Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Basketball Bedlam in Barcelona: The Dream Team, a Reflection of the Globe's 'New Order'

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Basketball Bedlam in Barcelona: The Dream Team, a Reflection of the Globe's 'New Order'

Article excerpt

When the 1992 United States Olympic basketball team arrived at the luxurious Hotel Ambassador in Monte Carlo a week before the Barcelona Games, the hotel's managers scoffed at suggestions that they needed to enhance security. They assured all that their experience hosting rock stars and kings and princesses had ably prepared them. Then, as the Hartford Courant's Alan Greenberg wrote, "the team showed up." Soon after it did, hotel officials were apologizing for the disorderly mess, as fans and media that had flocked to the hotel converged upon Jordan, Bird, "Magic," and the rest. "The magnitude of this basketball royalty, they had not understood," Greenberg wrote. (1)

The experience in Monte Carlo gave Olympic officials an indication of just how enormous the response to the team would be in Spain. A little better prepared, when the United States squad went from Monte Carlo to Barcelona, Olympic officials flew them to Reus and then had them driven to Barcelona in order to avoid the 3,000 to 4,000 people that had converged upon the Barcelona airport in anticipation of the team's arrival. Still, once the players made it to the Olympic Village to get their accreditations, a mob enveloped them. Rather than shield the players from the onslaught of people, security guards angled for autographs; so did many of the other Olympic athletes. Space became tight as people jostled for position. "Of all the things we've experienced ... the stampede at the village was the most frightening," Coach Chuck Daly said later. (2)

The New York Times dubbed the 1992 Barcelona Games the "New Order Olympics." With the Berlin Wall down and the Iron Curtain lifted, a record 172 countries attended. (3) It was also a "New Order Olympics" for basketball, as the 1992 Olympic tournament marked the first appearance of full-fledged professionals from the United States. This resulted in the formation of that greatest and most famous basketball squad of all time, The Dream Team. Though many at the time claimed The Dream reflected American imperialism at its worst, more than a decade later the team's legacy reflects how sports in the global age can function as a remarkable nexus of exchange rather than an imperial one-way street. In many ways, rather than one-sided nationalism, the Dream Team reflected many of the values that proponents of the "New Order" associated with one of its main features, the open market, or liberal capitalism.

It so happened that three forces--liberal capitalism, technological innovation, and basketball--blossomed with exquisite timing in Barcelona, leading to the phenomenon that was the Dream Team. International reaction to the team, from fans across the globe to burgeoning transnational corporations, was nothing short of astounding. David Burns, President of the Chicago-based Burns Celebrity Services, said, "No doubt about it, this is the biggest, most expensive marketing deal in the history of sports." Deputy Secretary General of the USOC and marketing legend, John Krimsky, said, "There are young people out there who think the Olympics are one big basketball tournament." (4)

Corporations had, of course, long-associated themselves with Olympic sports, but the Dream Team brought it to a whole new level. Forty different companies, spending an estimated $40 million, emerged as promotional partners of the squad. Fourteen of those went through USA basketball, paying $750,000 apiece. Twenty-six others aligned themselves with the team using separate licensing agreements. These figures do not even count the money spent by corporations like Nike, who circumvented official association with USA basketball by making their own advertisements featuring the stable of six Dream Teamers they had under contract: Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, and Chris Mullin. These Nike men were featured in advertisements depicting them as larger-than-life cartoon characters smashing everything in their path, a point not lost on those who claimed the Dream Team served only as a symbol of American imperialism. …

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