The Miami Heat, Kentucky Wildcats and Beyond: Are Dream Teams Bad for Basketball?

It all started in the summer of 1988


The year was 1988. Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson was placed in charge of the United States Olympic Team. His squad included David Robinson from Navy, Danny Manning from the NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks, Mitch Richmond and Dan Majerle. Despite the presence of these talented players, the U.S. team lost to Arvydas Sabonis and the Soviet team, 82-76. It was a defeat that shocked the basketball world.

The following year the FIBA, international basketball’s governing body, allowed NBA players to compete in the Olympics for the first time and in 1992 the original “Dream Team” was formed. Ten of its twelve players were included on the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. The team featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson. They captured the world’s attention as they brought the gold medal back to the United States.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009. John Calipari was named head coach for the Kentucky Wildcats and proceeded to assemble one of the most celebrated recruiting classes in college basketball history. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Jon Hood and Daniel Orton gave the Wildcats a roster loaded with star power. The team was ranked in the top of the polls for the entire season. They lost only three times in 38 games, but one of those losses was a season-ending defeat at the hands of West Virginia, costing the Wildcats a trip to the Final Four.

One year later, the allure of a “Dream Team” struck the NBA proper. LeBron James said good-bye to his Cleveland teammates and joined Chris Bosh as new members of the Miami Heat. Not since Wilt Chamberlain teamed with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor on the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968 has a team faced expectations as high as those placed on Miami—despite the fact the Heat cut loose every player on their roster except Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers. They haven’t played a game yet, but they are the talk of the basketball world.

Are dream teams good for basketball, though?


Are Dream Teams worth watching?

The idea began shortly after the summer of 1988
The idea began shortly after the summer of 1988
The US Olympic team starring David Robinson and Danny Manning lost to the Soviets, 82-76
The US Olympic team starring David Robinson and Danny Manning lost to the Soviets, 82-76
In 1992, the greatest group of basketball players ever assembled became the first "Dream Team"
In 1992, the greatest group of basketball players ever assembled became the first "Dream Team"
Kentucky Wildcats and Coach John Calipari seem intent on assembling a college all-star team every year
Kentucky Wildcats and Coach John Calipari seem intent on assembling a college all-star team every year
The Miami Heat with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have high expectations
The Miami Heat with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have high expectations
Are dream teams and outmatched opponents good for the game of basketball?
Are dream teams and outmatched opponents good for the game of basketball?

The pros and cons of Dream Teams


An argument for dream teams


Whether in college, professional or international arenas, dream teams stir interest in the game. The 1992 Olympic basketball team was considered the greatest collection of hoops talent ever assembled, even if some players were past their prime. They beat their competition so handily Coach Chuck Daly never called a time-out in any of their games. Opposing players endured losses of 50 points or more, and then lined up to get their idols’ autographs. It wasn’t good basketball, but everyone tuned in to watch this group of legends play the game.

Seventeen years later, everyone wanted to see how Kentucky’s 2009 team of stars would perform. They were fodder for television, radio and Internet blogs across the nation. The UK team was news and when they took to the hardwood, they didn’t disappoint. John Wall was as good as advertised and DeMarcus Cousins was outstanding. The Wildcats were fun to watch, even if you rooted against them. When Kentucky lost in the Regional Final, John Calipari shipped his stars to the NBA and went out in search of a new dream team. They will be fun to watch again, but will they generate the same interest the second time around?

No one knows how the Miami Heat will perform, but it is clear that basketball fans are looking forward to the upcoming season and NBA teams are adjusting their rosters to compete with them. Their first game will match them against the Boston Celtics, and even casual fans will tune in to see what Miami can do. It will certainly be good business for the NBA and the television networks. Dream Teams spark interest in the game of basketball that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

But, is that enough?



The case against dream teams


The biggest argument against dream teams is that they destroy parity. Two talented but evenly-matched teams make for good games—one extremely talented team matched against an ordinary team usually does not. If Miami lives up to their lofty expectations, will there be a reason to watch the Heat play New York, Sacramento or Utah? Will they race to big leads against outmatched opponents and exile their stars to the bench for good in the second half? James, Wade and Bosh laughing on the sidelines (or sitting with bored expressions) instead of performing on the court is not good television or basketball. Will there even be a point to televising a game with Miami versus anyone other than Boston, Orlando or Los Angeles? And perhaps most importantly, will fans tuning in be rooting for the Miami Heat or against them? If fans watch hoping to see the Heat lose, television sets will turn to reruns of “Roseanne” as soon as Miami goes up by fifteen points.

Dream teams eventually get boring. They pique fan interest initially, but success that comes easily isn’t entertaining. Even if it’s interesting basketball, it isn’t good basketball. A predetermined winner is fine in WWF matches, but basketball needs strong rivalries to maintain interest. Without good teams, curiosity wanes.

Parity can still be found on the college level, of course. While Kentucky is blasting South Carolina off the court, hoops junkies can always tune in to Colorado State versus Utah or Nebraska versus Oklahoma State—but will they? A more likely scenario suggests fans will look for their remote to catch “Roseanne” when the Wildcats take a big lead, also. UK boosters will stay with the game, but everyone else will last only long enough to see if Kentucky wins or loses.

Kentucky’s all-star teams represent a different issue, as well. When five UK players were selected in the NBA draft and John Calipari hailed it as the greatest moment in Kentucky basketball history, we realized Coach Cal intended to field high school all-star teams wearing Kentucky jerseys annually. It isn’t about winning championships for Kentucky—it’s about turning the Wildcats into an NBA farm team and basking in the hype that accompanies stars—even 18 year-old stars. Kentucky fans have been cheated.


Dream Teams hurt the game of basketball


How does it all balance out? Are dream teams good for the game, or not? In the final analysis, I believe they are not. Watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson duel in the NBA Finals was great basketball—watching them team up to destroy Chris Mullin would not have been. After seeing the Miami Heat on television a few times this fall, the casual fan will lose interest and the die-hards will grow bored with mismatches. People will root against them, simply hoping to see a good game.

College dream teams impact the game and its players negatively, as well. When the talent level is so much greater than that of an opponent, players won’t improve. Bad habits picked up dominating high school kids will stay with college stars because they won’t be challenged to improve. Players will view their success as something they are entitled to instead of something to earn, and ugly moments of posturing will follow. If Kentucky wins an NCAA title under Calipari, I fear it will be a hollow victory for the UK students and fans, because it won’t be about Kentucky—it will be about John Calipari and the NBA.

I hope to see the day when Dream Teams are trivia questions rather than basketball teams, but I suspect there will be many dull games to endure before all-star rosters are a thing of the past. Look for the NBA to someday imitate the NFL and establish franchise players to protect themselves against what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Until then, we’ll be encouraged to tune in for a succession of 40-point blowouts on the college and pro level—live and in high definition.


The Dream Team Poll

Are all-star "dream teams" good for the game of basketball?

See results without voting

Comments 20 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

You make some good points here. No matter what kind of game is being played if one team is greatly outmatched it generally makes for a boring game.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Peggy, thanks for reading! I agree--a mismatch is not fun to watch, regardless of the sport. I enjoy good competition, and if one team massacres the other, I'm probably on the couch asleep.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Mike


HoopBot profile image

HoopBot 6 years ago from Internet

No, other teams must shape up on a global stage. As for the NBA, a good team is one that plays well together and competes to win. Will the Heat be that team? Maybe, but they are paying the price for having three stars; all the other players are rubbish.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hoopbot, thanks for reading. I agree that the Heat are a curious blend of players and it will be interesting to see how well the "supporting cast" plays with the superstars.

The rest of the world has been getting better, as you suggest they must. USA basketball competitors on a global level have risen to the task, forcing even the dream teams to assemble a year or two early and practice to become a team. The days of assembling a roster a month before the Olympics begin are now gone. In many ways International players are far better-coached than their NBA counterparts, who make it to the pros on the basis of their athleticism.

Dream Teams do build suspense, and it will be an interesting year in basketball on all levels.

Mike


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Yes, very good points. But I really think the game needs the dream teams on the whole, to get a wider audience to stay interested.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Paradise, thanks for reading. You raise an interesting point, and I believe dream teams do introduce new fans to basketball. I am sure ratings for NBA games this season will climb--everyone will want to see Wade, James and Bosh play together for Miami.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments.

Mike


Megavitamin profile image

Megavitamin 6 years ago

Mike, this is a really interesting hub. Personally, I find March Madness the best part of basketball because you never know who is going to pull an upset. I think that talent is only half the battle, you've got to have team chemistry and the desire to win.

That's probably why I'm not a huge fan of the NBA. I think you make great arguments against Dream Teams. It will be interesting how this season plays out with Miami so stacked.

I always enjoy your hubs!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Megavitamin, thanks for stopping by. March Madness is my favorite time of year in basketball, as well. Regardless of the level of talent, any team that doesn't play well gets sent home, as my beloved Kansas Jayhawks discovered after losing to Northern Iowa in the second round. As you point out, talent is only half the battle, and I believed from the outset that the Jayhawks lacked team chemistry. The Kentucky Wildcats fell short of their goal as well, despite signing one of the top recruiting classes in the history of their school (or any school). They will try again this season with another roster filled with stars, but is what John Calipari doing good for the game?

The Miami Heat will bring many new fans to basketball, but if the fans don't see good games, will they stick around and watch? It will be, as you said, very interesting.

Thanks for stopping by, I always appreciate your comments. Take care.

Mike


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Hi Mike - I enjoyed reading your Hub. I think Dream Team is a super Team as 10 of its 12 players were included in: 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. (why didn't they just include all 12?) The other 2 must have felt bad.

Anyway, thanks and Best Wishes. :)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Elena, thanks for commenting. I imagine the two players on the Dream Team who weren't among the 50 greatest did feel a bit left out, both at the time and as history remembers them. When they practiced against these guys they probably thought to themselves, "Whoa! What have I gotten into here?" In fact, they might have been glad it was over in the end.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I appreciate it a great deal. I hope you have a good Sunday.

Mike


rml 6 years ago

Good games take place between evenly matched teams. Nobody likes to see a blowout.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

rml, I agree completely, and that was the point of my article. Mismatches are not good basketball, good sport, or good entertainment. It might be memorable in a way, but it isn't exciting. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.

Mike


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi Mike, let us see what Miami can do, although I agree with what you say always -- with regards to basketball hehe (BIG smile) -=- and a lot more. Happy Sunday, Maita


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, it's nice to see you back--I missed you! It will be very interesting to see what Miami does this season, and in some ways their success or failure could change the future of NBA basketball. I think Miami could have a very good or even great team, but I don't think it will rank with all-time great teams like Boston or Los Angeles in the 1980's. Those teams had great players--and they had great depth. This team will not have depth. It should be very interesting.

Thanks for stopping back by, Maita. Nice to see you again.

Mike


pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

Excellent and well researched hub, not a big fan until the end of the season, so dream teams don't mean much to me.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

pmccray, thanks for stopping by. The playoffs are interesting because when teams play each other 4-7 times, strengths are analyzed and weaknesses are exposed. Will Miami be versatile enough to win a series against a team that has scouted them well and are prepared to neutralize their strengths? As I have said so often in my comments here and elsewhere--it will be interesting to see. On the college level, can a team like Kentucky meet the challenge of playing smart, disciplined teams with a solid game plan, or will their freshmen be exposed for their lack of experience? Again, it will be interesting. Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

Mike


Husky1970 5 years ago

Coach Calipari's comment about last year's NBA draft being a great day for Kentucky basketball seems to be a statement a lot of life long Wildcat fans would disagree with.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Husky, thanks for reading. Calipari does things in a way that frequently causes people to question his motives. I will admit I enjoy watching Kentucky basketball since his arrival in Lexington, but I don't think his ways are good for the game. What happened with Terrence Jones after he committed to Washington still seems odd. Calipari might not have done anything wrong, but it wasn't a great move on his part....

Well, I hope you have a great New Year.

Mike


ballfan92 profile image

ballfan92 5 years ago

I enjoy Dream Teams I think they're very exciting to watch, as I was excited to watch the USA basketball team in the 2008 summer olympics,however I do believe that they'll eventually be exploited.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Ballfan, thanks for reading. As this article demonstrates, I remain undecided about the benefits of Dream Teams. I will say that they certainly spark fan interest, as I watched the original Dream Team in the '92 Olympics with great interest. I also watch the Miami Heat and Kentucky Wildcats more than I used to, as well.

Outside of the Olympics is where I find the benefits of Dream Teams to be questionable. I think many teams watch Kentucky (in college) hoping they will lose. In the NBA, the feeling is that if Miami wins, they bought their title as much as they earned it. That doesn't make Miami or Kentucky wrong or bad--it is just feelings and emotions at play. I remain undecided, but I do admit it makes basketball extremely interesting.

Thanks again for your comments and insights.

Mike

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