|LeBron James and Team USA aren't mowing down teams like the Dream Team, but it's different now. (Getty Images)|
For Team USA, each game they play is about improving, about growing, about building towards the ultimate goal of a gold medal.
For the rest of us, it seems that it's become a chance to critique and compare them against 1992's Dream Team.
It's kind of where things are at right now, at least until we can all move on from the national obsession of lining the two teams up against each other. After Kobe Bryant chose to answer a question about it by saying this year's group could beat the special '92 squad, you knew that moving on from it wouldn't be easy. It's simply column fodder, an obvious discussion starter and honestly, pretty fun to talk about.
But as the 2012 team sits with one last exhibition game to go before the Olympics kick off, they're 5-0 this summer with an average victory margin of 26.2 points. They've had two semi close calls, trailing Brazil by eight in the first half and beating Argentina by only six.
President Obama seemed to put the lid on the already tired Dream Team vs. 2012 Team debate when he said, "The Dream Team was never down eight.”
People nodded, people retweeted, people agreed. Debate over, point for Mr. President. It's true, they weren't.
But they also didn't ever play a team as good as Brazil either. Or Argentina. Or Spain.
Using the current U.S. results as proof the Dream Team is superior is just unfair. Because the eras of international basketball are completely different. It's like smoking Betty White in a footrace and using that as proof that you could do the same to Usain Bolt.
The Dream Team's gold medal run was nothing short of completely dominant and impressive. They won by an average of 43.8 points per game. The closest game they played was won by 32. They scored more than a hundred points in every game. They averaged 117.3 points per game. They were unreal, incredible, unbelievable. They were and still are, the greatest sports team ever assembled.
But, in 1992, basketball was still almost exclusively an American game with the rest of the world just beginning to take serious interest. Heck, the Dream Team is largely credited with beginning that international boom. Consider this: In 2012, a record 89 international players were under contract in the NBA. In 1992, there were 21.
In the six-point win over Argentina Sunday, the U.S. played five players that were currently in the NBA. The most on any single team in Barcelona the Dream Team played in 1992 was one. Team USA played more NBA players against Argentina last week than the Dream Team played in their entire tournament.
(Those teams: Lithuania with Sarunas Marciulonis and Croatia with Drazen Petrovic. It should be noted because I'm sure everyone is going to point it out, I mean simply at the time under contract. Dino Radja didn't join the Celtics until 1993. Arvydas Sabonis didn't join the Blazers until 1995. Toni Kukoc didn't join the Bulls until 1993.)
Look at Spain, who is ranked No. 2 in the world and the top competition to Team USA. They have two All-Stars in Pau and Marc Gasol, the league's top shotblocker in Serge Ibaka, an NBA point guard in Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez who just left the NBA and Victor Claver who just joined it. (To which Team USA ripped by 22 in their final Olympic tuneup on Tuesday.)
The closest thing the Dream Team played like that in 1992 was a solid Croatian team that featured a young Kukoc, Petrovic, Zan Tabak, Stojko Vrankovic, Arijan Komazec and Radja. Those six players all spent time at some point in their careers in the NBA.
The Dream Team beat Croatia in the gold medal game 117-85, after beating them earlier in the tournament 103-70. But to President Obama's point, the Dream Team never trailed by eight, but they were down two at one point during the gold medal game, 25-23 in the first half.
And even though they supposedly threw the game, don't forget: The Dream Team lost to a bunch of college kids in a scrimmage.
This isn't an effort to settle the debate of Dream vs. 2012. Because that can't be settled. As Larry Bird slickly said, "They probably could [beat us]. I haven't played in 20 years and we're all old now." The argument is fun, but it's also pointless.
For the record, I side with the Dream Team in this head-to-head. In a seven-game series, I could see the 2012 squad winning a game and maybe even two. I think all the games would be pretty close. But the Dream Team had 11 Hall of Famers on it. Eleven!
That's all beside the point though.
We can debate the strengths, the weaknesses, how the two teams match up, who would win, by how much and all of that stuff. But using Team USA's current performances as evidence for anything? Plain dumb. If I beat a bunch of second graders in a spelling bee, I wouldn't put that on a resume to apply to be an astronaut.
We'll never know by how much, if any, the Dream Team would win by. We'll never know if they would've handled Argentina by more than six or smoked Brazil by 30. The only way this thing could actually get resolved is if Team USA falls short of gold.
Because one thing's for certain: The Dream Team definitely wouldn't do that.