BARCELONA, Spain – Mike Krzyzewski held out his arm, showing that just talking about the 1992 Olympics caused goose bumps.
The memories of the celebrations, the music, and of course the Dream Team came back Friday when he began talking about Barcelona and basketball, and the beauty of both that he saw as a United States assistant 22 years earlier.
The players on the U.S. team he’s coaching now are mostly too young to remember – Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond weren’t even born. But they know Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and the rest of the Hall of Fame team won its games, and that’s what they intend to do at the Basketball World Cup.
“We expect to win gold, and that’s what the ’92 team came here expecting, and they got it done, so we’ve kind of got to follow suit,” U.S. guard Stephen Curry said.
The Americans can’t win gold here, since the championship game is scheduled for Madrid. But they can get to the doorstep with three victories, starting Saturday against Mexico in the round of 16.
They will be at full strength, with Kyrie Irving taking part in practice and saying he was ready to play after hurting his lower back in a fall late in the Americans’ 95-71 victory over Ukraine on Thursday in Bilbao.
The team arrived in Barcelona later Thursday and began making its way through the city Friday, just much more quietly than the Dream Team.
“That was like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, whatever, it was a rock group, and that was a moment in time,” Krzyzewski said. “It was just a moment in time, and what a beautiful city to have that moment in time but Barcelona.”
The 1992 Olympics were the first when NBA players could be used, bringing unprecedented attention to the basketball tournament that was held at nearby Badalona. The Americans never were challenged, but nobody cared, as just a chance to see the players was good enough.
And for Krzyzewski, the games aren’t the first thing that comes to mind, anyway.
“Whenever I think of Barcelona, I always think of opening ceremonies and the opera singing, when they sang ‘Barcelona.’ I get chills right now thinking of it,” Krzyzewski said. “They hit those notes, and you say, ‘Whoa, how good is this? It can’t be any better than this. And that kind of mirrored the celebration of basketball at the same time.”
The Americans should see more of a challenge during this trip to Barcelona. They are the youngest U.S. team since the Dream Team’s debut, averaging just more than 24 years old. And where basketball’s biggest stars signed right up for the chance to play together in 1992, this team had enough guys decline to leave a team with some weaknesses.
Mexico probably isn’t good enough to exploit them, but the surprising FIBA Americas champions have some NBA talent in Gustavo Ayon, whose season was cut short last year with Atlanta because of a shoulder injury, and Brooklyn Nets point guard Jorge Gutierrez.
Lithuania and Slovenia loom as possible opponents later during the Americans’ weeklong stay in Barcelona. The Americans might need to beat both to make sure the U.S. once again leaves this city unbeaten.
“You think like, 22 years ago, Dream Team first came through here and won a gold and set up hopefully a longstanding U.S. dominance in the basketball world, so definitely special,” Curry said of playing here. “Never been here before, so kind of taking it all in and enjoying the opportunity to play in this arena, and hopefully we’ll keep the mission going for another gold ourselves.”