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In 1992, with the advent of the open era of basketball 3 years prior, the United States formed the so-called “Dream Team” composed of superstars and future hall of famers such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
As expected, they bamboozled their opponents with a margin of 52 points during the qualifying Tournament of the Americas and 44 points during the Barcelona Olympics.
In 2008, bleacherreport.com published a photo showing the images of the members of the ’92 dream team and the members of the 2008 USA Basketball Team also known as the “Redeem Team” pitted against each other. The question was, “who would you pick to win?”
Many will say that still, the 1992 Dream Team will win over the “Redeem” Team. There are others who will pick the Redeem team because of the fact that all the team members of this edition of the USA team are still at the peak of their careers while the Dream Team was composed of superstars who were at the middle part or nearing the twilight of their careers.
But there is one team that I think can give the USA Dream Team a real challenge and that was the Yugoslavian Team composed of the late great Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Dino Radja, Zarko Paspalj and coached by the great Dusan Ivkovic.
This Yugoslavian team was already together since 1987 and placed 3rd during the Eurobasket the same year. The same team competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and won the silver medal against the USSR team led by Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, 76-63. Take note that the experienced USSR team won only by 13 points against this Yugoslavian team.
This Yugoslavian team eventually won the Eurobasket in 1989 and the 1990 FIBA World Cup including a victory over the United States bannered by Alonzo Mourning and Kenny Anderson. Until then the team was ripe for a podium finish for the next Olympics at Barcelona Spain.
But a series of events prevented this team for what could have been the greatest challenge to the dream team. First, the break-up of the Yugoslav State. Yugoslavia was made up constituent republics and during the onset of the 90’s, the constituent republics one by one bolted out of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and one by one, gained their independence. But that didn’t come easy as it involved ethnic violence and loss of thousands of lives. As a result, FIBA suspended Yugoslavia and it did not compete in the Barcelona Olympics. That left Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj and possibly Aleksandar Dordevic and Predrag Danilovic to suit up for the 1992 Olympics together with Croatian Stars Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja. Imagine a complete Yugoslavian Team going up against the dream team if that political unrest did not happen. Remember that Croatia was the only team in the Olympics that the dream beat under 40 points twice, 33 and 32, aside from Puerto Rico.
Let’s say that the political unrest in Yugoslavia did not happen and they were allowed to compete under the Yugoslavian Federation flag during the 1992 Olympics, one thing will also hamper the dream match up to happen and that is personal.
Remember that during 1990 FIBA World Cup in Argentina won by Yugoslavia, one controversial event happened after the game known as flag throwing incident wherein during the celebration, the Croatians waved their nationalistic flag at the back of Divac. Infuriated by the fan’s action being a Serb, Divac grabbed the Croatian flag and threw it. at ESPN’s 30 for 30 short film “Once Brothers” Divac justified his actions because at that time hethought that they should be proud playing under the flag of Yugoslavia. The Croatian media capitalized on that incident and put Divac more in a bad light which turned Drazen Petrovic cold on their friendship until the time of his death in 1993. The two never reconciled.
With those events that our hands cannot change anymore as it is now part of our history, we as basketball fans can just speculate, can just fantasize about the great match up that we did not see. A match up that we can only salivate in our dreams. The Yugoslavians may not beat the U.S. Dream Team in 1992 but it can expose that the U.S. team were also humans and did not give the illusion that they are unbeatable, something that will happen in later years when other basketball loving countries had already caught up with the United States who went sleeping on their basketball glory.