Clyde Drexler on the Dream Team, then and now
Clyde Drexler (6th from the right) stands with his gold-winning USA Basketball team as national anthem played, Sports Palace of Barcelona, 08 August 1992.
A little history lesson for you non-sports fans out there: After the 1988 Olympic men’s basketball team won a disappointing bronze medal at the games, the International Basketball Federation determined that it was time to let pro players in on the fun.
Enter the original Dream Team, the 1992 men’s Olympic squad that gave one of the most dominating performances in the history of modern sports. They also won gold, by the way. The team included such legends at Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Twenty years later, the latest incarnation of the Dream Team hopes to win big at this year’s games in London.
Recently, we spoke to Clyde "The Glide" Drexler, a member of the ’92 squad, about the challenges facing a team and a coach when taking a bunch of NBA stars and putting them together on an Olympic team. He said he isn’t too worried.
“Whenever you have guys who are really good at what they do, a lot of times they're good because they're intelligent,” he says. “One thing the coaching staff has to do is kind of define roles within that team structure. And the players will buy in and do whatever it takes necessary to win, because you've got to put your egos aside for the betterment of the team.”
Wondering just how those Dream Team players’ professional paychecks stack up? We put together this chart that shows the salaries of the players on both the 1992 and 2012 teams. Just to compare, today's top-paid player, Kobe Bryant, makes five times as much as David Robinson, the highest-paid in '92. (You can adjust for inflation here.)
Still, the 1992 Dream Team does beat the squad of today in one measure: overall number of NBA championship wins.
Katie Long, Mary Dooe, and Daryl Paranada contributed to this report.
Jeff Horwich: The U.S. Olympic Men's basketball team crushed France in its opening game. Tonight it takes on that well-known basketball powerhouse, Tunisia. It's been 20 years since the first U.S. "Dream Team" changed Olympic competition forever. For the first time, a rule change allowed NBA pros on the court, rather than the best amateurs culled from college teams.
Clyde "The Glide" Drexler was a star guard with the Portland Trail Blazers and he won a gold medal on that 1992 team. And this year he's been traveling with the latest incarnation of the Dream Team. Clyde, it's good to talk with you.
Clyde Drexler: It's my pleasure, thank you.
Horwich: It was a controversial thing at the time, in 1992, for professional athletes to make up the U.S. Olympic team because this was nominally an amateur event, right?
Horwich: Do you feel like anything was lost in that process, or was it all for the better?
Drexler: Nothing was lost. I think it was from a competitive standpoint. Every country wants to send their best in every sport. So it was an easy decision. You know, looking back on it, it was one of the most incredible teams ever assembled, and to be a part of that 20 years ago was something very special.
Horwich: Dwayne Wade, a member of this year's team, has suggested that he ought to be paid for his time. What do you think about that?
Drexler: You know, NBA players only have a little bit of time off; it's basically a nine-month commitment. And so the three months that you do get off, god, you know, cherish that. But in an Olympic year, it's an honor if you're selected to play for your country. So you give up your time with your family and your friends. So you know, it wouldn't be a bad -- you know, everybody's entitled to their opinion.
Horwich: OK, so you don't reject that outright, even as someone who did this on their own dime at that time?
Horwich: Over the years, how has the team managed the fact that you're bringing together all of these big egos -- people with big money, big endorsement deals -- and you're trying to get them to play as a team?
Drexler: It's easy. Whenever you have guys who are really good at what they do, a lot of times they're good because they're intelligent. One thing the coaching staff has to do is kind of define roles within that team structure. And the players will buy in and do whatever it takes necessary to win, because you've got to put your egos aside for the betterment of the team.
Horwich: With all that money in the sport now, how do these guys -- or do these guys -- fold gently back into the sort of amateur environment at the Olympic Games?
Drexler: Well, I don't think the athletes are going to stay in the Olympic Village like most amateurs. In '92, we had our own hotel, and I think the same thing will happen this year. It is amateurism at its finest, but at the same time, it's also representing your country.
Horwich: A part of what I hear you saying is, 'Yeah, they're going to be slumming it in the cafeteria with the cross country stars.'
Drexler: I don't think so. A lot of the guys that make it -- not all of them, some of them -- are making $20 million, $25 million a year. I don't think they'd be slumming it in anybody's cafeteria anytime soon.
Horwich: Clyde Drexler, member of the '92 Dream Team, NBA star. A pleasure to talk to you, thank you.
Drexler: It's been my pleasure. Continued success for you as well.