When Kobe Bryant hypothesized that the 2012 U.S. Men's Basketball Team would beat the 1992 squad — the original Dream Team — Michael Jordan just laughed. Charles Barkley said only three players from the current team could have cracked their roster.
Video gamers can settle it for themselves this October when both squads, in their United States Olympic uniforms, appear in NBA 2K13. And yes, that means Barkley is at long last returning to a video game.
"I think it's going to start more arguments than it ends," Jordan said in an appearance arranged by 2K Sports, for whom he's been an endorser since 2010. "I don't think it's every going to end because we'll never know. The only way for it to end is to lace 'em back up and play in this game in 2012."
Considered by many to be the greatest collection of talent in any sport, the Dream Team was the first U.S. national basketball team to use professionals. Its sole purpose was to reassert American dominance over the sport invented on its soil. And it did, winning eight games in the Barcelona Olympics by an average of 44 points.
Eleven of its 12 players and three of its four coaches were later elected individually to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (the team itself was enshrined collectively in 2010). Its intrasquad scrimmage shortly before the 1992 Games was called "the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw."
All but two of its members were already among the all-time greats NBA 2K12 assembled for its "NBA's Greatest" retrospective last year. Barkley, the Dream Team's leading scorer, was not one of them, making his signing this year the linchpin to the Dream Team's video game return. (The team starred in Team USA Basketball on the Sega Genesis in 1992.)
Jason Argent, the 2K Sports vice president of marketing, said that bringing in hip-hop superstar and entrepreneur Jay-Z to be the game's executive producer both drove the necessity for bringing the Dream Team to the game, and the discussions with Barkley to licence his appearance in it.
"In our meetings with Jay-Z, he absolutely needed USA Basketball, both 1992 and 2012, in this game." Argent said. However, "If we're putting these teams in, Charles has to be in the game. Our executive producer, Jay-Z, put in a call to Charles himself, and helped us forge an agreement to use him in the game."
Last year, NBA 2K12 featured the 1985 Philadelphia 76ers, Barkley's team in his rookie year. That choice plus Barkley's absence from the roster pointed to a deal that fell apart at the last minute, although 2K Sports has never commented on what happened. Evidently, Jay-Z's celebrity heft and the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team's gold medal was enough to convince Sir Charles to come around.
He will not, however, appear on any other team in the game. When asked if that was because Barkley only agreed to an appearance for USA Basketball, or if the game was not returning or adding to its "NBA's Greatest" suite of classic games, Argent demurred. "We're going to talk a bit more about that as we start making more announcements," Argent said, "but Charles will just appear on that 1992 team."
Yet the Dream Team still will not have all 12 players in NBA 2K13. 2K Sports and Scottie Pippen, who appeared on several classic Chicago Bulls teams the past two years, could not come to an agreement on the use of his likeness in NBA 2K13.
Again, Argent refused to say what kept the two sides apart but pointedly said "Scottie is a good friend of the brand; our relationship is on very solid terms with Scottie Pippen."
Pippen started in three of the eight games played at Barcelona 1992, averaging 9 points per game. Everyone else, including Christian Laettner of Duke, the Dream Team's only collegian, will be in the game.
That is more than enough firepower to pose a formidable challenge to any team in this game, including the 2012 gold medalists, which set an Olympic record for points scored in a game in its 156-73 blowout of Nigeria.
Jordan tipped his cap to the 2012 Olympians, acknowledging that in one-on-one situations many of its players could pose a problem to the 1992 Dream Team. "Everyone speaks about LeBron and Kobe but in essence it's how would the game be played from an offensive and defensive standpoint," Jordan said. "I felt we had a much more solid defence. We would have forced them to try to penetrate to [go up against] the shot blockers, which I felt would be a real point with this team in 2012. They only had one shot blocker."
At the time, Magic Johnson said with Jordan, Barkley and Larry Bird, "I didn't know who to throw the ball to!" Jordan said any decision an NBA 2K13 gamer makes is probably going to pay off.
"It depends on how you want to score. If you want to score inside, go to Charles or Karl (Malone). If you want to go outside, then go to Larry or (Chris) Mullin or myself," Jordan said. "I'm sure we could score in any environment. That's the beauty of Magic, he could throw it either way and be confident that we'd score.
"I think it's gonna be great," said Jordan, who expressed confidence that the Dream Team's players will be individually rated higher than their 2012 counterparts. "I knew that was going to be a debate, it is a debate, we'll never know. Granted, I think those guys are much more athletic than we were at that particular time, but I'd like to think we were much smarter. Honestly, I don't think we'd have as many problems with them as they would with us."