It was considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled, and two years ago it was among the biggest stories of the Summer Olympics. And what a sight it was to see Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the same uniform, helping the United States cruise to a gold medal at the Barcelona Games.
That was truly a Dream Team, and almost an impossible act to follow -- which is exactly what "Dream Team II" will be doing at the World Championships in Toronto, which begin Aug. 4.
Dream Team II, the second contingent of NBA players to represent the United States in international competition, will make its debut tonight against European champion Germany at the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum.
In a preliminary game, the USA Basketball Women's World Championship/Goodwill Games team, featuring Sheryl Swoopes, will play the USA Basketball Women's Select Team, led by Maryland coach Chris Weller and former Western High School star Dana Johnson.
In place of Jordan, Johnson and Bird, this year's Dream Team includes Shaquille O'Neal, Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning and Reggie Miller. It doesn't have nearly the level of stardom of the first Dream Team, but Dream Team II coach Don Nelson said that comparisons would not be fair.
"There will never be another Dream Team," Nelson said. "And we haven't done anything yet. Until we get a gold medal under our belt, you shouldn't compare us to Dream Team I."
There's no comparison, but the end result should be the same. Dream Team beat opponents at the Olympics by an average of 43.8 points, and coach Chuck Daly never called a timeout as he successfully juggled the superstars' egos. This team, a shoo-in for the title, is hoping for the same success.
"I want to destroy the competition," said Miller, the Indiana Pacers' shooting guard. "I don't even want it to be close. I want it to be a laugher."
The team arrived in Charlotte yesterday after practicing for five days in Chicago. The team will return to Chicago after tonight's game to continue preparation for the World Championships.
Nelson is eager to see how his team looks tonight playing outside competition for the first time.
"The first game you play is special," Nelson said. "Coming out of training camp, you don't know how good you are. There will be some suspense for these guys. I don't know what to expect, but there will be a lot of anticipation."
There will also be a lot of cheers for Mourning and Larry Johnson, Charlotte Hornets teammates.
"I think I would be wise to start the two Charlotte players," Nelson said.