Had Kobe Bryant decided to go to college, I could see him as one of those students that purposely won’t start writing a term paper until the night before it’s due; the type that thrives in classes in which the final exam counts for 50 percent of the grade for the semester.
Meanwhile, on the court, he’d be the type of player that raises his game amidst the madness of March; one of those that relishes a hostile road crowd and egging on the worst chants they can muster.
In other words, I see Kobe as the type that doesn’t just welcome pressure – he needs pressure to perform at his best.
So it makes sense that – whether it was consciously his intention or not – Kobe was the member of this year’s U.S. Olympic basketball team to get the mainstream sports world started on the debate pitting the 2012 team against the 1992 “Dream Team.”
While the argument is naturally light on facts and heavy on fantasy, here is one truth: This year’s Olympic squad is the biggest, fastest, most athletic and most talented basketball team ever assembled.
And so, knowing this, perhaps Kobe foresaw a rather boring, spotless romp to the gold-medal stand in London and needed to up the ante. Four years ago he faced the pressure of winning his first gold medal, of being the alpha on the best team in the world. Perhaps he needed a new challenge. Perhaps he needed to start the Dream Team argument because now Team USA 2012 has inherited an opponent tougher than Spain, Argentina or Greece: the almost indestructible mythology that surrounds the original Dream Team.
And now the pressure is on Kobe and Team USA to play the tournament of their lives.
At the same time, Kobe gave the public exactly what we wanted going into the London Games: A sports argument that can be waged endlessly, with no way to prove one side right or wrong. It’s the ideal scenario for sports TV producers, sports radio program directors, sports writers and their editors. It’s the priceless gift of polarizing content.
Better yet, no definitive answer exists.
Everything about the 1992 versus 2012 debate is hypothetical, theoretical and speculative. Those who have bought into the cult of nostalgia can boldly talk trash about how Chris Mullin would drop 40 on Andre Iguodala, how Patrick Ewing would make Tyson Chandler ashamed to call himself a New York Knick, how Scottie Pippen would manage to hold 2012’s starting five scoreless all by himself.
And then the rest of us can roll our eyes because we know better.
Here’s what seems obvious to me: The 2012 U.S. team could absolutely beat the Dream Team.
And just as likely, the Dream Team could beat the 2012 team.
But either way, it would be close. Whether it’s one game, best-of-seven, or best-of-25, it would not be a blowout.
That’s where Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan and so many other staunch Dream Team supporters lose credibility, with their idea that Jordan and Barkley’s team would roll over Kobe and LeBron’s team like it was the Kentucky Wildcats versus Kentucky Wesleyan.
(And yes, I’m writing this the night after Team USA 2012 slogged through an 11-point victory over Brazil in an exhibition game in Washington D.C.)
Outside of the belief held by a disturbingly high percentage of the population that a Jordan-led team simply couldn’t lose because Jordan is and forever will be undefeated in every competition ever, the most misleading piece of evidence introduced in this case – by Magic Johnson and others – is that the Dream Team had 11 Hall of Famers and 23 NBA championships, therefore they’d have to win because the 2012 team has zero Hall of Famers and only seven championships.