bookmark_borderDream Team

After 7 Seconds or Less, Dream Team is the second book by journalist Jack McCallum that I’m featuring on this blog.

Dream Team by Jack McCallum

It’s probably not particularly hard to guess what a basketball book called Dream Team is about. The term Dream Team is used in the world of sports at times – and sometimes outside of it – but it is inextricably linked to the team that the United States sent to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Many today still consider this collection of great individual players to be the best sports team ever.

But Jack McCallum describes the actual basketball tournament of the Barcelona Olympics in only a few chapters here. And why should he? The story is quickly told. The U.S. team dominated the tournament at will, the closest game being the final for gold against Croatia – which the United States won by 32 points. Much more exciting was the story of how the Dream Team came to be, which McCallum describes in detail in the first chapters. As recently as the 1988 Olympics, no professionals were allowed to compete. While some European teams got around this by giving players fake jobs so that they were considered amateurs (sometimes despite six- or seven-figure salaries from their clubs). For NBA professionals, however, this door was closed. Until 1992, the US had competed with college players. Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, for example, won the gold medal in 1984 before going to the NBA.

Even the selection of the athletes was controversial. To this day (for example in the Netflix documentary “The Last Dance”), there is debate about why Isiah Thomas was not part of the team. The book gives a clear answer to this: Michael Jordan made a non-invitation of Isiah early on a condition for his own participation. But Thomas had no advocates among the other players either. When John Stockton was injured in preparation for Barcelona and threatened to be sidelined, there was brief consideration of choosing another player in his place. According to McCallum however, Dream Team coach Chuck Daly (who won two titles with Isiah as coach of the Detroit Pistons) would have opted for Joe Dumars – also a Pistons player – in this case.

The author also goes into detail about Magic Johnson’s participation. Magic had announced only a year earlier at a press conference that he had tested positive for HIV and would have to end his active career. The expectation in the sports world at the time was that he didn’t have long to live. Still, there was never really any question whether Magic would participate in the Barcelona Olympics. While a possible return to the NBA before the 1992-93 season was discussed much more controversially (by Karl Malone, among others) and ultimately had to be cancelled, the Lakers star had the backing of his teammates here. Magic’s former archrival and later friend, Larry Bird, also went to Barcelona despite severe back problems and pain that subsequently ended his career.

A highlight of the book is a detailed description of a practice game that took place before the start of the Olympic tournament. This game is a true myth in NBA circles and was described by participants as the best game they had ever attended. Since no press was allowed, there is only one video of this game (The caption of the chapter is “The Greatest Game That Nobody Ever Saw”), which was provided to Jack McCallum by Chuck Daly’s video coordinator. In this game, Team Jordan (Jordan, Malone, Ewing, Pippen, Bird) won against Team Magic (Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Mullin, Laettner). The author describes the game and especially the trash talk between Jordan and Magic very accurately and even provides a box score at the end.

As I said, there was little to report from the games during the tournament itself, but there are some nice anecdotes. Jordan spent the night before the final game playing cards, shot a video for the NBA in the morning without sleep, played 18 rounds of golf before the gold medal game and then scored 22 points against Croatia. There are also some very funny anecdotes about Barkley, when he repeatedly drove the security service up the wall by escaping from them and wandering alone through Barcelona’s nightlife. McCallum knows these stories not just from hearsay. He was there himself in Barcelona and during the preparations in Monte Carlo, even staying in the same hotel as the players and playing golf with some of them in his spare time.

Get Dream Team at Amazon

bookmark_border7 Seconds or Less

Jack McCallum, who writes for Sports Illustrated, covered the Phoenix Suns for the entire 2005-06 NBA season for this book. The veteran reporter first accompanied the team in the preseason to write an article for his employer. This led to the idea of covering the Suns for the entire season and writing about the experience in a book. The title “:07 Seconds or Less” refers to the offensive tactics Mike D’Antoni installed with his point guard Steve Nash. D’Antoni believed that the chances of scoring were highest within the first 7 seconds of the shot clock, before the opposing defense had a chance to properly take their positions.

NBA Books - 7 Seconds or Less

McCallum especially spent a lot of time with the coaches, which provides interesting insight into the inner workings of an NBA coaching staff. He was present at important meetings and therefore almost like a part of the coaching staff. Above all, the different responsibilities and characters are described. Marc Iavaroni, who won a title as a player with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983, was responsible for the defensive strategies of the offensive-minded team. Alvin Gentry brought long-term experience as a head coach in the NBA (and would also take over the Suns as head coach himself in 2009). Phil Weber was known not only for his boundless optimism and philosophical streak, but also for his girlfriends who made even Suns players green with envy. Dan D’Antoni, Mike’s older brother, previously coached in high school for decades and brought a view from outside the NBA.

The book focuses for the most part on the playoffs of that season. Each game in each series usually has its own chapter devoted to it. In the first round, they faced the Lakers with their lone star, Kobe Bryant. Although the Suns went into this series as favorites, they were already on the verge of an early playoff exit at 1-3. However, Raja Bell, who engaged in a feud with Kobe and defended him superbly, and his teammates turned the series around with three straight wins.

The regular season is covered in small intermediate chapters. For example, the focus here is on Amar’e Stoudemire, who had knee surgery just before the season began and only made three games before sitting out for good. His rehab and work ethic caused some frustration among teammates and coaches. It also details the past of some players, particularly leader and two-time MVP Steve Nash. Shawn Marion felt chronically underappreciated and let that come through repeatedly throughout the book. A secret star of the book is Eddie House, who is always good for laughs with his sometimes crude lines.

Afterwards they were able to defeat the other team from LA, the Clippers, in the second round, also in seven games. But exhaustion was a problem more and more. You can learn more about Nash’s physical problems in this book. The Conference Finals were against the Dallas Mavericks, Nash’s former team led by his buddy Dirk Nowitzki. After the first games of the series were close, the Suns’ physical and mental exhaustion became more and more noticeable. The Mavs advanced to the Finals, where they were to play a series that still leaves Mavs fans feeling uneasy 15 years later.

The book is especially interesting because it is very frank about the inner workings of an NBA team. McCallum also does not hide criticism and Shawn Marion is said to have been not too responsive to the author after this book. As an NBA fan, you usually only see the games and, if necessary, interviews in which players and coaches are mainly concerned with not saying anything controversial. You rarely get that kind of insight, and I kept noticing how I sympathized with this Suns team and coaching staff after the fact. Unfortunately, with D’Antoni, Gentry, Nash, Stoudemire and Marion, it was never going to be enough to win a title, but these teams shaped the NBA with their style of play like no other team at that time.

Buy 7 Seconds or Less at Amazon