The day the Dream Team dismantled Cuba, 136-57
First game was a sign of things to come for the greatest Olympic men’s basketball team
The Dream Team played its first game against the Cuban national team on June 28, 1992. Considering how a reporter described the 136-57 blowout, many would question whether that’s how the best Olympic men’s basketball team ever assembled actually spent its day.
The Washington Post‘s David Aldridge had a field day painting a picture for those who couldn’t attend the qualifying game in Portland, Oregon.
The Cuban national team, in an incredible display of defensive prowess, held Michael Jordan to two first-half points in the United States’ opening-round game of the Basketball Tournament of the Americas today.
With 47 seconds left in the first half, Jordan, who finished with six points, scored on a fast-break dunk.
To the dismay of the Cuban national team, the rest of Team USA scored 62 points in that first half while holding the Cubans to 27 points.
A barn burner this was not, as Aldridge explained:
So it went all afternoon at this unveiling of the U.S. “Dream Team” of NBA professionals and one collegian. When it ended, mercifully — perhaps there should be a slaughter rule in international basketball — the United States was on the very long end of a 136-57 score.
It wasn’t a rout. Or a pasting. Or a blowout. It was just a score. Because it was very hard to call what transpired a basketball game.
Not when your opposition begs you for a group photo two minutes before tipoff. Not when you shoot 64 percent in the first half, and lead by 40 at intermission, and 81 percent in the second, when your “bench” goes on a 33-7 run over the first 7:49, making the score 100-34 with 12:11 left. If the United States had not scored another point from that moment on, it would have won by 43.
“You don’t want to kill people,” Charles Barkley, who scored a game-high 22 points, told Aldridge. “But what can you do? If we hold the ball, that’s embarrassing for us and for them. The fans deserve to see us at our best. … You don’t want to pick a [margin of victory], but you want every country to know if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to have to bring their lunch and a hard hat.”
“If we speak honestly,” Cuba’s coach, Miguel Calderon Gomez, told Aldridge, “to beat them you need another NBA team. In Cuba, we have a saying: ‘You can’t cover the sun with your finger.’ ”
The Cubans were overjoyed to be in the same vicinity as the superstars they’d seen on TV.
Before the game began, though, there was the unusual sight of both teams posing for a family reunion-style snapshot at midcourt. The Cubans’ idea.
“Definitely, they are better,” Cuban center Felix Morales told Aldridge.
“I watched them on TV. Just watching them live, that was a big impression for us. We were playing them, against the best. As for me, it was an honor. We saw the scoreboard and it was a logical result, but we did the best we could.”
That the game was not competitive was less a reflection of how bad the Cubans were — the team finished fourth in the Pan American Games in 1991 — but more a statement of how superior the U.S. was to the Cubans. In fact, Cuba’s Angel Caballero was a standout, going chest to chest with Jordan for two to three minutes in a full-court press … with Cuba down 55 in the second half.
“I liked that,” Jordan told the Post. “I took it as a challenge for those few minutes. It didn’t last long. The game was lacking there a little bit. They seemed very tentative, but he was a little aggressive. That was a little change.”
The closest Cuba ever got was when the team faced a 4-3 deficit.
Team USA finished with 41 assists; John Stockton had 12 and Magic Johnson, who retired from the league in 1991 after testing HIV-positive, finished with nine. Larry Bird missed only one of his eight shots for 17 points, and Clyde Drexler amassed 20 points. The team also had a 41-25 rebounding advantage, which led to a number of the fast-break points.
“You can’t even touch on how I feel,” Johnson told the Post. “I was up about 5:30 this morning just waiting to get out there in a competitive atmosphere. It was just great. The baskets came because of the great defense. When you’ve got that many guys who can get out on the break, and everybody can do something different … you have so many more options than you have on your regular team.”
The Dream Team rolled through the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, beating opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game en route to winning the gold medal against Croatia, 117-85.