ONE MAN’S 1968 DREAM TEAMAugust 6th, 2012
A fellow named Dan Venedam of Blackboard Analytics has taken an interesting direction as regards to the 1992 Dream Team. Never mind a comparison to 2012—Venedam looks back to 1968 and theorizes that a team selected from NBA players and one collegian in that year would’ve been not only better but much better than the 1992 team.
“There’s a chance that Jordan might have been the only member of the 1992 team who would’ve been considered for the Olympics in 1968,” write Venedam.
That is plainly, patently and particularly ridiculous.
But Venedam has done some homework, running it down position-by-position. Remember that he is talking about the 1992 Dream Team as it was, i.e., accounting for injuries and age. So the 1968 team would have to be considered under the same criterion.
I want to try to eliminate the “every-generation gets better” argument, especially since I consistently argue that the 1992 team was better than the 2012 team. Plus, I have a theory on generational comparisons: The best players from earlier eras would find a way to be the best players in later eras.
But it is incumbent upon me to point out that some of the silly numbers posted in those days—Wilt with his 50-point scoring average and he and Russell with their routine 30-plus-rebound nights—just would not have happened in later eras. They are inflated and that, too, must be taken into consideration.
Let’s take a look at Venedam’s argument and my responses.
CENTER: Venedam picks Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell over David Robinson and Patrick Ewing.
VENEDAM SAYS: “Russell was near the end of his career but still had one more championship to win and was still averaging 18 rebounds a game. Chamberlain had an extraordinary season in 67-68, leading the NBA in rebounds, fourth in scoring and second in assists.”
MY COUNTER: Bringing up two of the greatest centers and guaranteed top 10 players in NBA history is a powerful argument. But there’s no way that at that point in their careers either player would’ve been taken over Robinson, who was five years younger than Wilt and seven years younger than Robinson. You could argue that either Wilt or Russell would get an elder-statesman vote over Ewing.
POWER FORWARD: Venedam picks Jerry Lucas and Willis Reed over Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.
VENEDAM SAYS: “In 1968, Jerry Lucas was an all-NBA power forward delivering 20 rebounds and 20 points a night and Willis Reed was a power forward.”
MY COUNTER: I’m not sure Reed was a power forward, but, at any rate, both were terrific players. But better than Charles and Karl? Puh-leeze. I liked Lucas, but, if he was a 20-20 guy, Barkley would’ve been a 25-25 guy in that era. This is a no-brainer for the ‘92 team. Not even close.
COLLEGE PLAYER: Venedam picks Elvin Hayes over Christian Laettner.
VENEDAM SAYS: “The best player coming out of college that year was Elvin Hayes, the best player still in college was Abdul-Jabbar, either a substantial step up over Christian Laettner.”
MY COUNTER: Bogus argument. Under the criterion for which Laettner was chosen, I doubt if Hayes would’ve been on the team. (Abdul-Jabbar would absolutely not have been since he was a junior.) Laettner was selected parly because he had done the dutiful grunge work for USA Basketball, having played on touring teams, and also because he was one of the Duke elite.
Hayes was clearly a better player than Laettner. But had they been going for strictly the best player in 1992, they would’ve gone for Shaquille O’Neal. Now, was the Big E better than the Big S? That’s a good question.
POINT GUARD: Venedam goes for Oscar Robertson and either Lenny Wilkens or Dave Bing over Magic Johnson and John Stockton.
VENEDAM SAYS: “I’d like to choose a young Magic, but this was an old Magic, already retired. Instead I can have the Big O (who won his only scoring title in 67-68) and then it’s a fight for the backup between Lenny Wilkens or Dave Bing (who had his best year ever in 67-68).”
MY COUNTER: No, no, no, no, no. If Magic Johnson is standing, he is your point guard. He still conducted a halfcourt offense better than anyone, and, further, is a better leader to have around than Oscar.
As for Stock, well, he’s only the all-time leader in assists and steals. He is every bit as good as Lenny, one of his assistant coaches on the ’92 Dream Team. I do love Bing, who is one of the game’s most underrated players. So if he wants to put Magic and Oscar both on there, I’ll give Mr. Venedam a wash.
SMALL FORWARD: Venedam chooses a number of players over Larry Bird and, presumably, Scottie Pippen and Chris Mullin.
VENEDAM SAYS: “I’d love to add a young Bird, but this was a broken-down Larry Bird, and in 1968, I could select Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek, Billy Cunningham or Rick Barry.”
MY COUNTER: Well, you’re forcing me to do something I don’t want to do–take Bird off a team. But the rule is: The players as they were then. Bird retired when he came back from Barcelona, so, yes, he was “broken down,” and, Baylor, one of the most all-time underrated players in all of sports, would’ve been better.
It’s hard to argue with Havlicek, either. But though I loved Cunningham, the Kangaroo Kid, I don’t think he was better than Pippen, who was much more versatile, able to lock down on defense and run a team on offense. And trust me on this: Bird in a wheelchair would’ve been a better addition than Barry. Remember that this team was constructed with chemistry in mind.
If you were looking for two small forwards, then, I would go for Baylor and Pippen.
SHOOTING GUARD: Venedam selects Michael Jordan, of course, but says he can do better than Clyde Drexler.
VENEDAM SAYS: “Sure we would take Michael Jordan, but the 1968 team could have had the Logo – Jerry West—and a very young Earl Monroe. That’s a step up over Clyde Drexler.”
MY COUNTER: Well, no, Earl Monroe is not a step up over Clyde Drexler. I loved The Pearl but Clyde has it over him as an all-around player. Okay, you come strong with West, who is only one of the best players of all-time.
An interesting scenario presented, Mr. Venedam. The way I see it, you fell short in proving 1968 superior to 1992. But nobody else thought to even bring it up, so points for that.