The term Dream Team is such an instant indicator of greatness that any writer seeking to dub his favored group truly exceptional borrows it. As athletes have become less likely to be modest, it has also become a title some players will bestow on their own teams. And of course, like Michael Jordan, it has escaped the boundaries of sport, leaking into common popular usage. (See the exposition on "the Michel Jordan of [industry]" in FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro History.)
So because this term has escaped its specific definition and leached throughout sports and popular culture, we have all of these freaking Dream Teams and no way to know which one is the real Dream Team. Let's begin to sort out the mess by identifying known Dream Teams.
THE DREAM TEAM (USA BASKETBALL, 1992)
Have you heard of this team? It might still be underground. Guys like Michael Jordan (the Michael Jordan of basketball playing), Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Not Isiah Thomas, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin and the great Christian Laettner starred. They were pretty good, I guess.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Gold medal in 1992 Olympics, beat its opponents by an average of 44 points, didn't have to use a single timeout during the tournament, earned '72 Dolphins-y right to comment on every future iteration of USA Basketball.
DREAM TEAM RATING: A+.
THE DREAM TEAM (SAINT MARY'S FOOTBALL, 1936)
According to the possibly fictional Wikipedia entry on Gaels football, St. Mary's had a dope, flashy squad in the '20s, '30s and '40s, and had beaten teams like Fordham, USC and Texas Tech. Fans got real cocky in 1936 and dubbed the squad "The Dream Team." From the 1937 Football Illustrated Annual:
"Last year from the beginning of summer until well into the football season, the Gaels were the 'dream team' to doting fans. Then, with the suddenness of tragedy, came a scoreless tie with little San Francisco University. This was followed by three defeats in a row at the hands of Fordham, Marquette and Santa Clara. The dream team had become a nightmare."
1936! If we're going by standard property rights and land claims, I believe St. Mary's, thanks to its strident fans, has the deed on The Dream Team. Too bad the the football team was disbanded in 2004. I think the Dream Team moniker works like the Rowling's Elder Wand, so maybe Marquette football is the real Dream Team?
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: A four-game losing streak.
DREAM TEAM RATING: No.
THE DREAM TEAM (BRUTUS BEEFCAKE AND GREG VALENTINE, 1980s)
This then-WWF duo apparently won its first tag team championship when Mr. Beefcake put a lit cigar in an opponent's eye. That is both phenomenally bold and makes Charles Barkley's elbow look like a mark. Later, at Wrestlemania II, Ozzy Osbourne and the British Bulldog beat them for the gold or something.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: The Tag Team Championship!
DREAM TEAM RATING: 6/10.
THE DREAM TEAM (O.J. SIMPSON'S LEGAL TEAM, 1995)
Facing murder charges, O.J. Simpson hired all of the best defense lawyers (including Mark Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Generation Uno Robert Kardashian), paying them a total of as much as $6 million. It worked: Simpson was found not guilty after The Dream Team convinced jurors that a cop planted evidence or that the glove didn't fit or that Italian loafers are expensive or something. The remaining question as it pertains to the Dream Teamness of O.J.'s defense team is whether Shapiro began calling his crew 'The Dream Team' or whether the media came up with it on their own. Historic record claims reporters took it up, but did reporters really come up with anything on their own in the coverage? Memory seems to indicate that pretty much everything, including what to have for lunch, was planted. Like the glove, amirite?
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: The verdict heard 'round the world.
DREAM TEAM RATING: Okay.
THE DREAM TEAM (U.S. WOMEN'S BASKETBALL, 2012)
The illustrious Jackie MacMullan made an excellent case that the gold-winning U.S. women's team in London was "the real Dream Team" even though this real Dream Team's margin of victory was smaller than the original basketball Dream Team's and also even though Geno Auriemma coaches this Dream Team and no one has ever seen Geno Auriemma in their sleep and considered it a dream instead of a nightmare.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Gold!
DREAM TEAM RATING: A+ for effort, D for originality.
THE DREAM TEAM (U.S. WOMEN'S SOCCER, 2012)
Oh no! Not only did people claim that U.S. women's basketball had the real Dream Team in 2012, but people widely exclaimed that U.S. women's soccer also had the real Dream Team in 2012! Do the footballers have a case? Let's see: like the basketballers, U.S. women's soccer did win gold (check) and were coached by someone less terrifying than Geno Auriemma (check), but ... nearly lost before the gold medal match in a finish that had Canadians, the most pleasant people on Earth, claiming fraud.
I'm sorry, 2012 U.S. women's soccer. Turn in your "Real Dream Team" t-shirts at the exit.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Gold!
DREAM TEAM RATING: Please no.
THE DREAM TEAM (PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, 2011)
Vince Young, a new member of the Philadelphia Eagles that had put together a whirlwind offseason, in July 2011 claimed that the Eagles were a "dream team." A teammate later compared the Eagles to the Miami Heat, who at that point had just lost a Finals series to the Mavericks. It was all such beautiful hyperbole.
But say, how did it work out?
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: An 8-8 record, no playoff berth.
DREAM TEAM RATING: Girl please.
Which one is The Real Dream Team? Make your case in the comments. Write-in candidates accepted.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.