The latest edition of the United States men’s basketball team begins its gold medal defense Saturday against China.
After an embarrassing bronze medal-showing at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Team USA rebounded by winning gold in 2008 and 2012. The U.S. once again is the heavy favorite for the gold entering Rio, and unlike previous Olympics, the rest of the world is getting worse not better.
Before we watch the 2016 team, let’s walk down memory lane and construct the best possible Dream Team roster using U.S. squads from 1984 through 2016.
We judged each player on how talented he was at the time he played in the Olympics. That’s why guys like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who competed in the Olympics at the end of their legendary careers, aren’t included.
Here’s our ultimate USA Basketball Dream Team roster.
Point Guard: Penny Hardaway (1996)
Hardaway over John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Chris Paul? Yes, Hardaway was a 6-foot-7 point guard who scored, passed and defended at an elite level. He was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame until knee injuries decimated his career starting in the late 1990s.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan (1984, 1992)
Jordan was the main attraction and best overall player on the first Dream Team, but he also was the star of the 1984 gold medal-winning squad coached by Indiana University legend Bobby Knight.
Small Forward: LeBron James (2004, 2008, 2012)
James’ combination of size, skill and athleticism is undeniable. His ability to shoot from the outside, attack the basket and play any position at both ends of the court makes him an ideal player for international basketball.
Power Forward: Charley Barkley (1992, 1996)
Barkley was at his peak when the original Dream Team won gold in Barcelona. He dominated the competition with his scoring and rebounding. A few months later, Barkley carried that success into the 1992-93 NBA season, during which he won the league MVP award and led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals.
Center: Shaquille O’Neal (1996)
O’Neal played in just one Olympic Games, but he helped Team USA capture gold in 1996 in Atlanta. The most dominant frontcourt player of his era was no match for international opponents.
PG: John Stockton (1992, 1996)
SG: Clyde Drexler (1992)
SG: Kobe Bryant (2008, 2012)
SG/SF: Scottie Pippen (1992, 1996)
PF: Karl Malone (1992, 1996)
C: Patrick Ewing (1984, 1992)
C: David Robinson (1988, 1992, 1996)
Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images