Greatest game nobody ever saw
"You have a tape?" Michael Jordan asks. "Of that game?"
"I do," I say.
Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley were teammates during the scrimmage, playing alongside David Robinson, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner.
John W. McDonough/SI
"Man, everybody asks me about that game," he says. "It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court."
It befits the enduring legend of the Dream Team, arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport, that we're referring not to a real game but to an intrasquad scrimmage in Monaco three days before the start of the 1992 Olympics. The Dreamers played 14 games that summer two decades gone, and their smallest victory margin was 32 points, over a fine Croatia team in the Olympic final. The common matrices of statistical comparison, you see, are simply not relevant in the case of the Dream Team, whose members could be evaluated only when they played each other. The video of that scrimmage, therefore, is the holy grail of basketball.
A perfect storm hit Barcelona in the summer of the Dream Team. Its members were almost exclusively NBA veterans at or near the apex of their individual fame. The world, having been offered only bite-sized nuggets of NBA games, was waiting for them, since Barcelona was the first Olympics in which professional basketball players were allowed to compete. The Dreamers were a star-spangled export from a country that still held primacy around the world.
This debut couldn't have been scripted any better, and when the Dream Team finally released all that star power in a collective effort, the show was better than everyone had thought it would be ... and everyone had thought it would be pretty damn good. The Dreamers were Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, Santana at Woodstock.
Most of the 12 names (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, John Stockton, Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler and Christian Laettner) remain familiar to fans two decades later, their cultural relevance still high. It's not just that Danger Mouse and Cee Lo Green christened their hip-hop duo Gnarls Barkley, or that other artists have sung about Johnson (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West), Pippen (Jay-Z), Malone (the Transplants) and Jordan (impossible to count). Consider this: The name of Stockton, a buttoned-down point guard, is on a 2011 track by Brooklyn rapper Nemo Achida, and the popular video game NBA 2K12 features Jordan, Magic and Bird on the box cover -- not LeBron, Dirk and Derrick.
Yet the written record of that team during the summer of '92 is not particularly large. The Dreamers, like the dinosaurs, walked the earth in a pre-social-media age. Beyond newspaper stories, there are no detailed daily logs of their basketball activities (Bird shot around today, but his back is sore) and no enduring exclamations of chance meetings around Barcelona (OMG, jst met ChazBark at bar & he KISSED me on cheek; hez not rlly fat LOL). Much of the story is yet to be told, and the scrimmage in Monte Carlo may be the most tantalizing episode of all.
Negotiating for the team to train in the world's most exclusive gambling enclave started, believe it or not, with commissioner David Stern, who at the time was understood to be fervently antigambling and terrified of betting lines. But he also recognized that a training camp in, say, Fort Wayne, Ind., was not an inducement for players such as Jordan and Magic to buy in. So he began talking to a friend, New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch, who also owned the showpiece Loews Hotel in Monaco. From there, NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik and Loews chairman Robert Hausman reached a deal with the principality.
Players, coaches and schlub journalists like me said bravo to the decision. The Dream Team did get in some work during its six days in Monaco, but on balance it was more like a minivacation. The team's daily schedule called for two hours of basketball followed by 22 hours of golf, gambling and gaping at the sights. Nude beaches and models were a three-point shot away, sometimes closer. "I'm not putting in a curfew because I'd have to adhere to it," said coach Chuck Daly, "and Jimmy'z [a noted Monte Carlo nightclub] doesn't open until midnight."
The Dream Team flew into Nice at midnight on July 18 and made a crash landing at the Loews, or Jet Set Central, about 20 miles away. During a security meeting before the team arrived, Henri Lorenzi, the legendary hotel manager, had complained about the number and the aggressiveness of the NBA's security people. "Do you realize who is gambling in my casino right now?" Lorenzi said to the NBA's international liaison, Kim Bohuny. Lorenzi ticked off the names of politicians, movie stars and even tennis immortal Björn Borg. "No one will care that much about this team," he said.
"Well, we'll see," replied Bohuny.
When the team bus pulled up, there was such a rush of fans to see the players that some fans crashed through the glass doors at the entrance.
"I get your point," said Lorenzi.
The Loews casino was located in the middle of the hotel, thereby serving as kind of theater-in-the-round when the Dream Teamers were there, the regulars being Jordan, Magic, Barkley, Pippen and Ewing, the same group that had started playing a card game called tonk back at the team's first training camp, in La Jolla, Calif., and would play right through the last night in Barcelona. On one occasion Barkley, feeling like the luckiest blackjack player in the world, hit on a 19; it would be a better ending to the story to say he drew a deuce, but he busted. From time to time Jordan even reserved his own blackjack table and played all five hands.
Each afternoon, after their workout and lunch, a gaggle of players trod through the foot-thick casino carpets in golf shoes, sticks on their backs, bound for the Monte Carlo Golf Club, a 25-minute ride away. The course wasn't a jewel, but it was hilly and commanded wonderful views of the Riviera. One day, after practice, Newsday writer Jan Hubbard arranged a foursome with Barkley, Drexler and me. Barkley was at that time unencumbered by the neuropathic-psychosomatic disorder that has come to plague his golf game, which at this writing remains a wretched smorgasbord of tics and stops and twists and turns. He hit the ball far and had a decent short game, though he was subject to lapses in concentration. Drexler, whom Barkley called Long and Wrong, was just learning the game. With a full, aggressive, coiled swing, he routinely hit 300-yard drives, usually 150 out and 150 to the left or right.
Our merry group played nine, then picked up Robinson at the turn. He was fairly new to the game and, in the fashion of a Naval officer who had built televisions with his father as an adolescent, was working on it with consummate dedication. Robinson was as enthusiastic as anyone about being a Dreamer; as the sole returning member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, which won only the bronze medal, he was on a redemptive journey. But Robinson was, to a large extent, a loner. "He wasn't driven like myself and most of the other players," Jordan says. And years after Barcelona, Robinson still seemed unable to fully comprehend the thirst-for-blood competitiveness of his teammates. He told me a Jordan story from the first time they met, at a 1988 exhibition game. "I go back to meet Michael because, like everybody else, I'm big fan, and you know the first thing he says to me? 'I'm going to dunk on you, big fella. I dunked on all the other big fellas, and you're next.'
"And he said it almost every time we played. I'd go back at him: 'Don't even think about it. I will take you out of the air.' And Michael would always promise to get me."
And did he? "Eventually," Robinson said. "It was a two-on-one with him and Scottie. Michael took the shot and I went up to block it, but I didn't get there, and he dunked it and the crowd went crazy. 'Told you I was going to get you one day,' he said. Man, what a competitor. He never forgot anything, never let you get away with anything."
By Dream Team time, Robinson had, as he puts it, "been born again in Christ." He didn't drink or swear and was finding it uncomfortable to be around those who did. But a golf course -- certainly one with Charles Barkley on it -- is a very tough place for a true believer. Our fivesome played on, insults and four-letter words flying. At one point Robinson complained to Hubbard about Drexler's cussing and also wanted Barkley to tone it down. Charles seemed to comply, but then -- I believe around the 14th hole -- he let loose with another barrage, all of it in good humor but salty. So Robinson shook his head, smiled, picked up his bag and left.
In my mind's eye, I still see Robinson walking off the course on that day. Most athletic teams and most athletic relationships are built on sophomoric humor, insults and d--- jokes, all wrapped in testosterone. To stand with your team yet somehow to have the guts to stand alone from time to time ... now, that takes a particular kind of man.
If the gentleman from Italy -- whose name nobody remembers -- had it all to do over again, I'm sure he would toss the ball to his fellow referee, assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo, and proceed rapidly to the nearest exit of Stade Louis II, the all-purpose arena in the Fontvieille ward of Monaco. For soon he will become the unluckiest person in town, and that includes all those who are surrendering vast quantities of French francs at the tables.
He tosses the ball up between Ewing and Robinson, and Robinson taps it -- on the way up, illegally -- toward his own basket. Robinson's teammate on the Blue Team, Duke's Laettner, the only collegiate Dreamer, races the White Team's Pippen for the ball. Take note, for this is the first and last time in history that this sentence will be written: Laettner beats Pippen to the ball. Laettner sweeps it behind his back to his Blue teammate Barkley, who catches it, takes a couple of dribbles and knifes between the White Team's Jordan and Bird. Jordan grabs Barkley's wrist, the whistle blows, and Barkley makes the layup.
"Shoot the fouls, shoot the fouls," Chuck Daly yells, sounding like that character in Goodfellas, Jimmy Two Times. It's morning and almost no one is in the stands, but Daly is trying to install gamelike conditions because even the best of the best need a kick in the ass from time to time. As Jordan calls for a towel -- it is extremely humid in the arena, and almost everyone is sweating off a little alcohol -- Barkley makes the free throw.
Magic Johnson's Blue Team 3, Michael Jordan's White Team 0.
And so the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw gets under way.
About 12 hours earlier the U.S. had finished an exhibition game against France. It was awful. The players were still getting used to local conditions -- meaning the steep fairways at the Monte Carlo Golf Club and the nocturnal bass beat at Jimmy'z -- and even the seemingly inexhaustible Jordan was tired after walking 18 holes and arriving back at the Loews not long before the 8:30 p.m. tip-off. The Dream Team was sloppy and allowed France leads of 8--2 and 16--13 before it woke up and went on to win 111--71.
It didn't matter to the fans, though, who had gobbled up the 3,500 available tickets in a 15-minute box-office frenzy. The opposing team's guys, at least half a dozen of whom had brought cameras to the bench, were deemed heroic by dint of being slain. Happiest of all was the French coach, Francis Jordane. "He was very excited because he figured that his last name would give him special entrée to Michael," recalls Terry Lyons, the NBA's head of international public relations. "We took a photo, and sure enough, there is Jordane right next to Jordan, with his arm around him."
By breakfast this morning Daly had decided that his team had better beat itself up a little bit. The Dream Team had scrimmaged several times before this fateful day, a couple of the games ending in a diplomatic tie as Daly refused to allow overtime. He normally tried to divvy up the teams by conference, but on this day Drexler was nursing a minor injury and Stockton was still recovering from a fractured right fibula he had suffered in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Lord only knows how this morning would've gone had Drexler been available. Jordan had already taken it upon himself to torture the Glide in scrimmages, conjuring up the just-completed NBA Finals -- in which Jordan's Bulls had beaten Drexler's Trail Blazers in six games -- and taunting Drexler, "Stop me this time!"
So with two fewer Western players than Eastern players, and only two true guards (Magic and Jordan), Daly went with Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Chris Mullin and Laettner on the Blue Team against Jordan, Malone, Ewing, Pippen and Bird on the White.
The gym was all but locked down. The media were allowed in for only the last part of practice. A single cameraman, Pete Skorich, who was Chuck Daly's guy with the Pistons, videotaped the day. It was a closed universe, a secret little world: 10 of the best basketball players in the world going at each other. Daly had a message for them: "All you got now. All you got."
Magic Johnson teased Michael Jordan during this photo shoot, saying "You can't get too close to Michael. It's a foul."
John W. McDonough/SI
The absence of Drexler means that Magic and Jordan are matched up. "Those two going against each other," Dream Team assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski told me in 2011, "was the pimple being popped."
Jordan dribbles upcourt, and Magic yells, "Let's go, Blue. Pick it up now." This is what Magic has missed since he retired because of his HIV diagnosis in November 1991: the juice he got from leading a team, being the conductor, the voice box, the man from whom all energy flows. A half hour earlier, during leisurely full-court layup drills, Magic had suddenly stopped and flung the ball into the empty seats. "We're here to practice!" he yelled. That was his signal that the players were half-assing it, and the day turned on that moment. Magic had promised Daly back in the U.S., "I will see to it that there will be no bad practices."
Bird gets the ball on the right side, guarded by Laettner. With an almost theatrical flourish Bird swings his torso as if to pass to Jordan in the corner. Bird made better use of body fakes than anyone who ever lived, his remedy for a relative lack of quickness. Laettner bites, and Bird is free to drive left into the lane, where he passes to Malone on the left baseline. Malone misses a jumper, Ewing misses an easy tip, and Laettner grabs the rebound.
Magic dribbles upcourt and goes into his Toscanini act, waving both Laettner and Mullin away from the right side and motioning for Barkley to isolate on the block. Bird has him on a switch. "Go to work, CB!" Magic instructs. "Go to work!" Barkley up-fakes Bird but air balls a jumper. Laettner is there for the rebound and lays it in.
Johnson's Blue Team 5, Jordan's White Team 0.
Playing tit for tat at the other end, Malone posts up Barkley on the left side. But the Mailman misses an easy jumper, and Laettner -- player of the game so far -- gets the rebound. At the other end Laettner drives baseline on Ewing, who shoulders him out-of-bounds. "Don't force it if we don't have it," says Magic, directing the comment at Laettner.
After the inbounds pass, Magic dribbles into the lane and spins between Jordan and Pippen, a forced drive if there ever was one. (It is incumbent upon Magic's followers to do as he says, not as he does.) The gentleman from Italy blows his whistle, and no one is sure what the call is, including the gentleman from Italy. Bird, a veteran pickup-game strategist, turns to go upcourt, figuring that will sell the call as a travel, but Magic is already demanding a foul. He wins.
"That's a foul?" Jordan asks in his deep baritone.
(Years later I will watch Magic in a pickup game at UCLA, this one without referees, and he will win the foul battle virtually every time, standing around incredulously until he is awarded the ball, and on defense pointedly playing through his own fouls and acting like a petulant child when an infraction is called on him.)
A minute later Barkley bats away Pippen's shovel pass to Ewing and storms pell-mell to the other end. Bird is ahead of him but overruns the play, and Barkley puts in a layup.
Johnson's Blue Team 7, Jordan's White Team 0.
Jordan is now getting serious and calls out, "One, one!" Pippen gets the ball on the right wing, fakes Mullin off his feet and cans a jumper to break the drought for White.
Johnson's Blue Team 7, Jordan's White Team 2.
Mullin, always sneaky, taps the ball away from a driving Jordan, and Barkley again steamrollers downcourt, this time going between Malone and Ewing for another full-court layup, taking his two steps from just inside the foul line with that sixth sense all great players have about exactly when to pick up the dribble. "Foul! Foul!" Barkley hollers, but he doesn't get the call.
Johnson's Blue Team 9, Jordan's White Team 2.
Malone misses another open jumper; Magic rebounds, heads downcourt and yells, "I see you, baby" to an open Mullin. Mullin misses but Barkley rebounds and finds a cutting Laettner, whose shot is swatted away by Ewing. Laettner spreads his arms, looking for the call, soon to be joined by his more influential teammate.
"That's good!" Magic yells, demanding a goaltending violation.
"He didn't call it," says Jordan.
"It's good," Magic says again.
"He didn't call it," says Jordan.
Magic wins again. Goaltending.
Johnson's Blue Team 11, Jordan's White Team 2.
Bird goes right by Laettner and takes an awkward lefthanded shot in the lane that misses. His back is hurting. Laettner has a layup opportunity at the other end off a quick feed by Magic, but Ewing blocks it, a small moment that presages Laettner's NBA career. He isn't springy enough to dunk or physical enough to draw a foul.
"Dunk that s---, Chris," Jordan says. "Dunk that s---." (Years later Jordan will tell me, coldly and matter-of-factly, "Anybody who had Laettner on the team lost. He was the weak link, and everybody went at him.")
Bird misses an open jumper, and Magic goes over Pippen's back to knock the ball out-of-bounds; nevertheless Magic flashes a look of disbelief when the ball is awarded to White. Ewing swishes a jumper.
Johnson's Blue Team 11, Jordan's White Team 4.
Magic drives, a foul is called on Ewing, and Malone, no fan of this Magic-dominated show, is starting to get irritated. "Sheet!" he yells at the gentleman from Italy. "Everything ain't a foul!"
His mood is no better seconds later when he gets caught in a Barkley screen, and Mullin is able to backdoor Pippen, get a perfect feed from Magic and score a layup. "Whoo!" Magic yells as he heads back upcourt.
Johnson's Blue Team 13, Jordan's White Team 4.
(Years later Pippen will go on a nice little riff about Mullin's ability to read the game. "Mullie just killed me on backdoors," Pippen says, watching the tape with me. "He wasn't that fast, but he knew just when to make his cut.")
Jordan is now looking to score. He forces a switch off a Ewing screen, takes Robinson outside and launches a three-pointer that bounces off the backboard and into the basket. A lucky shot. Magic calls for the ball immediately tit for tat and Jordan retreats, fearing a drive. But Magic stops, launches a jump shot from just outside the three-point line and yells, "Right back at you!" even before it reaches the basket. It goes in.
Johnson's Blue Team 16, Jordan's White Team 7.
There is little doubt that if Jordan played Magic one-on-one, he would drill him, because Magic simply has no way to defend MJ. Magic is bigger but not stronger; he can't jump as high; he's nowhere near as quick; and Jordan's predaceous instincts are unmatched in one-on-one challenges. But this morning it's Magic's one-one-one game against Jordan's. Going one-on-one against Jordan, however, not only is a flawed strategy but also goes against Magic's basketball nature. Johnson is a conciliator. I'll bring everybody together is his mantra, just as it was back at Everett High in Lansing, Mich., where the principal used to call upon Magic to settle racial disputes among his fellow students. "You understand the respect I have for Michael," Krzyzewski will say years later, "but one thing about him -- he cannot be kind."
Jordan, with the surety of an IRS accountant, is starting to get into the game. He initiates a play from the point, goes through the lane and out to the left corner, gets a pass from Ewing and hits a jumper as Magic arrives too late to stop him. At the other end Magic waits until Barkley sets up on the left low block, and then Magic passes him the ball. Barkley turns around and hits a jumper.
"Take him, Charles, all day," says Magic.
Jordan dribbles slowly downcourt and motions Malone to the right block. Jordan makes the entry pass, and Malone turns and quick shoots over Barkley. Good. Tit for tat.
Johnson's Blue Team 17, Jordan's White Team 11.
Bird air balls a wide-open jumper. He looks 100 years old. White gets the ball back, and Jordan signals that the left side should be cleared for Malone to go against Barkley. The entry pass comes in, and Malone clears space by slapping away Barkley's hand. He turns toward the baseline and, legs splayed, releases a jumper. Good.
"Right back at you," Jordan yells.
Johnson's Blue Team 18, Jordan's White Team 13.
After a couple of futile exchanges, Magic races downcourt and throws a pass ahead to Robinson. "Keep going, David," he hollers, and Robinson obligingly drives to the basket, drawing a foul on Ewing. "All day long," Magic hollers. "All day long." Then he gets personal. He yells, "The Jordanaires are down."
Jordan is not amused. About halfway through the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw, Magic may have sealed his own doom. "Hold the clock!" Jordan hollers, clearly irritated, making sure there is enough time to strike back. Robinson makes one of two.
Johnson's Blue Team 19, Jordan's White Team 13.
A minute later Barkley spins away from Malone on the right block, and Malone is called for a foul. "Called this same f------ s--- last night," Malone says to the gentleman from Italy, referring to the game against France. "This is bulls---!" To add to Malone's frustration, Daly hollers that the White team is over the foul limit.
"One-and-one," says Daly.
"Yeah!" Magic yells. "I love it. I love it! We ain't in Chicago Stadium anymore." He punctuates the insult with loud clapping.
Throughout his career Jordan has heard complaints that the referees favor him. At a Michael-Magic-Larry photo session, Magic quipped, "You can't get too close to Michael. It's a foul." Jordan is tired of hearing about it, particularly from Magic.
Barkley makes one of two.
Johnson's Blue Team 20, Jordan's White Team 13.
Now amped up, Jordan goes through four defenders for a flying layup, then Pippen steals Mullin's inbounds pass. Jordan misses a jumper, but Pippen rebounds, draws a foul on Mullin and gets an enthusiastic palm slap from Jordan. As Barkley towels himself off from head to toe, Pippen makes both. Perhaps they are in Chicago Stadium.
Johnson's Blue Team 20, Jordan's White Team 17.
Bird grabs the rebound off a missed Robinson shot, and Jordan cans a jumper to bring White within one. Magic, still determined to make this a one-on-one contest, spins into the lane and misses badly. Barkley is starting to get irritated at Magic's one-on-one play and will later complain to Jordan and Pippen about it. Jordan races downcourt with Pippen to the left and Ewing to the right. You know where this is headed. Pippen catches the ball and throws down a ferocious lefthanded dunk.
Jordan's White Team 21, Johnson's Blue Team 20.
Mullin drives and draws a reach-in foul on Pippen. "Wasn't that all ball?" says Jordan. Mullin makes one free throw, misses the next.
Jordan drives the lane, and Magic, now visibly tired, gets picked off. Robinson, the help defender, is whistled for a foul. After Jordan misses the first, Magic knocks the ball high in the air a technical in the NBA, but who cares? and keeps jawing. "Let's concentrate," hollers Daly, trying to keep everyone's mind on the business at hand.
Jordan makes the second.
Jordan's White Team 22, Johnson's Blue Team 21.
Malone comes down hard on his right ankle after making a layup off an assist from Jordan. His bad mood has grown worse. Malone walks it off a normal man would've gone for ice as Pippen and Bird come over to slap palms and Jordan yells, "Way to go, Karl."
Jordan's White Team 24, Johnson's Blue Team 21.
In March 1992, a few months before the Dream Team got together, I asked coaches and general managers around the league this question: If you were starting a team and could take either Malone or Barkley, which one would you select? Malone-Barkley had the ingredients of a Magic-or-Larry debate. Mr. Olympia vs. the Round Mound of Rebound. Mr. Reliable vs. Mr. We Hope He Isn't in a Bar Sending a Drunk Through a Window.
Malone won the poll 15--7. His supporters invariably mentioned his loyal-soldier quality and contrasted it with Barkley's penchant for controversy; Barkley's backers felt there was no substitute for talent and that Charles achieved more with less, having no Stockton in Philadelphia to deliver him the ball. Even considering the full flush of their careers, it's a difficult call. Malone, the second-leading scorer in NBA history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, averaged 25 points per game, compared with Barkley's 22.1. Barkley outrebounded Malone by 11.7 to 10.1. Both have been accused of folding under pressure, but the big picture reveals that each was an outstanding postseason player with numbers almost identical to his regular-season metrics. Bill Simmons, in The Book of Basketball, has Malone and Barkley together in his pantheon of best players, at 18th and 19th respectively.
Michael Jordan poured in 17 points while leading his team to a 40-36 victory.
John W. McDonough/SI
But there is always the root question in sports: Who was better? You have that moment when you can give only one person the ball, and whom would you choose? I'm sure that if players spoke honestly, Jordan would always get the ball. And I'm equally certain that the Barkley-or-Malone nod would go to Barkley. Charles had that ineffable something that Malone didn't have. He wasn't more important to a franchise, he wasn't as dependable, and he wasn't as good over the long haul. He was just ... better.
Of all the Dreamers, though, Laettner came closest to paying Barkley the ultimate compliment. When I casually commented that everyone believed Jordan was the best, Laettner pursed his lips and considered. "I guess," he said, "but by a very, very small margin over Charles."
Now, at the morning game in Monaco, Jordan and Pippen walk up the court together. "He's tired," Jordan says of Barkley. As if to disprove him, Barkley plows into the lane, and Malone is called for a block. Taking a cue from Magic, the Mailman bats the ball high into the air. Seeing a profusely perspiring Barkley at the line, Jordan moves in for the kill. "A man is tired, he usually misses free throws," says Jordan. This is a recurring theme for His Airness. "One-and-one now," says Jordan, wiggling two fingers at Barkley.
Barkley makes the first -- "Yeah, Charles, you gonna get your two anyway," sings Magic -- but Ewing bats the second off the rim before it has a chance (maybe) to go in.
Bird misses another open jumper but decides to make something of this personal nightmare. As Magic yo-yo dribbles on the left side, Bird suddenly comes off Laettner and steals the ball. He bumps Magic slightly, but even the gentleman from Italy is not going to call that one. As Magic tumbles to the ground, Bird takes off, Barkley in pursuit, pursuit used lightly in this case. In fact, takes off is used lightly too. Bird fakes a behind-the-back pass to a trailing Jordan, and Barkley takes a man-sized bite at it, his jock now somewhere inside the free throw line. Bird makes the layup. "Way to go, Larry!" Jordan yells. "Way to take him to the hole. I know you got some life in you."
(Years later I watch some of the game with Mullin. When Bird makes this turn-back-the-clock play, Mullin calls to his wife, Liz, "Honey, come here and watch this. Watch what Larry does here." And we run it back a couple of times, Mullin and his wife smiling, delighted by the sight of the Bird they love. A couple of months after that, I remind Jordan of the play. He grows animated. "That's Larry, man, that's Larry," he says. "Making a great play like that. That's Larry Bird.")
Jordan's White Team 26, Johnson's Blue Team 22.
Laettner makes two free throws, and at the other end Jordan feeds Malone for a jumper. Barkley misses a jumper, but Robinson, an aerial acrobat, a giant with a past as a gymnast, leaps high over Ewing and taps the ball in off the board.
Jordan's White Team 28, Johnson's Blue Team 26.
Jordan launches a jumper from the top of the key, outside the three-point line, as Mullin flies out to guard him. "Too late!" Jordan yells.
Jordan's White Team 31, Johnson's Blue Team 26.
Now mostly what you hear is Jordan exhorting his team, sensing the kill. Magic backs into the lane, Malone guarding him on a switch. The gentleman from Italy blows his whistle ... and the Mailman blows his top. "Oh, come on, man," he yells. "Stop calling this f------ bullsheet." Jordan comes over and steps between Malone and the ref. "Forget it, Karl," says Jordan. "Don't scare him. We might need him."
Magic shoots the first, which rolls around as Jordan, hands on shorts, yells to Ewing, "Knock it out!" Too late. Magic swishes the second.
Jordan's White Team 31, Johnson's Blue Team 28.
Pippen pops out from behind a Ewing screen and swishes a jumper. At the other end, Mullin loses the grip on a Magic pass, and Bird recovers. Jordan begins a break, motions Ewing to join him on the left side and watches in delight as Patrick takes a few pitty-pat steps and makes a jumper.
Jordan's White Team 35, Johnson's Blue Team 28.
Ewing is whistled for a foul on Robinson, who makes both. At the other end Jordan feeds Malone, who draws a foul on Barkley.
"One-and-one?" the Blue team asks.
"Two shots," says Jordan, who has taken over the whistle from Magic. Malone misses both. Robinson grabs the second miss and gives it to Barkley, who steams downcourt and passes to Laettner, who goes up and fails to connect but is fouled by Jordan. Dunk that s---, Chris.
"Every time!" yells Magic from the backcourt, desperately trying to regain the verbal momentum. "Every time!"
Laettner, who has been and will remain silent throughout the game, makes both free throws.
Jordan's White Team 35, Johnson's Blue Team 32.
Magic is called for a reach-in, and now he goes after the gentleman from Italy, trailing him across the lane. Magic lines up next to Ewing and pushes his arm away as Ewing leans in to box out on Jordan's free throws. Jordan makes both. Magic is steaming.
At the other end the gentleman from Italy calls an inexplicable moving screen on Robinson, which delights Jordan. "My man," he yells, clapping his hands. "My man, my man, my man." We might need him.
"Chicago Stadium," Magic yells. Malone backs Barkley down, and the whistle blows, and now it's Barkley attacking the gentleman from Italy. "Come on, man!" he yells. "That was clean!" For a moment it appears as if Barkley might strike him. Malone makes one of two.
Jordan's White Team 38, Johnson's Blue Team 32.
Laettner makes a weird twisting layup. On the sideline Daly is beginning to pace, hoping this thing will come to an end before a fistfight breaks out or one of his players assaults the gentleman from Italy. As Robinson lines up to shoot a free throw, Jordan and Magic begin jawing again. "All they did was move Bulls Stadium right here," Magic says. "That's all they did. That's all they did."
"Hey, it is the '90s," Jordan says, reaching for a towel.
Robinson makes both.
Jordan's White Team 38, Johnson's Blue Team 36.
Jordan dribbles out front, running down the shot clock, pissing off Magic all the while. Finally he drives left, goes up for a jumper and draws a foul on Laettner. Before Jordan shoots, Magic moves in for a few words. They are not altogether pleasant. Jordan makes the first. Magic keeps jawing. Jordan takes the ball from the gentleman from Italy, slaps him on the rump and says, "Good man." He makes the second.
Daly watches in relief as the clock hits 00:0. He waves his hands in a shooting motion at both baskets, the sign for players to do their postpractice routine, ending the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw.
Jordan's White Team 40, Johnson's Blue Team 36.
Except that it isn't over. Not really.
"Way to work, White," Jordan yells, rubbing it in. He paces up and down, wiping himself with a towel, emperor of all he sees, as Magic, Barkley and Laettner disconsolately shoot free throws.
"It was all about Michael Jordan," says Magic. "That's all it was."
It's no joke. Magic is angry.
Jordan continues to pace the sideline. He grabs a cup of Gatorade and sings, "Sometimes I dream...." Jordan has recently signed a multimillion-dollar deal to endorse Gatorade, and the ads feature a song inspired by I Wan'na Be like You, the Monkey Song in the animated film The Jungle Book. The Gatorade version's lyrics are:
Sometimes I dream/That he is me/You've got to see that's how I dream to be/I dream I move, I dream I groove/Like Mike/If I could be like Mike.
As Magic looks on in this sticky-hot gym, sweat pouring off his body, towel around his neck, there is Jordan, captain of the winning team, singing a song written just for him, drinking a drink that's raking in millions, rubbing it in as only Jordan can do. And on the bus back to the hotel? Jordan keeps singing, Be like Mike.... Be like Mike. ...
The game would have reverberations in Barcelona as Michael and Magic relentlessly continued to try to get the verbal edge on each other. And in the years that followed, this intrasquad game became a part of basketball lore, "kind of like an urban legend," as Laettner describes it.
And not everybody loved it. "You have to look at who relishes that kind of thing," says Malone. "As they say, it's their geeeg." By their he means Jordan's and Magic's. (Last year I asked Malone if he wanted to watch few minutes of the video. "No," he said. "Doesn't interest me.")
But Krzyzewski, no fan of trash talk, looks back on the game fondly, remembering almost every detail. "Every once in while I'll be doing something and a line from that game will just flash into my head," he says. "They just moved Chicago Stadium to Monte Carlo. It just makes me smile.
"A lot of players talk trash because the TV cameras are on. But the doors on that day were closed. This was just you against me. This is what I got -- whatta you got? It taught me a lot about accepting personal challenges. You know, if somebody could've taped the sound track of the game, not necessarily recorded the basketball but just the sounds, it would be priceless."
Well, I got the original VHS tape, converted it to DVD and even got a specialist to make a CD of the sound track. It picked up almost everything. The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw was not about the hoops. It was about the passion those guys put into playing, the importance they placed on winning and on personal pride.
Years later Jordan brought up the game before I had a chance to ask him about it. "In many ways," he said, "it was the best game I was ever in. Because the gym was locked and it was just about basketball. You saw a lot about players' DNA, how much some guys want to win. Magic was mad about it for two days."
Magic, for his part, estimates that his anger lasted only a few hours. "Let me tell you something -- it would've been worse for everybody if he lost," says Johnson. "Because I could let something go after a while. But Michael? He'd never let it go. He never let anything go."
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