Watching Team USA struggle for the first time in my life has been really eye-opening and weird to watch. For years, watching all the NBA stars dominate international basketball like it's an All-Star game was fun. But those days are gone, and other nations have become competitive, which is excellent for the real fans and the sport of basketball.
But when you remember the original Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, you can help but reminisce the greatness they presented. The first chance to watch a team of NBA stars on one team was an iconic moment that captured the attention of the whole sports world. The tournament was a formality, as everybody knew who would win, but that didn't stop people from watching every USA game with excitement.
From the moment they gathered together for training camp to playing the exhibition games, the hype was real and justified, as The Dream Team was rolling over everybody with style. So when they arrived in Barcelona, the Americans weren't shying away from the role of the favorites and global superstars. Ahead of their opening game versus Angola, one of the loudest mouths on the team, Charles Barkley, announced the game in mocking fashion.
“I don't know anything about Angola, but Angola's in trouble.”
Charles Barkley, YT
Of course, the game went how everybody expected, with the Americans dominating from the jump, displaying their quality, and doing whatever they want on the court to the starstruck Angolans. In the end, the USA would take a 116-48 victory, but the main story from the game would be an incident involving who other than Charles Barkley. At the midway point of the first half, with the USA already leading by 30 points, Charles elbowed Angola's Herlander Coimbra after scoring a layup for no apparent reason other than to scare him.
Obviously, the crowd didn't like the move, as Charles got showered with a flurry of boos. Things calmed down during the game, as the Americans had a photo session with their opponents on the court after the game, but Charles would not help his case in the press conference with a pretty insensitive statement about his altercation with the 75 lbs lighter Coimbra.
”People told me to hit a fat guy next time, not a skinny one. That guy probably hadn't eaten in a few weeks.”
Charles Barkley, Sports Illustrated
This statement would sound off in Angola and other African countries, as Charles reacted really ignorant and insensitive to a community known for their struggles with poverty. Charles today is known for his controversial statements that are rarely filtered, but he was ever more problematic in his prime, getting into trouble on and off the court. That event would really stain the image of the iconic Dream Team, which was viewed as a team full of heroes up until that point.
The narrative quickly switched from global heroes to ignorant and cocky Americans (as always.) MJ and the rest of the team supported their teammate like always but still warn him about the consequences of his actions, specifically all the bad publicity. I can only imagine the reactions Charles's statement would get in today's world, filled with cancel culture.
Luckily for the Americans, it would die down quickly with them continuing to dominate the tournament and being the main attraction of the Olympics. So the whole drama was forgotten, and the Dream Team cruised to the gold, earning their place in basketball history.
Fortunately, the story has a nice ending, as Barkley and Coimbra met again and cleared the dust in the 1996 Olympics. Charles apologized, and Coimbra didn't take any offense, saying he became a local celebrity because of it. In the end, the two even became friends, acknowledging it was fair game because they both punched each other. Even though Charles's comments were really insensitive and wrong, it is nice to see the two players straighten things out as true Olympians.