When we were asked by a sponsor to write briefly about our favorite Olympic moment, there was really only one option for me.
The Dream Team 20th Anniversary (via ESPN)
We all tend to romanticize the events of our youth, and in part because of that, I fondly remember the special place that team had in my heart. As a 15-year-old in the summer of 1992, I couldn't help but be swept up in the drama of the Dream Team. I was as passionate about basketball then as I am now, and when you factor in the blind idealistic patriotic tendencies that are endemic to teenagers ... well, the Dream Team was the perfect storm to capture my imagination.
Even now, it's hard to sort out all the feelings bouncing around inside my head about what made this team so special to me at the time. I suppose the root was 1988, the last all-collegiate Olympic basketball team the United States fielded. Eleven-year-old Jeff was finally blossoming into a sports fan. I really was too young to appreciate anything about the 1984 Olympics, and I followed the games in Seoul, South Korea, intently.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was watching my country -- you know, the good guys! in the Cold War and all that -- win another gold medal in basketball, because basketball was one of my favorite Olympic sports because I actually played it and of course the United States was going to win gold because of course that's what the United States does in basketball unless it's stolen from them by a bunch of cheating commies.
Then those guys went out and lost -- TO THE RUSSIANS!* How could they possibly lose to the freaking Russians? The Russians were communists. And communists were evil. And the only way evil wins is to cheat. Which, of course, is what the USSR was actually doing because they were playing with 30-somethings who were actually PROFESSIONALS!
*Yes, I'm aware they weren't really "Russians." But remember, 11-year-old Jeff doesn't know the difference between Russians and Soviets. They're all dirty commies to him.
So, of course we -- and I do very much mean "we" in the most patriotic sense possible -- being the United States of stinking America did the only thing we know how to do: We went nuclear. (See what I did there?) Jordan. Bird. Magic. Barkley. Ewing. Malone. Stockton. Pippen. Robinson. Mullin. Drexler. Laettner. (Laettner? OK, whatever.)
Eleven future hall of famers, all on the same team. No team before or since could boast that.
The rest of the story is well known (at least by most people of a certain age), and the details just aren't all that important. From beginning to end, the 1992 Olympics basketball tournament wasn't an athletic competition; it was a coronation. And to 15-year-old jingoistic Jeff, this was entirely appropriate, fitting and even fulfilling. I watched every minute of every game that team played that summer, reveling in the spectacle of a team that was perfect in every way: Full of some of the best players the game had ever seen with audacity and personality to match.
Why did Charles Barkley elbow that poor guy from Angola? Because he could. Not only did everyone know it -- everyone approved of it.
Like all people when they get old, I've become much more cynical and jaded about both the Olympics and the state of my country in general in the years since 1992. But that doesn't diminish my memories of the Dream Team. In fact, it's actually quite the opposite: While I don't think I'd ever want to go back to being youthfully ignorant to the realities of the world around me, it sure allowed for some unbridled fun at the time.
What about you? What's your favorite Olympic memory?
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