It was 1992 and they would be the first team of NBA stars to represent the United States in the Olympics. They would secure an 8-0 record on their way to the coveted gold medal, demolishing their opponents by an average of nearly 44 points. They were the original Dream Team. And now, in honor of their 20th anniversary, the NBA TV documentary The Dream Team gathers the players that coach Chuck Daly, who passed away in 2009, led to victory (including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley). “It was a moment, really, for the game of basketball,” says then-assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski (head coach at Duke University and now also the head coach of the U.S. team going for gold at the London Olympics this summer). “You could feel just the aura, the power of the personalities and the talent. It made you feel that, wow, this may never happen again.”
TV Guide Magazine: What was it like taking yourself back, for the documentary, 20 years to your experience with the Dream Team?
Krzyzewski: That whole experience was an amazing one for me. I was coming off of two straight national [college] championships, ’91-’92, and you think that’s something and all of a sudden you’re at your first practice and you have the greatest players in the world all together and you have the chance to be an assistant coach for this team. It’s a little bit intimidating, to be quite frank with you. But those guys were so good, and Chuck Daly was so good, that they made the experience an unforgettable one.
TV Guide Magazine: You were well established by then and these are guys 20 years younger than you, and yet it was still intimidating.
Krzyzewski: Well, because, all of a sudden you’re with Bird and Magic and Michael and Scottie [Pippen] and David [Robinson] and Patrick [Ewing] and Chris [Mullin] and Clyde [Drexler] and Charles and Karl [Malone] and John Stockton and holy mackerel. Just by themselves they’re pretty powerful people, but when you put them all together, that’s a pretty good arrangement of flowers, you know? [But] when I say intimidating I meant the first day, not the whole experience. After that first day there was nothing intimidating about it. They treated everyone with respect. And the thing about those guys, we became really good friends during that time and have become great friends since because we all knew we were sharing a magical moment.
TV Guide Magazine: Sounds like everyone who was part of that team created a bond for life.
Krzyzewski: What it is, is that if, [for instance], I was in Chicago and I ran into Scottie Pippen, there’d be smiles on our faces and we’d hug one another. That’s with every one of those guys. I mean, David Robinson has two of his kids coming to our summer camp. Chris Mullin, who I would have loved to have coached at Duke, we’ve become great friends. Michael over the years has been terrific; Larry Bird and I have developed a really good relationship; Magic came and spoke to our 2008 Olympic team about the experience of the Dream Team. Clyde Drexler, his son is graduating from a high school this year and is a player and we looked at him [at Duke]. So they become lifelong friends.
TV Guide Magazine: In the documentary, you suggest that Daly, in effect, threw the game the Dream Team played against the college select team. But did you and Chuck actually talk about that after the fact?
Krzyzewski: No, no. That was just Chuck at his best. And it wasn’t a game, it was really a short scrimmage. And Jordan hardly played. Chuck just wanted to make sure that they knew what it felt like to lose when it didn’t really count. And those guys didn’t like it. And then the next day [when they played again], the college kids, who were pretty darn good players, they didn’t score for about 10 minutes. Chuck was the perfect guy for that Olympic team. It wasn’t an X and O type of coaching experience. It was a personality coaching experience, and he was flawless.
TV Guide Magazine: There’s also footage of a scrimmage between the Dream Teamers — one group led by Magic, the other by Jordan. How did that game compare to other high level contests you’ve seen?
Krzyzewski: The guys who were on the court are better than any 10 guys who could ever match up on the court. And so the level of talent was lights out. But to me the major thing about them competing that day was it took trash talking to the highest level.
TV Guide Magazine: Who was giving the hardest time to whom?
Krzyzewski: The leaders, Magic for his team and Michael for his. It was great, it was like shirts and skins in the inner city Chicago or New York or whatever where the winners have the court. It was basic basketball. Every guy who has ever thought of himself as a baller would have loved to have been in that gymnasium to see the ultimate pick up game and the stuff that’s said in pick up games. It was terrific. I was glad I wasn’t officiating.
TV Guide Magazine: Was there anything you took from Daly in the way he dealt with the challenge of meshing all the disparate personalities?
Krzyzewski: The very first thing is when you’re coaching in college, the players are usually adapting to you. When you coach this level, even if you’re coaching a pro team, they’re still more adapting to you [and] you adapt a little bit to some of them. But in this situation, you adapt to one another. And Chuck did a masterful job of that and we have tried to use that same formula with the 2008 Olympic team especially and we’ll do that again with the Olympics this summer in London.