“The cast on this team—it was the best of the best.”
David Stern (NBA commissioner): The notion that the NBA wanted to redeem the 1988 loss? Patently wrong. From our view, we were stuck with playing in the Olympics. We didn’t see it becoming the phenomenon that it became.
David Falk (agent for Michael Jordan): There was a growing recognition that we were putting college players out at a time when every other country was putting out pros. And were we being naive to continue that, just because there’s a history?
Stern: We said to FIBA [the international basketball federation] that we weren’t gung ho to play in the Olympics, but we would try to be good soldiers to support basketball. So they had a vote. The U.S. was against it, and the Russians were against it, too. But the overwhelming vote was in favor.
Russ Granik (NBA liaison to Team USA): The first tough decision was that it had to be an NBA coach, in order for our owners and players to feel comfortable. But Chuck Daly was a pretty easy choice: He was coming off back-to-back championships with the Detroit Pistons; he had a reputation for being able to deal with smart players; he was great with the media.
Quinn Buckner (Team USA selection committee): The biggest thing was, you did not want to offend any of these guys. Chuck had to be extra sensitive, a lot like at an all-star game. Because with players of that quality, if you offend them, every time the Pistons saw that player, they were going to take it out on Chuck, on his team.
Granik: There was a lot of discussion about Larry Bird, because Larry had started having back problems. He clearly wasn’t anywhere near what his peak had been, but if you were putting together such a historic team, you couldn’t leave him off.
Magic Johnson (Team USA point guard): This was our final moment—the curtain was going to come down. Larry’s back was messed up. And I was already out, dealing with HIV, so we had to make sure that we went out the right way. For me, it was also about showing the world that I could still play, even living with HIV.
Patrick Ewing (Team USA center): That was my second Olympics—mine, Michael [Jordan], and Chris [Mullin]. We played in the ’84 Olympics together, and we had a great team then. But the cast on this team—it was the best of the best. I knew it was going to be something special.
Karl Malone (Team USA power forward): I had an opportunity my freshman year at Louisiana Tech to try out for the Olympic team, and I didn’t make it. Got cut. It was one of the first times playing basketball that a coach told me I wasn’t good enough. That always stuck in the back of my mind.