Entering a debate on the greatest sports sides in history should inevitably reach a particular conclusion. Avoiding mentioning the 12-strong roster that flew to Barcelona in 1992 makes any other argument void. The United States men’s national basketball team that dominated that year’s Olympic Games in Spain is in a class of its own.
Composed of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullen, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Christian Laettner, Scottie Pippen, and Michael Jordan, it is simply known as ‘The Dream Team’.
And the conductor of this supreme symphony in Spain was to be Chuck Daly, the legendary basketball coach known as ‘Daddy Rich’ for his expensive, dapper dark-blue attire worn courtside, and Daly certainly had a plethora of riches to take across the Atlantic with him.
"It was," he said, "like Elvis and the Beatles put together. Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That's all I can compare it to."
At the Games four years previous the USA had been humiliated by the Soviet Union to finish with bronze, their worst finish in the history of the tournament. Embarrassment wasn’t going to happen again as the States assembled a galaxy of NBA stars to compete in Barcelona, the first time their Olympic basketball team using professional players.
Leading the line were the bonafide MVP megastars, Bird, Johnson, and Jordan. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t make the plane and Isiah Thomas, a two-time NBA champion with Daly at the Pistons and a 12-time All-Star was left at home, at the purported request of MJ. It was a decision that reportedly upset Daly, with whom Thomas had enjoyed a strong and productive relationship at the Detroit Pistons.
In Spain however, the U.S scored over 100 points in each game on the way to gold, with an average of 117.3 points per game, beating their eight opponents by an average of 44 points. Eleven of the 12 players now have their rightful place in the NBA Hall of Fame.
Daly had been put in charge of the Olympics team having coached the Pistons to two consecutive N.B.A. championships. Their physical aggressive style labelled them as the Bad Boys of the NBA and clashed with the two dominant forces of the 1980s, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We weren’t the league’s favourite,” said Isiah Thomas in the documentary The Last Dance, “We weren’t the pretty team that had got invited to the Lakers and Celtics party. When we showed up, it was almost like we were crashing their party.”
It was also in Detroit where Daly honed a young, raw Dennis Rodman, the controversial star thriving under his coach’s tutelage.
“You talk about coaches’ dreams, there aren’t many players like him,” said Daly in one press conference, “There couldn’t be a player I’m more proud of and proud to be associated with.”
Brendan Malone, the Pistons’ Assistant Coach between 1988 and 1995 stated that, “Chuck was the only person that understood [Rodman]. I remember one time I was working with Dennis and Chuck called me over and he said, ‘Just leave him alone - you don’t put a saddle on a Mustang.”
Elbows frequently flew as the Pistons’ defence formed the backbone of the success, even if on-court skirmishes and punches between power forwards came as a result.
“We were Bad Boys. We just started feeding into it,” said Rodman, “The next thing you know we started to win, win, win.”
When Daly became the Pistons’ coach in 1983, the franchise had never won an NBA championship since entering the league in 1948. In his nine seasons with Detroit, Daly’s teams made the playoffs every time. They took their first Finals by beating the 80s’ most dominant team, the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989 avenging the 4-3 defeat the Lakers had produced the previous year by inflicting a 4-0 clean-sweep. Then the following year for back-to-back titles they bested the Portland Trail Blazers in a five-game series.
Daly resigned as the Pistons’ coach after the 1991-92 campaign. He then moved further east to coach the New Jersey Nets for two seasons, reaching the playoffs on both occasions. After a three-year hiatus he spent two years with the Orlando Magic, retiring before the millennium.
In total, Daly finished his coaching career with a brace of championships and 12 playoff appearances. His teams posted winning records in 11 of 13 campaigns and a career record: 638-437 (.593). What’s more, Daly had known his intended career path since high school.
“I remember telling my mother, ‘Mom, I’m going to be a basketball coach, and I bet I can make as much as $10,000 a year at it,’ ” Daly later recalled. He played basketball at St. Bonaventure and at Bloomsburg State College, then coached high school basketball for eight seasons in Punxsutawney.
He went on to become head coach at Boston College and at the University of Pennsylvania, taking the Quakers to four straight Ivy League titles before making the leap up to the NBA. In 1978 he acted as assistant to Billy Cunningham with the Philadelphia 76ers, and took charge of the Cleveland Cavaliers for a spell in the 1980/81 season. The nine-year spell with the Detroit Pistons remains his domestic epitaph.
Daly was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994 and when the N.B.A. celebrated its 50th anniversary two years later in 1996, he was named one of the 10 greatest coaches in league history. The Pistons also retired their No. 2 jersey number in 1997 to commemorate his consecutive N.B.A. titles won with the franchise.
Chuck Daly died Saturday May 9, 2009, in Jupiter, Florida, aged 78. His death was announced by the Detroit Pistons. In 2010 he was placed in the Hall of Fame once again, this time as coach of the historic Dream Team of ‘92.
In his first Hall of Fame Enshrinement Speech in ‘94, Daly recited a letter he had received from a contemporary. A fellow coach by the name of Larry McMahon had been his opposite number on occasion while in Pennsylvania and had written to him in order to congratulate Daly on his upcoming honour.
“I have always wanted to tell you how much you did for me and the game of basketball in our area while you were here. I know there was more pride and respect for the game in our when you left, than when you started at Punxsutawney. Thank you for helping me realise the joy, self-satisfaction and rewards that could come coaching this great game. You demonstrated that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing it right.”
“You also impressed upon me that it was OK to love coaching and that I should not only respect the people in the game, but the game itself.”