Marking a 20-year anniversary in advance of the 2012 Olympics, NBA TV's documentary "The Dream Team" will likely qualify as must-see TV for any basketball fan of a certain age -- even those of us who questioned the U.S.' shift to use pros to ensure Olympic victory.
Premiering June 13, the 90-minute film is filled with great little tidbits, exploring the mix of personalities and egos featured on the team, how Coach Chuck Daly sought to corral them and the questions raised (which still linger, frankly) over the slightly boorish nature of these future Hall of Famers going out to crush opponents who were in awe of them.
The best parts of the film -- exec produced by Dion Cocoros and Danny Meiseles, and directed by Andy Thompson -- involve grainy footage of actual practices, where the all-stars really go after each other, trying to establish a pecking order. There's also footage of the pros getting their asses handed to them by a college all-star team brought in to work them out, though Coach Mike Krzyzewski insists Daly essentially threw the game to try to bring his charges down a peg or two.
Another highlight (because, honestly, who would remember all of this?) involves Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin brutally shutting down future teammate Toni Kukoc in a game against Croatia, sending a not-so-subtle message to the Chicago Bulls' owner for dariing to court the European forward.
All told, there's a helluva lot to like here, from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's last hurrah together to the stars whooping it up in Monte Carlo, led by the indefatiguable Jordan and irrepressible Charles Barkley, who -- in a current interview -- says of Daly having coached Detroit's "Bad Boys" before the Olympics, "If he can coach those assholes, he can coach anybody." (Another interesting footnote has to do with hostility toward Detroit's Isiah Thomas that resulted in him being left off the squad, and Daly's personal efforts to win over Jordan, mostly by indulging his passion for golf.)
ESPN has certainly raised the bar for sports documentaries with its "30 for 30" series, and given the nostalgic nature of the material -- and NBA TV's mandate to put a glossy sheen on its product -- "The Dream Team" isn't exactly hard-hitting.
Virtually any criticism, however, amounts to quibbles, on a project that's as well-calibrated to its audience -- and well timed, heading into the NBA Finals -- as a Magic-led fastbreak.
Or to put it on an Olympic scale, give it four out of five rings.