The original “Dream Team” remains the greatest, most impactful group in basketball history. They are so iconic, they have cast a shadow over a team that could have hung with them on the floor. The 1996 version of Team USA was on the level of the 1992 squad. They are not given much credit for their sensational roster. Even “The Redeem Team” in 2008 gets more love because of their storyline. “Dream Team 3” is the most underrated basketball team of all time.
1992 VERSE 1996 THOUGHTS
I’ts close. I’d guess the 1992 squad would be a two or three point favorite each time. The reason would be Michael Jordan and Earvin Johnson, who was still Magic enough. It should be noted Larry Bird had a broken NBA body and was doing Americans a favor by suiting up. Christian Laettner (a good pro) as a rookie would be the worst player on either squad.
1996 UNITED STATES MEN’S OLYMPIC BASKETBALL TEAM
CHARLES BARKLEY (Age 33)
KARL MALONE (Age 33)
JOHN STOCKTON (Age 34)
DAVID ROBINSON (Age 30)
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (Age 30)
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL (Age 24)
HAKEEM OLAJUWON (Age 33)
PENNY HARDAWAY (Age 24)
GRANT HILL (Age 23)
GARY PAYTON (Age 28)
REGGIE MILLER (Age 30)
MITCH RICHMOND (Age 31)
COACHES: Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cremins, Clem Haskins
“Dream Team 3” had five players from the 92 group. Then add Shaq at his peak of running fast and jumping high. Next is merely Olajuwon who had just been the best player in the world for two years. Penny and Grant Hill were superstars, right in the middle of putting their versatile stamps on the NBA. Gary Payton was at the top of his game. Reggie Miller had already proven he was a clutch legend. Oh my goodness Mitch Richmond could ball. They won by 32 points a game on the way to gold. This team got lost between the “Dream Team” breaking ground and the “Redeem Team” having to overcome struggle. For how good the 96 team was, it’s like they hardly exist in fans memories.
Scottie Pippen is the most disrespected NBA star of my lifetime. People go out of their way to put him down. It usually starts with “well Pippen played with Michael Jordan,” or “Scottie Pippen is not one of the 50 greatest players ever.” He seems to be the only target in that “Top 50” group that gets called out. I have heard fans go as far as “Jordan would have won the same amount without Scottie.” True, if he had Kevin McHale, Pau Gasol or Mitch Richmond instead. You would think Michael had won 72 games by himself in 1996. The truth is Scottie Pippen is one of the great, dynamic players in the history of pro basketball.
WHY HE GETS LESS CREDIT:
Scottie played and developed along side the greatest player I have ever seen in Jordan. There are natural perceptions I can understand where people assume the next best player on his team would be MUCH less good. Pippen seemed insecure in Michael’s shadow and may have rubbed some people the wrong way. Scottie did take time to become a star player. He needed a few years to gain physical and mental strength to find his potential. The Detroit Pistons beat him down for awhile and made him have to grow like most of us have to. There is the 1994 incident in which Scottie refused to check back into a playoff game because Phil Jackson had not called the play for him, only to watch Toni Kukoc go on to hit the game winning shot. It was a huge mistake on Pippen’s part. It gave his doubters unforgettable ammunition.
Pippen (with Grant Hill) was the new age point forward. Scottie took pressure off his team with his ability to handle the ball in the back court. He was Chicago’s distribution man and was a standout player on the fast break. Pippen could slash and finish on the highest level. He was long and one of the sports best athletes. Before he became a dangerous shooter, he created a nice array of bank shots. By his prime Scottie had added needed weight and muscle. Pippen is one of the finest defensive players to have lived. His defense on “Magic” Johnson cut the head off of the Lakers snake in the 1991 Finals and was a key factor in the series win. Jordan called Scottie a “defensive predator.”
From 1990 to 1998 Pippen averaged 20ppg, 7.3rpg, 6apg, and 2 steals.
He was named to seven different All NBA Teams.
He was named to the All Defensive team 1o times, and All NBA First Team Defense eight years in a row.
Pippen played in seven All star games (All star MVP in 1994)
He is one of only three players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season(Olajuwon and Jordan).
He is the only player to win an NBA title and Olympic gold in the same year two different times (1992 & 1996).
Pippen’s 395 playoff steals are the most ever recorded.
He was on the “Dream Team” and should have been.
THE MJ FACTOR:
Michael was such an iconic player that he forces a Hall of Famer like Pippen to play distant second. That fact has skewed Pippen’s NBA reality. Don’t forget that Jordan was Pippen’s teacher. Wouldn’t that be to Scottie’s extreme advantage? What about the fact that Michael claims his toughest challenge was in practice with Pippen? Scottie made the best better. Jared Adams watched the 91-93 NBA Finals several times to attain highlights. He would often say, “on quick cuts to the basket it’s easy to get MJ and Scottie confused with each other.” As a duo they were athletic harmony. While the basketball public wants to see it as “Michael carried Scottie”, I see it differently. On the podium after winning their fourth ring together Michael said to Scottie, “You are my MVP dog.” It was an important complement and the truth. MJ was the best, but him pushing Pippen to the level he hit, is what put the Bulls over the top.
WHEN SCOTTIE REALLY PLAYED WITHOUT MICHAEL:
Haters like to ask “How did Pippen do after he was done playing with Michael?’ Why do they ignore Michael left Scottie in his prime to go play baseball? All that Pippen did behind the wheel was led the Bulls to 55 wins and a tough whistle away from the Eastern Conference Finals. He led the Bulls in all five major statistical categories and finished third for league MVP honors. With Jordan in a dugout somewhere, Pippen was no less than a top five player on earth.
AFTER HE WAS DONE PLAYING FOR THE BULLS:
Scottie fought through back pain in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to help the Bulls seal their sixth world championship in Salt Lake City. The team was dismantled after this feat. Pippen had played 30,000 regular season minutes and another 178 playoff games by the time he parted ways with MJ. Scottie was a good player in a bad chemistry experiment in Houston. He was also a key cog to an all time deep Trailblazers team that reached game 7 of the Western Finals. Pippen’s teams made the playoffs in 16 straight seasons. Was he not allowed to age? What did Michael Jordan ever win without Pippen?
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Playing with Jordan was a huge advantage for Scottie in that he was led to winning and fame. There is also tremendous value in the competitive relationship they shared. Being his teammate also came with a huge price tag. A brilliant player like Pippen is seen as a very good tag along.
Scottie Pippen was not just the second best player on six world title teams. He was somewhere between the third and twelfth best player in the league, on six world title teams.