The 1992 Olympic Games, the Games of the XXV Olympiad: The first to be held without mass boycotts and, by many estimation, the greatest Olympics ever in presentation, hosting, and competition. It was the Games of Hungarian swimmer Krisztina Egerszegi, of Belorussian/Unified Team member Vitaly Scherbo in gymnastics, of the Russian men’s swimming team, of Cuban baseball – but most of all it was basketball that took center stage on the worldwide court in Barcelona.
On this day in 1992, the Dream Team, Team Croatia and Team Lithuania played in their first-ever Olympic basketball games. In memory of these fantastic, historically significant squads, BallinEurope presents some highlight clips from the ’92 Games.
Day one of 1992 Olympic basketball saw the tournament’s powers take care of business: tie-dyed Lithuania handled China, 112-75; Croatia bested Brazil, 93-76; and the stripped-down CIS/USSR side got past Venezuela, 78-64. Of course, the game the world was watching that day would be the biggest laugher of the entire competition: The Dream Team’s infamous 116-48 decimation of Angola.
The following day came a long-awaited matchup – particularly for two Dream Team members – when Team USA met Croatia. Today referred to in shorthand as the Toni Kukoc game, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen single-mindedly shut down their future big-bucks teammate while the Dreams cruised to a 103-70 victory, representing Team Croatia’s sole Olympic loss until the gold-medal game.
At some point in the second half, Drazen Petrovic finally decided he was tired of being ignored and began to engage in some individual battles with Jordan. Petro ultimately ended up with 19 points in one of the best individual performances against the Dream Team.
And here’s Dream Team against Brazil…
All kinds of dates with destiny marked the quarterfinal round, as the three European powers and Team USA would march into the semis. Probably the best game of the entire tournament had Croatia pitted against the CIS side; who else would deliver 28 points plus his team’s final points in a 75-74 win over the former basketball superpower? Go ahead, guess.
Meanwhile, Arvydas Sabonis plus the fantasies of a nation weren’t enough for Lithuania to avoid another ridiculous performance from the greatest team ever assembled. Final score of this semifinal match: USA 127, Lithuania 76.
But it was the following game which would make for perhaps the greatest moment in the reborn Lithuanian basketball history – and certainly still right up there with the 2003 Eurobasket championship win as the team’s most significant win ever.
Lithuania had suffered a disappointing 92-80 loss to the former Soviet Union side in group play, thereby denying Jerry Garcia’s favorite team the no. 1 seed and a prospective semifinal date with Croatia. In hindsight, it’s too bad things turned out this way: A match between Lithuania and Croatia was a potential classic we were denied in 1992. On the other hand, the producers of The Other Dream Team couldn’t have dramatically scripted a better climax, namely an 82-78 win for Lietuva and a trip to the podium to show off that natty attire.
Speaking of scripting, the gold-medal game was predictable enough, even if Team Croatia did manage to keep things interesting for about three minutes of game time. You want to know how far we’ve come in 20 years? Go to about 3:18 in the clip below and then try to imagine a celebration like that after a jam and a one-point lead against this year’s Team USA.
Incidentally, Kukoc did well enough in that final game.
Those were the Games that were and BiE awaits the Games to come. While another Dream Team may be a long while in the forming yet and the greater geopolitical implications of the 2012 pool aren’t so heavy, here’s to thinking that 2012 Olympic basketball will prove to be of historical import as well.