Many basketball fans have forgotten about the 1996 U.S. Men’s basketball team. Of course, everyone remembers the original Dream Team that played in the 1992 Barcelona Games—a team that featured 11 Hall-of-Famers. How can the 1996 team compete for fans’ recognition when it did not have Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Patrick Ewing? Charles Barkley, a member of both the 1992 and 1996 teams, has even disparaged the 1996 team.
But the 1996 team deserves to be remembered. Much was made during the last Olympics when several members of the U.S. team were asked to compare their squad to the 1992 edition. In classic Jordan fashion, MJ was quick to squash any favorable conjectures as to how the 2012 team would fare against the 1992 one. But interestingly enough, the 2012 team was never asked to compare themselves to the 1996 Dream Team II—a team that was loaded with frontcourt talent. Indeed, could Tyson Chandler have held his own against punishing interior players like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal? Surely the Dream Team II would fare better in a game against the Dream Team than the 2012 squad. That is where the blasphemy stops, as no one wants to delve too deeply into a scenario that might see the 1992 Dream Team in an unfavourable position.
This list looks at the Dream Team II—a team that, for inexplicable reasons, seems destined for oblivion. Based on career earnings in the NBA, the list ranks the top 10 highest-earning players from the team.
10. John Stockton – Career Earnings: $66,703,000
In his playing days, John Stockton was one of the most consistent players in the NBA. From 1987 to 1997, Stockton averaged over 10 assists per game in each of those seasons. His consistent play is one of the main reasons that Karl Malone, Stockton’s running mate, is second all-time in the NBA for points scored. A member of the original Dream Team, Stockton came back in 1996 to help anchor a younger squad with his veteran leadership.
9. Reggie Miller – Career Earnings: $101,311,748
Reggie Miller’s fans fondly remember his play in the highly competitive playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks in the mid-nineties. Miller always saved his best play for the Knicks, and those classic playoff series always became cutthroat affairs. Miller once hit a three against the Knicks, and turned to look at Spike Lee while simulating choking himself. In the 1996 Olympic Games, Miller gave the US team a much needed scoring presence from beyond the arc, as the team was freighted with frontcourt talent.
8. Karl Malone – Career Earnings: $104,133,378
Arguably, Karl Malone is the greatest player to never win a championship in the NBA. He came close a couple of times, but Michael Jordan and the Bulls stopped him short of the ultimate prize. In his NBA career, he averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, and he ranks second all-time for points scored in a career. Like his beloved point guard, John Stockton, Malone also played in the 1992 Olympic Games, and he came back to recapture gold on home soil.
7. Gary Payton – Career Earnings: $104,367,619
During his playing career, Gary Payton was one of the nastiest defenders in the league. He earned the sobriquet “the Glove” for his stellar on-ball defense, and in the mid-nineties, he led one of the NBA’s most exciting attacks. With the ferocious Shawn Kemp and the quietly solid Detlef Shrempf, Payton led the Seattle Supersonics to the NBA Finals only to be stopped short by Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon – Career Earnings: $107,011,426
One of the most talented big-men to ever play the game, Hakeem Olajuwon came to the 1996 Olympic Games as the best player on the NBA’s best team. Of course, the caveat is that Michael Jordan was busy playing baseball at the time. Nevertheless, Olajuwon deserved his spot on the Dream Team II, having won the league’s MVP Award in the 1993-1994 season. Over his career, Hakeem the Dream averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. He played the majority of his career in Houston.
5. Scottie Pippen – Career Earnings: $109,192,430
Scottie Pippen’s freakish body enabled him to dominate in various facets of the game throughout his career. For the Chicago Bulls, Pippen always played a polyvalent role, defending, scoring, and facilitating. Over his career, he averaged 16.1 points, 5.2 assists, and 6.4 rebounds per game. Like several other players on the Dream Team II, Pippen made his second-straight appearance for the U.S.A. men’s basketball team in 1996. He entered the 1996 Olympic Games as the Chicago Bulls’ best player, since Michael Jordan was off playing baseball.
4. David Robinson – Career Earnings: $116,500,123
Legend has it that David Robinson measured in at only 6’9″ when he came to Army for his freshmen season of basketball, but over the course of his collegiate career, Robinson grew to 7’1″ and began to dominate the physically inferior competition. In the NBA, he was likewise dominant, averaging 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds over his entire career. He played for the original Dream Team in 1992 and came back in 1996 to help the U.S. recapture gold.
3. Anfernee Hardaway – Career Earnings: $120,469,142
Before injuries took their toll, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was one of the NBA’s best guards. He had a rare combination of size and skill, which allowed him to dominate physically inferior defenders. In the mid-nineties, he and Shaquille O’Neal became one of the league’s most dominant duos, and they led the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals, ultimately losing to the Houston Rockets in 4 games. When he came to Atlanta for the Olympic Games, Penny was at the top of his game, having recently been named to the All-NBA First Team.
2. Grant Hill – Career Earnings: $142,854,650
Few players have elicited fans’ sympathies like Grant Hill did in the latter half of his career. His transition from Duke to the NBA was very smooth, as he averaged 19.9 points per game his rookie season. For the next 5 seasons, Hill steadily improved, but a horrible ankle injury ended up undermining his success for the rest of his long career. Over his career, he averaged 16.7 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game—great averages for almost any other player. Grant Hill, however, will always be remembered for what he could have been had he never suffered his ankle injury.
1. Shaquille O’Neal – Career Earnings: $292,198,327
Arguably—the operative word being arguably—Shaquille O’Neal is the greatest big man to ever play the game. Over his career, in which he played with six franchises, he averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. He was so dominant when he needed to be; as a corollary, Shaq did not need to show up for every game, and he has been criticized for a having a poor work ethic in his playing days. Regardless, Shaq’s inclusion on the Dream Team II all but guaranteed victory before the Olympic Games started.