Dreamers Die Hard Eight years after Barcelona, the active members of the original Dream Team are still going strong--and teaching their younger counterparts what it takes to succeed in the playoffs

May 07, 2000

When the original Dream Team was training in Monte Carlo for the
1992 Olympics, its members were invited by Prince Rainier to a
state dinner, which required a session to practice proper
behavior for the occasion. The players were told, for instance,
that when the prince finished his meal, they were to put their
forks down as well. Charles Barkley--surprise!--wasn't inclined
to adopt that custom. Recalls Dream Teammate Karl Malone,
"Charles said, 'I'm not going to stop eating just because
somebody else is full.'"

Barkley is one of five members of that team who have since
retired (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Magic Johnson and Michael
Jordan are the others), and they would no doubt be proud of the
active alumni. Despite their advancing years, original Dream
Team members Malone, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, David
Robinson and John Stockton spent the first week of the
postseason outplaying the members of the latest Dream Team and
proving a point: They're as hungry as ever and won't put their
forks down until they're good and ready.

As many of the young Dream Teamers struggled with injuries and
ineffectiveness, their Olympic forebears showed that in the
playoffs, an outrageous vertical leap and a killer crossover are
no substitutes for wisdom and experience. Shaquille O'Neal and
Kobe Bryant of the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers, neither
of whom is bound for the 2000 Games--and how badly do you
suppose the USA Basketball selection committee wishes it had
chosen Bryant and persuaded O'Neal to play in Australia?--may
see to it that youth is eventually served, but the early
postseason returns showed that when it comes to Dream Teams, new
is not necessarily improved.

Malone, 36, set the tone by scoring 50 points for the Utah Jazz
in the opening game of their series against the Seattle
SuperSonics, which the Jazz led 2-1 at week's end. Malone's
longtime partner, Stockton, 38, was masterly at point guard in
Game 2, with 21 points and 11 assists. Pippen, 34, took charge
in exactly the way the Portland Trail Blazers envisioned when
they acquired him from the Houston Rockets last summer; he
showed off his dazzling all-around floor game in leading the
Blazers to a 2-1 edge over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ewing,
37, was an indispensable inside force for the New York Knicks,
who swept the Toronto Raptors and demonstrated to Raptors
forward Vince Carter that All-Star weekend may be for emerging
stars, but the playoffs are for established ones: Through Sunday
the Knicks were 11-3 over the past two postseasons with Ewing in
the lineup and 4-5 without him. "Our motto is, Whatever it
takes, and that's Patrick," says New York point guard Chris
Childs. "He wants it in the worst way. He's going to get calls
other guys don't get. He's going to knock down his free throws.
No question we need his post-up play."

Finally, after the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 1 to the Phoenix
Suns, the Spurs turned to Robinson, 34, to make up for the
absence of last year's playoff MVP, the injured Tim Duncan, and
Robinson responded with 25 points and 15 rebounds in an 85-70
Spurs win that evened the series. The Admiral could hardly be
blamed for San Antonio's 2-1 deficit at week's end; in the
Spurs' 101-94 loss at Phoenix last Saturday, he poured in 37
points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

As the absurdly elongated first round dragged on through its
second weekend, one early indicator of playoff success was to
have an original Dream Teamer in the locker room, regardless of
his capacity. The Indiana Pacers, who took a 2-1 series lead
over the Milwaukee Bucks with a 109-96 win last Saturday, even
benefited from original Dream Team karma, with little-used Chris
Mullin, 36, on the bench and Bird as coach. Robinson was the
only gold medal oldie whose team trailed in a series (if you
discount forward Christian Laettner of the Detroit Pistons, who
were swept by the Miami Heat; Laettner, the only collegian on
the 1992 team, spent more time carrying his teammates' luggage
than playing in Barcelona).

The '92 set was so impressive that you had to wonder if the U.S.
has the right roster for September in Sydney. All the
infirmities that are supposed to plague the aging attached
themselves instead to the young guns. Aches and pains? Duncan,
Heat point guard Tim Hardaway, Pistons forward Grant Hill and
Suns point guard Jason Kidd were all forced to the sidelines
with leg or foot injuries. Memory lapses? Seattle forward Vin
Baker, who averaged 11.7 points and 4.6 turnovers in the first
three games of the Utah series, forgot how to play like the
All-Star he was, looking tentative and bewildered as Sonics fans
booed him at Key Arena and roasted him on talk radio. Bad
vision? Carter shot an astigmatic 3 for 20 and 5 for 17 in Games
1 and 3, respectively. "You can read about the level of play in
the playoffs, and guys can tell you about it," says Carter, "but
you really have to experience it."

The contrast between Dream Teamers past and present accentuated
the NBA's dilemma: The new players may be the future, but the
original ones refuse to just live in the past. "The young guys
will take over eventually, but we're not going to pass the
torch," Malone says. "They're going to have to take it." Dream
Team I members no longer produce many of the acrobatics that
earn a place on the nightly highlight shows--and most, like
Ewing, Malone and Stockton, never did. They aren't the players
who will bring new fans to the game, so their presence tends to
be taken for granted by the league's marketing machine, which
prefers flashier types. The older stars are like comfortable
pieces of furniture: valued but moved into less prominent areas
to make room for the newer, showier pieces.

It's symbolic that Nike commercials featuring animated, rapping
versions of Duncan, Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett and
Sacramento Kings point guard Jason Williams have been airing
during the playoffs although none of those players have been
making a major impact, and a Gatorade spot featuring Carter
going one-on-one with a raptor has also been in heavy rotation.
It's likely that those ads will have a longer postseason life
than the players will. "I think the young guys deserve to be
promoted when they do some things, [but] when they're not in the
playoffs, they're not doing anything," Robinson says. "Make them
earn that [superstar status] a little bit. You get all the
pressure, then you get all the accolades."

The original Dream Teamers won't win any dunk contests, but
they're not wheezing senior citizens surviving solely on guile,
either. Some, like Malone, work out maniacally to maintain their
physical gifts, while others, like Ewing, work just as hard to
recover from injuries and overcome the wear and tear on their
bodies. Mullin is the only one of the six active players whose
game has significantly deteriorated. Watching Malone
effortlessly go baseline to baseline in the Seattle series while
Baker, eight years his junior, labors to do the same makes it
seem as if their ages have been reversed.

While a few newly minted Dream Teamers had their playoff
moments--center Alonzo Mourning, for instance, powered the Heat
past the Pistons--even the young stars couldn't deny that they
were having a hard time keeping up with their elders. "It's not
a coincidence," said Garnett after Pippen had engineered an
86-82 win over the Timberwolves in Game 2 with 21 points and
seven rebounds. "These guys aren't just veterans, they're future
Hall of Famers. They've been through the playoffs so many times
that they just know stuff. They know what a ref will call in the
playoffs and what he won't. They know how to handle the extra
adrenaline you have at the start of a playoff game. There are so
many things you can't learn until you experience this a few
times. These veteran guys, they just know stuff."

Pippen, for instance, knows the importance of keeping himself
fresh for the playoffs. "I pretty much coasted for part of the
regular season," he admitted after Game 2. "I knew that having
enough energy for the playoffs was the important thing."

He shifted out of cruise control in the first round and
dispelled most of the doubts about whether the Blazers had a
true leader. His two first-quarter dunks over Minnesota rookie
Wally Szczerbiak in Game 1 were statement slams, letting both
teams know that he had ratcheted his game up a notch and that he
expected his teammates to do the same. "I haven't seen those
legs all year," said Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire.

Pippen, whose 28 points in Game 1 were three more than his
regular-season high, not only took more initiative on
offense--he put up 21 shots in the opener after taking more than
19 only once since coming to Portland--but he also contributed
in less obvious ways, coolly keeping the excitable Blazers under
control. He spent much of the first two games whispering calming
words into the ear of their loose-cannon forward, Rasheed
Wallace, making sure Wallace was whistled for nothing more
severe than his obligatory technical foul in each game. In Game
2 the Blazers made a second-quarter run to wipe out a 10-point
deficit and take the lead. A timeout was called as the Rose
Garden rocked. "Everybody is all excited coming back to the
huddle," says Stoudamire. "The first thing Scottie says is, 'All
right, take four or five deep breaths, everybody. We haven't
done spit yet. Calm down and let's go back out there and do what
we have to do.' To me, little stuff like that is big."

It is the little stuff that allows veterans to maintain their
playoff edge over less experienced players: largely unseen things
such as exhortations in a huddle or an extra hour in the weight
room on an off-season morning. "Commitment is in the summer,"
says Malone, "when no one wakes you up, no one sets your alarm
clock."

It's hard to believe the original Dream Teamers have clocks of
any kind. The secret to their success is that they've lost all
track of time.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN OUT OF TOUCH While current Dream Teamer Carter (15) flailed away from the field, Ewing rose up at just the right moments to spearhead the Knicks' sweep. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER NOT TO BE DENIED Robinson (left) kept the Spurs alive, while Dream Teammate Pippen (opposite) gave Portland a postseason lift. COLOR PHOTO: BARRY GOSSAGE/NBA ENTERTAINMENT [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: DON GRAYSTON/NBA ENTERTAINMENT PROVEN POINT In the first three games against Seattle, Stockton's passes repeatedly found the relentless Malone.

Old School In Session

The six pros on the original Dream Team who are still playing in
the NBA (average age: 35.8) outshot, outscored and outrebounded
the current Dream Teamers (average age: 27.0) in the first week
of the postseason. Here are their respective stats through
Sunday's games.

PER GAME AVERAGES FG% 3-PT.% FT% POINTS REBOUNDS ASSISTS

1992 Dream Team 47.1% 56.0% 79.2% 18.9 7.5 3.6

Active list: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie
Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton

PER GAME AVERAGES FG% 3-PT.% FT% POINTS REBOUNDS ASSISTS

2000 Dream Team 42.1% 37.7% 80.0% 18.2 6.8 3.8

Active list: Ray Allen, Vin Baker, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett,
Grant Hill, Allan Houston, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Steve
Smith

You had to wonder if the U.S. has the right roster for September
in Sydney.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)