The 1992 Dream Team, which was the first USA Basketball team to feature NBA players, is still looked at by most as the best team ever assembled. Inducted as a group into the Hall of Fame in 2010, every member of the team, minus Christian Laettner, has also been inducted on his own. Rivals turned teammates Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were the co-captains of a squad that also included Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, and Laettner, the team’s lone college player.
Even with a roster of that caliber, Michael Jordan was still the biggest name on it. By the time the 1992 Olympics rolled around, MJ was coming off his second NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls. He won his second straight NBA Finals MVP, his second consecutive and third overall NBA MVP, and had just led the league in scoring for the sixth straight year. He had become the biggest sports star on the planet and most assumed that he would be the best player for the Dream Team. But that turned out not to be the case as Charles Barkley stole the show in Barcelona.
Charles Barkley missed out on playing with Michael Jordan on Team USA in 1984
In 1984, former Indiana Hoosiers head coach Bob Knight led one of the last amateur teams into battle at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Knight hosted tryouts for the team at the Indiana campus and Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were looked at as the two best players at the camp. Jordan made the team and went on the lead Team USA in scoring that summer, averaging 17.1 points per game. The U.S. team, which also included future Dream Team members Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, went undefeated in LA and won the gold medal. And Charles Barkley missed out on all of it.
70 players attended the trials and Charles Barkley did make it to the final 20. However, it was determined that his personality did not mesh with Bob Knight’s and he was one of eight players cut to get the roster down to 12. Also in that group was future Dream Team member John Stockton.
Barkley had one of the best Olympic runs in USA Basketball history with the Dream Team in 1992
By the time the 1992 Olympics began, Charles Barkley had become one of the best players in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers and was coming off his sixth consecutive All-Star season. But the selection committee was still unsure about him. It’s no secret that Barkley has a strong personality and USA Basketball was a little concerned that he wouldn’t represent the United States well in Barcelona. Nevertheless, he was chosen as one of the first 10 members of the Dream Team and his dream of playing in the Olympics finally became a reality.
Michael Jordan was the only player to start every game for coach Chuck Daly but it was Charles Barkley that became the team’s star. He ran into a little bit of trouble in the team’s Olympic opener when he elbowed a player from Angola in the chest (the ensuing free throw on the technical was Angola’s only point in a 46-1 run by the U.S.) and, in true Charles Barkley fashion, he defended what he did by saying he got hit first. He still scored a team-high 24 points that night in the 68-point victory. Everyone moved on from the incident and Barkley went on to have one of the greatest Olympic runs in USA Basketball history.
In the Dream Team’s fourth game, a matchup with Brazil, Barkley scored 30 points, which at the time was an Olympic record. He followed that up with a 20-point performance against Spain. He later scored 17 points in the championship game versus Toni Kukoc and Croatia and finally had the gold medal he went searching for eight years earlier. Charles Barkley led the Dream Team in scoring with 18 points per game (Michael Jordan was second at 14.9) and his 144 total points in the tournament were at the time the second-highest total in USA Basketball history, behind only Spencer Haywood’s 145 in 1968.
What makes Barkley’s performance so impressive was his efficiency. He shot an incredible 71.1% from the floor (59-for-83) and 87.5% (7-for-8) from the three-point line. By comparison, Michael Jordan shot 45.1% from the field (51-for-113) and 21.1% (4-for-19) from beyond the arc. Four years later, Charles Barkley would win his second gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, again leading Team USA in scoring and shot 81.6% from the floor, which is still a record to this day.
Charles Barkley continued his great play in 1992-1993 and won NBA MVP
Nine days before the Dream Team’s first game in Barcelona, Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns. He kept the momentum from his performance from the Olympics going into the 1992-1993 NBA season and had one of the best years of his career. He averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and a career-high 5.1 assists per game while shooting 52% from the floor. He led the Suns to a league-best 62-20 record and was named the NBA MVP. He took Phoenix to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1976 but the Suns lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.