Commentary

USA back on Dream Team stage

In Barcelona, Kobe Bryant was asked again about Team USA and the Dream Team.

Originally Published: July 20, 2012
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Kobe BryantCatherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant and Team USA return to the place that made the Dream Team famous.
BARCELONA, Spain -- The blunt, unfiltered and occasionally R-rated responses that Kobe Bryant famously fires off in his sparring sessions with reporters back home generally don't travel with him. Of all the players on a roster filled with 20-somethings, no one on Team USA understands his ambassadorial responsibilities better than Bryant.

That was especially evident at lunchtime Saturday inside the famed Palau Sant Jordi, where Bryant settled in to a baseline seat, slowed down his speech just a touch to help the foreign media swarm around him to keep up and patiently answered every question posed about the Americans' trip to Barcelona to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the Dream Team.

"This is where it began in terms of basketball becoming a global sport," Bryant said, happily playing helpful historian for the prensa for a good half-hour before Saturday's practice.

"This was the global stage for the Dream Team where everything kind of took off."

Only one subject, on the eve of Team USA's exhibition showdown Sunday night with Argentina, could bring Edgy Kobe back to life. When a familiar face from the States asked if he had reconsidered his recent claim that the 2012 team could have beaten the Michael Jordan-led Dreamers, in the wake of a public scolding from Jordan and plenty of additional flak, Bryant not-so-surprisingly refused to recant an ounce of his argument.

Or one gram if you insist on the proper metric conversion.

"People who think we can't beat that team for one game, they're crazy," Bryant said. "To sit there and say we can't, it's ludicrous."

Asked if that's a viewpoint he plans to share directly with Jordan next time they cross paths -- after MJ opined that opening up this back and forth was "not one of the smarter things [Bryant] ever could have done" -- Kobe answered: "He knows. They got beat by a college select team once. Doesn't mean we're a better team than them, but s---, we can beat them one time."

The trouble, of course, is not only that we'll never know the truth, but also the reality that Team USA's many injury casualties in 2012 (starting with Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade) have drained much of the passion out of the debate. USA Basketball will not be taking to the London Olympics anything close to the best team it could have fielded. Combine that with the fact that the original Dreamers had an untouchable cultural impact that changed the face of the game forever -- or the fact that the competition is so much better two decades later compared to an awestruck field that virtually conceded the gold to the glittering Dream Team before anyone even reached Barcelona -- and you have too many complicated variables to process to spend too much time on this particular hypothetical.

"Those are things I think about during the summer when I'm at the beach with my family," Team USA boss Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. "Not when I'm coaching the USA team.

"We're concentrating on playing Argentina."

On this particular afternoon, Coach K didn't even want to talk about Tuesday's opponent -- Spain -- until the Americans get past an Argentinean group filled with familiar faces, most notably Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino. The next few days will be dripping with nostalgia, so Krzyzewski is doubly intent on trying to keep the in-house talk focused on more pertinent questions. Such as: Can Team USA, with Tyson Chandler as its only recognized center, legitimately cope with the Spanish frontcourt trio of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka?

Paul As long as you know me, as long as I'm playing this game, you'll never hear me say that I think any man can beat me.

-- Chris Paul
"He brings up '08 more than '92," Team USA forward Kevin Durant said of Krzyzewski, who served as an assistant to Chuck Daly with the Dreamers. "He was there for '92, but he was the head coach for '08.

"We really can't duplicate exactly what that team did. We just [try to] put our own spin on it. Every [American] team from now on is going to be compared to that Olympic team, no matter if it's this year or 20 years from now. Every team is going to be compared to that '92 team. ... We respect them. We're glad they laid that blueprint, but it's our time now. We just got to focus on us."

Yet there's at least one Bryant teammate who understands why Kobe said what he said.

"In all honesty, what's he supposed to say if you guys ask him?" Team USA point guard Chris Paul offered. "Tell me what everybody would have said if Kobe said, 'We can't beat 'em.'

"We respect that team, believe me. I was 7 at the time. Even though I don't remember all the games, I used to collect all the [basketball] cards. But let me tell you something: As long as you know me, as long as I'm playing this game, you'll never hear me say that I think any man can beat me."

It realistically won't be until next Wednesday or Thursday, after the exhibitions against Argentina and Spain and if this group can negotiate them successfully, that you'll be able to get through three sentences of Team USA coverage without a Dream Team reference.

But that's actually fine with Bryant, who in spite of the recent, uh, difference of opinion with his idol, is ready and willing to reminisce more than pretty much anyone else in the Yanks' traveling party.

"I remember everything," Bryant said. "I was 13 years old. I remember watching the first game to the very last.

"I'm sure we'll be talking about it more as the week goes along. But this team right here, most of the guys were so young. Most of these guys were 3 or 4 years old, so they don't know too much about it. The [new Dream Team] documentary was much-needed."

Said Durant: "I was about 3 years old. But I've watched the tapes. I've seen the [victory] margins.

"Hopefully we can go out and honor them the right way."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics