In terms of the big picture and the Dream Team’s influence on today’s NBA, perhaps no game in Barcelona held more importance than the Dream Team’s win over Spain 25 years ago today.
If the seeds of the NBA’s international fabric were truly planted in Barcelona, one could also argue that no international country benefitted more long-term from the Dream Team than Spain. Although they won the silver medal in 1984 in Los Angeles, Spain did not yet resemble the international powerhouse we’ve come to know in recent decades.
At the time of the 1992 Olympics, there was not a single Spanish-born player in the NBA. In fact, at that time only two players born in Spain had ever played in the NBA: Wallace Bryant, an American who attended high school and college in the United States, and Fernando Martin, who played just 24 games in his lone season in 1986-87. In the 25 years since hosting the Olympics, 14 Spanish-born players have made it to the NBA, led by the likes of the Gasol brothers, Ricky Rubio and Jose Calderon.
In 1992, Pau Gasol was 12 years old, while his younger brother Marc was 7. Rubio was still in diapers, several months shy of his second birthday. But even if the future faces of Spain in the NBA weren’t yet on the league’s radar, the years to come pointed to an approaching shift in easterly prevailing winds.
In the five years immediately following the 1992 Olympics, three players were drafted out of Spanish leagues, more than in all years prior to the Olympics in Barcelona. It set the stage for an international boon, the most prominent launching pad being Spain.
Since 2000, 46 players have been drafted directly after playing professionally in Spain, more than the next two international countries combined (France and Italy). Though it’s admittedly an apples to oranges comparison, the two schools that have produced the most NBA draftees over that span are Kentucky (36) and Duke (29). That Spain has evolved into a legitimate hoops factory and is consistently the biggest threat to the United States in international competition is at the very least an indirect result of the Dream Team.
As for the game itself, Charles Barkley owned the scoring spotlight one last time in Barcelona. Though he ended the Olympics as the Dream Team’s leading scorer, Barkley’s final turn as the squad's leading man came in the final game of group play -- a resounding 41-point win to finish 5-0 heading into the knockout round.
Barkley finished with 20 points on his typically efficient 8-12 shooting, including a perfect 2-2 from beyond the three-point line. It was his third time in five games leading the Dream Team in scoring, a role he would cede first to Chris Mullin and then to Michael Jordan in the tournament's final two games.
Known in Barcelona for his brashness and bucket-getting ability in equal measure, and saddled with the nickname Round Mound of Rebound, Barkley's unlikely dime proved to be the most memorable play against Spain. Rumbling, bumbling and stumbling in the open court in a manner that would leave Chris Berman at a loss for words, Barkley blindly flipped a pass over his head to Scottie Pippen who caught and flushed it mid-flight.
It was the type of pass you’d normally expect from Magic Johnson or John Stockton, both of whom played together in Barcelona for the first time. Johnson had missed the previous two games with a knee injury while the win over Spain marked Stockton’s first action in the Olympics. The latter missed the first four games due to a lingering injury left over from the Tournament of the Americas.
Despite a relatively sluggish stretch in the second half in which they were outscored 23-9, the group play finale proved to be business as usual. The United States dominated group play on both ends, averaging 115.8 points per game -- nearly 20 more than any other country -- while also allowing just 70.0 points per game (which ranked first among all 12 teams).