30 years later: How the 'Dream Team' forever changed the NBA by opening doors for international players

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The 1992 United States men's basketball team, known simply as the "Dream Team," went to the Barcelona Olympic Games with sky-high expectations. It was arguably the greatest assembly of talent in sports history, as the roster featured several Hall of Famers, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

It didn't take long for the collection of American stars to show that the expectations weren't high enough. The "Dream Team" steamrolled every opponent standing in its path, going a perfect 8-0 and defeating Croatia by 32 points in its final game to capture the gold medal on Aug. 8, 1992.

"You will see a team of professionals in the Olympics again," Team USA coach Chuck Daly said. "But I don't think you'll see another team quite like this. This was a majestic team."

But the impact of the "Dream Team" went well beyond its on-court dominance. It introduced the absolute highest quality of basketball to a generation of international players.

As Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of of the International Olympic Committee, said at the time, "The most important aspect of the Games has been the resounding success of the basketball tournament, as we've witnessed the best basketball in the world."

Thirty years after the members of the "Dream Team" had gold medals placed around their necks, their impact is still being felt.

By the numbers: The rise of international players after the 'Dream Team'

At the start of the 1991-92 season, there were 23 international players from 18 countries on NBA rosters. By the start of the 2011-12 season, there were 74 players from 35 countries.

Another decade later, on the NBA's Opening Night of the 2021-22 campaign, there were 109 international players from 39 countries on league rosters. The Raptors alone had 10 international players on their roster, nearly half of the NBA's total from 1991-92.

The international explosion wasn't just about quantity, though. Plenty of players born outside of the U.S. have reached incredible levels of success in their careers.

Hakeem Olajuwon made history in 1993-94 by becoming the first player born outside of the U.S. to win the NBA MVP award. He was also the first player to capture the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP awards in the same season. Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic followed in Olajuwon's footsteps, winning a total of seven MVP awards in their careers (so far).

Of course, the story of the international player can't be told without mentioning another Rockets center. Houston selected Yao Ming with the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, making him the first international player who didn't play college basketball to land atop the draft board.

Beyond being an eight-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, Yao is one of the most important figures in the history of the sport in terms of the globalization of the NBA. His mere presence allowed the Rockets to become China's team. The doors Yao opened into the Chinese market allowed the league to build a multibillion-dollar relationship.

In terms of more recent accomplishments, an international player has won the last four MVP awards (Antetokounmpo twice and Jokic twice) and four of the last five Defensive Player of the Year awards (Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert three times). Three of the five members of the 2021-22 All-NBA First Team were international players (Antetokounmpo, Jokic and Luka Doncic).

Quotable: What prominent NBA figures have said about the impact of the 'Dream Team'

Former NBA commissioner David Stern: "I think the point was that the world of basketball invited the NBA to join it, and we said yes. And they have profited greatly from it, as have we — as has the overall sport of basketball. Now we see Dirk Nowitzki and Ricky Rubio and Tony Parker and Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili. And Luis Scola and Serge Ibaka and Luol Deng."

Six-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion Tony Parker: "It had a huge impact in Europe. If you see interviews that I did or Dirk or Pau Gasol, we all were affected by the 'Dream Team.' Manu Ginobili — we all talk about it. That was the point that we were like, 'Wow, basketball is cool' and 'I want to go to the NBA. Maybe it's possible.' That was the first time that I saw them in real life because before it was the tapes. ... Now, they were in Europe, and all of them were there. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty cool experience. It definitely started for me after the Olympics."

Six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol: "The ['Dream Team'] inspired and shaped international basketball during the Barcelona [1992] Olympics. I was one of those kids inspired by that team. Thank you."

ESPN analyst and Curt Gowdy Media Award recipient Mike Wilbon: "It changed sport as we know it. They showed the world how to play basketball. What other team can say that? I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again. It's an insult to compare anybody else to that team."

'Dream Team' roster, Olympic results

Here is Team USA's complete roster for the 1992 Olympic Games:

PLAYER ALL-STAR MVP NBA TITLES FINALS MVP
Michael Jordan 14 5 6 6
Karl Malone 14 2 0 0
Magic Johnson 12 3 5 3
Larry Bird 12 3 3 2
Patrick Ewing 11 0 0 0
Charles Barkley 11 1 0 0
David Robinson 10 1 2 0
John Stockton 10 0 0 0
Clyde Drexler 10 0 1 0
Scottie Pippen 7 0 6 0
Chris Mullin 5 0 0 0
Christian Laettner 1 0 0 0

Living the Dream. This Sports Illustrated cover was signed by six members of the Dream Team (and let's not forget the Admiral): Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. pic.twitter.com/aSqDsoIv4C

— PSAcard (@PSAcard) March 5, 2019

And here are the full results from the 1992 Olympic Games:

WINNER SCORE LOSER SCORE MARGIN
USA 116 Angola 48 68
USA 103 Croatia 70 33
USA 111 Germany 68 43
USA 127 Brazil 83 44
USA 122 Spain 81 41
USA 115 Puerto Rico 77 38
USA 127 Lithuania 76 51
USA 117 Croatia 85 32

'Dream Team' highlights from 1992 Olympics

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