After boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the United States was preparing a gold medal harvest in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The U.S. ended the ’84 games as the #1 on the overall medal scoreboard with a total of 174 medals; 83 golden ones!
The U.S. sports supremacy at 1984 Olympics had nowhere been so evident than on the basketball court of the Great Western Forum, home court of the 1984 NBA title runner-up – the Los Angeles Lakers. In just seven years, in 1991, the same court will be the place where 1990 MVP Magic Johnson will hand over his crown to Michael Jordan and his team – the Chicago Bulls – which will dominate the 1990s NBA.
But in late April of 1984, Jordan was just another one in the group of 71 top college players. They came to the 1984 U.S. basketball Olympic trials in Bloomington, the home of Indiana University. The 1984 U.S. Olympic team was coached by the Indiana University head coach Bobby Knight.
As soon as the drills and scrimmages began, the chosen group soon became aware that the Knight’s working regime was nothing short of being in the army. The players would work, work, and then again work. Every spring day, twice a day. And Knight wasn’t backing down while working with the group, which featured seven future Hall-of-Famers!
He treated all of the players as equal, giving them a realistic chance to win the spot on the medal-winning team based on their work, behavior, and overall performance at scrimmages and friendly games. The overall consensus is that the most dominant player at the 1984 U.S. Olympic team trials was The round mound of rebound – Charles Barkley. The Auburn University 284-pound forward who played as the point guard position while in high school, simply outmatched everyone who stood in his way!
“The one that sticks out is Charles Barkley. The way he’s able to move around 284 pounds like a guard is amazing.”Wayman Tisdale, via Chicago Tribune
But one person standing in his way just couldn’t be overmatched – coach Knight. Barkley just couldn’t handle one of the qualities Knight was preaching – being precise – and was regularly late coming into the practices. At times, Knight was so angry at Barkley that he even called him ‘fat s.o.b.’ in front of the team:
“Let me tell you something you fat s.o.b., there is only one leader in this army.”Bobby Knight, via Deseret News
Barkley and Knight went at each other almost every day, in a series of verbal altercations in front of the team. It didn’t look right. They just didn’t choose words. Locker room or playground, it didn’t matter.
“If they cut Barkley, they better do it by mail.”Jim Boeheim, via Chicago Tribune
But Knight had the last word in this war. And it was his army. He cut Barkley just before announcing the roster of 16 players, citing his ‘poor defense’ as a reason. The real reason was that Barkley was a potential ‘tempered bomb’ for his team’s chemistry.
In particular, it’s was highly questionable how Barkley would fare with the fact that the on-court leader of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team would be Michael Jordan, the arising global basketball phenomenon.
The other massive trial surprise was a steady and heady play of the relatively unknown point guard out of Gonzaga University, John Stockton. He quickly emerged as one of the best point guards in the whole group. But at the end of trials, Knight had to decide. He cut Stockton and opted for 6’3” Leon Wood.
“With John Stockton, coach had a talk with John, he told him, ‘You probably should have made this team, you’re good enough. But I am going to do everything I can to promote you so that the NBA and all the scouts and teams know what kind of player you are.’”George Raveling, via Sporting News
The group of great players Knight cut in the 1984 U.S. Olympic team trials included the names such as Johnny Dawkins, John Stockton, Terry Porter, Joe Dumars, Dell Curry, Chuck Person, Charles Barkley, Tyrone Corbin, Karl Malone, A.C. Green, Otis Thorpe, Michael Cage, Kevin Willis, Roy Tarpley and was definitely strong enough to challenge the actual U.S. 1984 Olympics winning team for the gold medal!
With Soviets initiating the Olympic boycott on May 8th, 1984, and their basketball Dream Team led by the Lithuanian giant Arvydas Sabonis staying overseas, Knight opted for the ‘light cavalry’ in filling the roster – 19-year old Steve Alford, Vern Fleming, Leon Wood, Joe Kleine, Jon Koncak and Jeff Turner.
With the team’s backbone consisting of Jordan, Robertson, Mullin, Tisdale, Perking, and Ewing, the rest of the roster was balanced enough to provide the team with size and prevent potential chemistry issues. History proved Knight being right – Team USA stormed to a perfect 8-0 record and gold medal.
Eight years later, in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, NBA All-Stars John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone re-joined the 1984 team members Michael Jordan, Chris Mullin, and Pat Ewing in a mission of reclaiming the Olympic gold medal, but this time as professionals.