“The Last Dance” documentary on the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls packed four major story angles from the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics into about 17 minutes on Sunday night.
First, and, if any of them, somewhat revelatory, was Isiah Thomas‘ omission from the 12-man roster (tackled in detail here).
It was the most significant news of the original roster selection and reignited with Dream Team documentaries in 2012 (20th anniversary in conjunction with London Olympics) and a previous “Last Dance” episode on the Bulls-Pistons rivalry.
In previous interviews in 1992 or more recently, both Jordan and Rod Thorn, a USA Basketball player selection committee member in 1992 who called Jordan to offer him a team spot, gave different answers about whether Jordan or Thorn said it first: that Thomas wasn’t going to be chosen for the team. Or whether either said it at all.
The new wrinkle from Sunday’s interview: Maybe Thomas’ name wasn’t uttered at all.
“Before the ’92 Olympics, Rod Thorn calls me and says we would love for you to be on the Dream Team,” Jordan said. “I said oh, who’s all playing? [Thorn] says, uh, what does that mean? I say who’s all playing? He says, well, the guy you’re talking about or, you’re thinking about, is not going to be playing.
“I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent. To me, the best point guard of all-time is Magic Johnson, and right behind him is Isiah Thomas. No matter how much I hate him, I respect his game. Now it was insinuated that I was asking about him, but I never threw his name in there. … You want to attribute it to me, go ahead, be my guest, but it wasn’t me.”
Thomas repeated that he didn’t know why he was left off.
“The camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony,” Jordan said. “Would Isiah made a different feeling on that team? Yes.”
The rest of the Dream Team segment, split into two parts by a commercial break, looked at the famous practice game in Monte Carlo. With Clyde Drexler and John Stockon sidelined, the teams were: Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing against Johnson, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, Christian Laettner and David Robinson, according to Jack McCallum‘s 2012 book, “Dream Team.”
Johnson, who said it was the best basketball he was ever a part of, and his team led by as many as nine points. It also involved a level of trash talk befitting the occasion.
Johnson said he, at one point while leading, said, “If you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you out.” Jordan then willed his team to an eventual victory.
“After that game everyone kind of acknowledged we were in a new era,” NBA PR executive Brian McIntyre said. “Michael Jordan was the alpha alpha, period.”
From there, the episode moved to the “Kukoc Game,” when the U.S. faced Croatia in group play. It was the first time Jordan and Pippen went up against Toni Kukoc, the prized recruit of their hated Bulls general manager, Jerry Krause.
The Kukoc game, and how he earned Jordan’s respect, is covered in detail here.
“Jerry paved the way for a lot of hell for Toni Kukoc,” Pippen said. “Every guy on that Olympic team looked at that kid and felt like he may not even think about coming to the NBA after he played against us. It wasn’t anything personally about Toni, but we were going to do everything we could to make Jerry look bad.”
Lastly, the segment touched on Jordan famously covering up the Reebok logo on the official U.S. Olympic medal podium jacket. Jordan, after insulting then-USOC executive Harvey Schiller while riding in a car, teased that he had a big surprise. He ended up draping an American flag over his right shoulder.
Other players also wore flags or zipped their jackets so the Reebok logo was hidden.
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