carry the bags.

There's very little drama here, as the team clobbered every opponent in sight, and I suppose you probably have to be at least 30 years old to have a great deal of interest in much of the story. McCallum relates a lot of his own personal experiences, which makes the book a little less scholarly and perhaps turns it into a book of anecdotes.

No matter. "Dream Team" comes across as extremely entertaining and well done. If you want to know what the fun was all about and how everyone involved dealt with it, this is a good place to go.

Four stars

Learn more about the book.

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