The blowout wins in Barcelona are covered, including Charles Barkley's infamous elbow against Angola and the ferocity with which Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen hounded Toni Kukoc, then a 22-year-old playing for Croatia. But where the sensational 90-minute documentary The Dream Team, which airs tonight on NBA TV, really finds its voice is with the candid, behind-the-scenes footage of the most remarkable team ever assembled.
Early in the film we see tape of Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson trash-talking each other during a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated, and after Magic puts his arm on Jordan and jokes that "you can't get close to Michael because it's a foul," Jordan responds like a viper. "These old guys, they got arthritis," riffs Jordan. "They can't stand in one spot too long." Equally fun is John Stockton going unrecognized on Barcelona's famed Las Ramblas ("Have you been watching the Dream Team?" Stockton asks of some Americans, who have no idea he is part of the team).
There are multiple narratives throughout the film, including Jordan and Pippen's dislike for Isiah Thomas, the Pistons Hall of Famer who was left off the squad. ("I couldn't stand Isiah," Pippen tells the filmmakers. "I despised the way that he played the game. No, I did not want him on the team.")
Of course there is also plenty of basketball -- the team marched to a gold medal with an Olympic record average margin of victory of 43.8 points -- and two of the team's training camps have become part of basketball lure. First, there is the never-before-seen scrimmage in San Diego where a group of college All-Stars (led by Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley and Penny Hardaway) defeated the Dream Team by eight points. Though assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski insists coach Chuck Daly intentionally threw the game to get his team's attention, the fact remains the scoreboard read the following: College Select Team 62, Dream Team 54. "We were not into it," Johnson said. "And we paid for it."
When the team later arrived in Monte Carlo for a six-day training camp prior to the Barcelona Olympics -- French newspapers referred to the American Dream Team squad as L'équipe de rêve -- Jordan and Magic were competing for the team's alpha-dog status. That narrative culminates with a famous pre-Olympic scrimmage featuring teams captained by Jordan and Johnson. "Every evaluation of Michael Jordan at that time was, 'He's good but he's not Magic Johnson,'" Jordan recalled. "And with my competitive nature, I wanted to use every little bit I could gather so I could gain an advantage."
All 12 members of the squad were interviewed for the film, a process that began with David Robinson in September 2011 and ended with Johnson in April.
"The games in Barcelona were anticlimactic," said Andy Thompson, the vice president of development for NBA Entertainment and a director on the film. "What was fascinating was taking 12 alpha males, 12 huge egos, and bringing them together over the course of six weeks. We tried to capture all of these different forces of nature colliding on and off the court with the hopes that we'd capture something away from the game," he said.
NBA Entertainment began work on the documentary more than a year ago, following the conclusion of the critically-acclaimed Once Brothers, the story of Vlade Divac's relationship with the late Drazen Petrovic. Thompson, the younger brother of former NBA power forward Mychal Thompson, was a producer for NBA Entertainment in 1992 and traveled with the team from its training camps through Barcelona. He cited his boss, Dion Cocoros, the vice president of original production for NBA Entertainment, and Zak Levitt, director of original production for NBA Entertainment, with shaping the film (which is narrated by actor Ed Burns) inside and outside the editing booth.
"This is the culmination of 20 years of shooting and storytelling and reshooting in HD, and this is the best thing we've produced by far," Thompson said. "There's a mystique behind these guys then because their lives were not open like it is now in the Twitter age. That whole mystique beyond this team is what helps propel the story."
Jordan was finally corralled Jan. 11 in Charlotte at a practice court at the Charlotte Bobcats facility. He told the film's producers that he would sit for a 15-minute interview, but he ended up sticking around for 45.
"He opened up to us about how he felt about Isiah Thomas, his relationship with Magic, and what he was willing to do to help bring home the gold," Thompson said. "It was a revelatory experience to hear Michael speak candidly about everything."
What's clear is how much the Dream Team experience meant to each of the 12 members. The film concludes with portrait shots of each member wearing his 1992 gold medal.
"Nothing in my life has ever felt like standing on that podium," recalled Barkley. "I was getting goosebumps."
As will every basketball fan who gets to relive this enjoyable ride of the greatest team ever assembled.