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LeBron James just dominated the NBA playoffs, won his first NBA title, and had the Finals MVP award for dessert. Dwyane Wade battled through injuries to average more than 20 points per game and earn his second NBA championship.
But what if the top item on the to-do list for the world’s best duo was to utterly destroy 2011 Heat draft pick and current Croatian player Bojan Bogdanovic in the upcoming Olympics?
It sounds absolutely ludicrous (and won’t happen because Wade will miss the Olympics and the Heat no longer have the rights to Bogdanovic), but the same thing basically happened 20 years ago in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Jack McCallum provides the details in chapter 31 of his new book “Dream Team,” which hits shelves today.
After Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toppled the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals for their second straight championship, they headed to Barcelona determined to stick it to Toni Kukoc, a Croatian player selected by the Chicago Bulls in 1990.
The dislike of Kukoc stemmed from Pippen’s bitterness towards Bulls general manager Jerry Krause for failing to extend Pippen’s contract. Krause preferred to lure the Croatian kid to the Windy City. Jordan knew his sidekick was less than thrilled with Krause’s decision and shared the same desire to embarrass Kukoc in front of a worldwide audience in the summer of 1992.
That they did.
The box scores from the games in Barcelona merely confirm the team crushed all of their opponents. Their average margin of victory was 43.8 points per game. Individual stats were basically meaningless because the team distributed minutes, points, and everything else between eleven future Hall of Famers. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible not to gasp when you read the stats from the Dream Team’s initial meeting with Croatia:
- Jordan and Pippen combined for 11 steals … in the first half.
- Kukoc made two of the 11 shots he attempted and finished with seven turnovers.
McCallum’s interviews 20 years later shed light on just how insane the performance was to watch. Charles Barkley said, “Dude, it was scary what they did to Kukoc.” The book describes a performance so overbearing that Barkley felt compelled to make a gesture to his teammates to back off a bit. Knicks star Patrick Ewing offered a similar sentiment. “That was the best defense I ever saw Michael and Scottie play. By far.”
Oh, and by the way, these were the two best defenders in the world.
Read “Dream Team” by McCallum for many more stories behind the scenes with the team that changed basketball forever.