Twenty-five years ago today, on Sept. 21, 1991, the first 10 players of the famed “Dream Team” were announced. Sports Illustrated unveiled the name on its Feb. 18, 1991, magazine cover and on Sept. 21, 1991, the nation learned the names of the men who would represent Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
The team roster included Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Utah Jazz stars John Stockton and Karl Malone, Boston Celtic Larry Bird, Golden State Warrior Chris Mullin, Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson, New York Knick Patrick Ewing, Philadelphia 76er Charles Barkley and San Antonio Spur David Robinson.
Bird and Johnson became the co-captains of the team. Between those two and Jordan, there were a combined 10 championships, eight regular-season MVPs, seven NBA Finals MVPs and six regular-season scoring leaders over a 13-year span.
Ewing, Jordan and Mullin already had gold medals from the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and Robinson was a member of the 1988 team. Johnson’s selection to the team was monumental because in November 1991 he announced that he tested positive for HIV and immediately retired from the Lakers.
The final two spots on the team didn’t come without controversy. One professional spot and one collegiate spot were still available after the initial selection.
Members of the United States Men's National Basketball Team celebrate on the court during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Members of the United States Men’s National Basketball Team celebrate on the court during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
For the pro spot, it came down to Portland Trailblazer Clyde Drexler and Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas. The amateur spot was between Duke Blue Devil Christian Laettner and Louisiana State Tiger Shaquille O’Neal.
On May 12, 1992, Drexler and Laettner were added to the team.
Many folks speculated that Thomas was left off the roster because of two major events: Him being considered the leader of a “Bad Boys” team in the late 1980s and early 1990s that physically imposed its will on all its opponents, especially Jordan and the Bulls with the “Jordan Rules,” and the second offense was the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, in which Thomas was again considered the leader of a group of veterans who wouldn’t include Jordan in the game.
Jordan and others didn’t forget these slights. In the book When the Game Was Ours, Johnson said: “Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics. Nobody on that team wanted to play with him.”
Based on his college career, Laettner’s accomplishments far outshined O’Neal’s accolades, even though the LSU center would go on to be the first pick in the 1992 NBA draft.
The Blue Devil was a back-to-back national champion (1991 and 1992) and the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1992. O’Neal was a back-to-back first-team All-American in 1991 and 1992, but his Tigers were bounced in the second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament.