African American Olympians
The US team regroups during a game at the Barcelona Olympics. AP Photo.
Widely considered the greatest assemblage of basketball players in the sport's history, the 1992 U.S. Men's basketball squad—widely referred to as the "Dream Team"—executed one of the most dominating performances in Olympic (if not sports) history. The team, whose roster was nearly entirely comprised of superstars in their prime (all of the players but Christian Laettner would be elected to the NBA Hall of Fame), beat their opponents by an average of 43.8 points, and were the only basketball team in Olympic history to score at least 100 points every game. Accordingly, the squad's fortune in Barcelona contrasted sharply with their third-place finish four years earlier in Seoul, the last Olympics that mandated amateur participation. The impact of the Dream Team well surpassed the Games; although Michael Jordan was already a superstar of international stature, the team's unprecedented run kicked off a new explosion of basketball interest, particularly in Europe, South America, and Asia. In addition, Barcelona was a capstone to the legendary rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Their fierce competition throughout the 1980s helped to turn the NBA into a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and also exposed some of the deeply held prejudices among American fans regarding the abilities of black and white athletes. Fittingly, Johnson, who had retired after being diagnosed as HIV positive, was named a co-captain along with his former rival Bird.