The Dream Team undeniably evolved the game of basketball at 1992 Barcelona Olympics. US basketball artists destroyed their rivals with ease and flair and +32 against tiny Croatia, fresh of its independence as a country, in the Olympic final, was their smallest margin of victory at the Games.
However their biggest nemesis was a team that didn’t even had a chance of showing up in Barcelona. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia for decades and gained independence only several months prior to Barcelona. Despite of ongoing war, with deeply limited roster and logistics, Croatia achieved the best result in their basketball history.
From time to time, I’m one of many dudes asking myself – What if Yugoslavia survived, at least enough to present basketball NT in Barcelona? Which 12 players would Dušan Ivković, coach of Yu-National Team at the time, chose if he had a chance? Asked about that few years ago, Duda suggested nine essential Yugo-ballers and also added mysteriously – USA had a team that was great, but not their best team.
Dražen Petrović, Toni Kukoč & Dino Rađa from Croatian silver medal winning team are no-brainers. Backcourt would be defensively stronger with the addition of Slovenian star, Jure Zdovc, perimeter specialist and regular member of starting five at Yugoslav NT. Presence of Serbian giant, Vlade Divac at center is a key for this imaginary team. With Kukoč (6-11), Rađa (7-0) and Divac (7-1), best frontcourt trio Yugoslavia ever had, size is matched with creativity.
Duda would be insane not to call up Saša Đorđević and Predrag Danilović, best pair of guards in Europe that season, both fresh of winning Euroleague title with Serbian powerhouse, Partizan Belgrade, and both entering the prime of their careers. Montenegrin Žarko Paspalj (6-9), with brief NBA experience in San Antonio Spurs uniform, enjoyed spectacular season (33.7 ppg) in Greece and, capable of incredible scoring spurts, would be a perfect backup or addition for Kukoč at both forward spots while Bosnian-born Serb, Zoran Savić (6-9), was another regular; blue-collar guy capable of playing at positions 4 and 5, he complemented both, Divac and Radja. That’s nine names and looks much better than lineup Croatia had at the Games.
Duda Ivković, as many other great Yugoslav coaches, went big when he had a chance to. To add size, he recalled Stojko Vranković, 7-2 Boston Celtics center, who he cut from the NT after victory at the 1989 Eurobasket held in Zagreb. Golds from next two major championships went to Zoran Jovanović, as a center backup, but I don’t see him in hypothetical Barcelona team. Youngsters, Žan Tabak and Željko Rebrača (both Euroleague champs and future NBA players) were rather inexperienced in comparison with Stojko and bulky Radisav Ćurčić (gold at 1990 World Champs ), who played next season for Dallas Mavericks, was another possible big. Still, Ivković gives Stojko another chance and 10th spot at the roster.
Yugoslavia, a fountain of basketball talent at the time, had many options to add backcourt threats. Its second team would be in a mix for Olympic medals in Barcelona, but is highly possible that Duda fills his bench with reliable and battle-tested Velimir Perasović, who, same as Stojko, starred on silver medal Croatian team, giving him the nod over Arijan Komazec and Zoran Sretenović (gold medalists at ’91 Eurobasket). Ivković was also known as a fan of Bane Prelević whom he coached to the title with PAOK in Greece that same spring and another sharp-shooting guard, Zdravko Radulović from Cibona, Zagreb, had excellent season in Europe. But, let’s stick with Peras who dominated in Spain for the next decade, winning five scoring titles in his thirties.
With the tradition to present talented teenagers at major championships, Yugoslav coach wouldn’t do different in Barcelona. In a list of great what ifs, twelfth and final place on Yu-roster goes to Dejan Bodiroga, only 19 at the time, but already one of the best players in Europe. As war did not start and the breakup of Yugoslavia did not occur in this dreamland, Bodiroga, MVP of the 1991 FIBA under-19 World Champs, had a stellar season in 1991-92 for Croatian team of Zadar and Duda saw enough flashes of a brilliance to give him opportunity to impress on major stage.
Never happened. Remained in the realm of dreams. The Dreamy Dozen that never had a chance. Well done USA!