The Class of 2010 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night. The Hoops Hall doesn’t generate the same buzz as its brothers in Cooperstown and Canton do earlier in the summer, but Friday was still special in sports history.
The greatest team ever assembled in sports took its place in the Hall. The 1992 Dream Team was a one-of-a-kind creation that captivated the United States and the world for one summer in Barcelona. It was incredible and it will never be done again in sports.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, and Christian Laettner formed a true super team that traveled the streets of Spain like a legendary rock band by day and then blew fans’ minds by night, winning by an average of 46 points. They weren’t even challenged. It was the real beautiful game. It was poetry as these NBA superstars and individuals became one on the court with crisp passes and hard screens for easy buckets. The United States was overflowing with pride and the world watched in awe.
The Dream Team has been remade many times. Most have dominated, but not with the same beauty. One was flat out embarrassing. And a Redeem Team tried its best impersonation, but even after winning Gold, LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Co. proved they’re not even close to the 1992 squad that set the standard.
The 2008 U.S. Olympic team played wonderful basketball in Beijing and brought back some joy to the game, which was a great thing to see. But it wasn’t the Dream Team. There can never be another Dream Team. The original cast was put together, perhaps, to prove a point, to restore American dominance in basketball, to show the world just how good we can be. And it did those things, but it also did more. Because of the timing, the players involved, the setting — it was perfect. The Dream Team lifted the game around the world. The Dream Team played basketball at the highest level imaginable. More than anything, the Dream Team was just a lot of fun. And the sequels had no chance of living up.
So, the basketball Dream Team has no chance for the rest of time, but what about a baseball Dream Team?
The idea has been discussed many times before and the answer is always that the Major League Baseball season can’t afford to take a break like the NHL for the Winter Olympics and I agree. The MLB is too good and has too much riding on every season to screw it up. But it’s still fun to wonder what a baseball Dream Team would be like.
And baseball may need a Dream Team now more than ever. The same year the Dream Teamers were tearing up the court was also the first year that baseball had medal status. After years as an exhibition sport, there was a Gold Medal out there for the best on the diamond. Cuba took the Gold. The United States lost the Bronze Medal match to Japan. Baseball is no longer part of the Summer Olympics. America’s Pastime, Cuba’s first love, and Japan’s obsession was voted out of the lineup for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
A Dream Team could be the kind of buzz needed to rekindle the baseball Olympic flame. And it would certainly be fun to watch if it was done right. The World Baseball Classic is boring. It doesn’t have the allure of the Olympics and a Gold Medal. And the best players don’t participate. The Dream Team would have to be the best of the best just like the basketball original.
My baseball Dream Team for the 2012 Olympics would include a nice balance of the proven greats at the end of their career to fill the Magic and Bird role along with superstars in their prime and some rising young stars. For now, it will be based on projections and current performances. There’s just one rule: Anyone linked to performance-enhancing drugs is disqualified from consideration.
Derek Jeter and Michael Young are my picks for the veteran roles. Jeter is the Yankee captain, baseball’s golden boy, a perfect role model, and one of the best hitters of the generation. He is currently ahead of Pete Rose’s pace for the all-time hits record, so the 4,000 mark is within reach. And the Dream Team is about rock star status and captivating the world. No one does it like Jeter. Young flies under the radar in Texas, but he has been every bit as good as Jeter at the plate. He won the batting title in 2005, has five 200-hit campaigns, and six years with a .300 batting average all during this decade. His peak came as Texas was still rising and he now serves as the veteran leader of a team on its way to the division title. He is hitting .291 with 137 hits and two months to add more. In 2012, Jeter and Young will still be good but the end will be near, making them my captains.
Roy Halladay will also be a little closer to the end, but Doc works so hard and has been too good to leave off the team. He’ll be elder statesman leading the rotation. At 33, he is 14-8 with a 2.34 ERA in his first season in Philadelphia. Halladay will age well because of his work ethic and competitive nature. When he’s 35 in 2012, he’ll still be firing with the young guns and he would be the perfect anchor for the Dream Team as the best pitcher of the era.
Cliff Lee will join him in the rotation. They didn’t get to pitch together in Philadelphia this year, but they would be part of the Dream Team rotation. Lee has been dominant this season, throwing seven complete games to go with his 10-5 record and 2.57 ERA. He is a workhorse just like Halladay who pounds the strike zone and piles up the wins.
Tim Lincecum is a part of the young generation of great pitchers wowing baseball. Lincecum has won back-to-back Cy Young awards, leading the league in strikeouts both years. His corkscrew windup, fastball, and changeup have dazzled bats his entire career and he would be quite an attraction in London.
Adam Wainwright is the favorite to take Lincecum’s Cy Young title this season among a bunch of brilliant pitchers. He is 17-6 with a 1.99 ERA. After a big year in 2009, he’s getting better and he should be in his prime in 2012. His fastball and big hook are deadly for opposing hitters. And he’s working on a changeup to give hitters something else to think about.
Josh Johnson is my final pick. The 26-year-old was leading the league in ERA for a bad Marlins team until his latest start. Still, his exploding fastball was impressive at the All-Star Game and all season in Florida.
Stephen Strasburg also makes the team as a reliever and closer option. Hoping that his arm stays healthy, he’ll definitely become a force in baseball in the next two years.
The rest of the lineup would include:
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays, 3B
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays, OF
Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, 2B
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 1B
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, OF
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, OF
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers, OF
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies, SS
David Wright, New York Mets, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres, 1B
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox, 2B
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, C
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays, P
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees, P
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, P
Mat Latos, San Diego Padres, P