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Celtics greats key to retro Olympic Dream Teams

Can you imagine John Havlicek and Jerry West teaming up on a dream team in 1972?

Boston Celtics - John Havlicek
Celtic defensive ace John Havlicek tries to deny Laker superstar Jerry West the ball. West starred on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team that swept to gold at Rome, while Hondo was an alternate.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

In 1988, the former USSR beat Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Seoul. It was the first time the United States had been beaten fair and square in the Olympic Games since the sport was included back in 1936. Led by future NBA standouts Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciliuonis, the Soviets convincingly beat a group of American collegiate players in the semifinals en route to the gold medal. It turned out to be the last time the USSR competed at the Olympics as the nation dissolved into several countries following the fall of Communism the next year.

David Robinson was the center for the 1988 American team coached by John Thompson, which finished third, the worst ever performance to that time by a U.S. men’s Olympic team. That loss angered U.S. fans and officials enough to pave the way for America to finally start sending its best pro players to the Olympics in 1992 with the inaugural Dream Team. Letting their pros play was something the other countries had to do in order to just be somewhat competitive with American hoops.

USA Men’s National Team Training Camp
Former Celtic backup center John Thompson of Georgetown was the 1988 U.S. Olympic head coach. His team’s bronze medal finish (and semifinal loss to the USSR) was a catalyst for getting American pros into the 1992 Olympics with the original “Dream Team.”
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

But when the USSR began to catch up with American amateurs nearly beating them at the 1986 Goodwill Games and then defeating Team USA two years later in Seoul, it was deemed time for a change.

Sixteen years earlier at the Munich Olympics, the USSR ended the 63-game U.S. Olympic win streak with a controversial 51-50 win at the buzzer in an epic gold medal contest. Amazingly, the 1988 showdown was the first time the rival superpowers had met in the Olympics since that 1972 thriller.

Yugoslavia upset the USSR in the 1976 Olympic semifinals at Montreal, denying America a chance at revenge in the gold medal round, where Team USA whipped the Yugos by 21. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, while the USSR returned the favor and didn’t come to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The USSR led much of the tense 1972 gold medal game vs. Team USA at Munich. Ace 28-year old guard Sergei Belov, taught to shoot in part by studying films of Jerry West’s textbook form, scored 20 points to pace the Soviets. Yet Team USA rallied late to within a point in the final minute. American Doug Collins stole the ball, drove full bore to the basket and was undercut hard to the floor with just three seconds left.

Still groggy from landing on his back and hitting his head on the stanchion after the vicious foul (which would certainly be a flagrant foul today), Collins went to the foul line with the USSR ahead 49-48 and the gold medal squarely on the line. There was no doubt in coach Henry Iba’s mind that he would let Collins shoot the pressure foul shots. “If Doug can walk, he will shoot them,” said the aged coach.

Collins, an All-American guard at Illinois State who would become the number one overall pick by the 76ers in the 1973 NBA draft, calmly hit both pressure-packed free throws to give the Americans a 50-49 lead, despite the fact that a scoring table horn went off as he shot the second free throw.

What happened afterward rendered his clutch foul shots--arguably the most pressurized charity stripe makes in organized basketball history due to the gold medal stakes at the height of the Cold War--sadly overlooked and forgotten.

The Soviets got three chances to score in the final seconds. FIBA head official (from Great Britain) R. Williams Jones gave the USSR the extra chances due to a clock malfunction and an ungranted timeout the Soviet coach had attempted to call.

On the third try, Soviet center Aleksandr Belov leaped high between American defenders Jim Forbes and Kevin Joyce to grab a full-court in-bounds pass from Ivan Edeshko. After giving a brief head fake to gather himself, Belov banked in a short shot at the horn to win it, 51-50.

Soviet Basketball Players Celebrating Victory over United States
The jubilant Soviet basketball team celebrates its disputed, last-second 1972 Olympic gold medal win over the U.S. by a 51-50 count.

The stunned American team protested vehemently, but later lost a 3-2 vote that went along Cold War party lines. Team USA refused to accept its silver medals and was a no-show at the medal stand presentation. The silver medals still sit unclaimed in a Switzerland vault. All the American players have continued to refuse to accept their second-place medal over the past 47 years. A few even have it written into their wills that none of their descendants are allowed to accept the silver medals posthumously.

Illinois native Collins, who could have gone down in American Olympic history as an all-time hero, likened the rollercoaster ride loss to “falling of the top of the Sears tower” in Chicago.

What would have happened had America sent its best pro players to the 1972 Olympics? Certainly a Team USA club comprised of the best pros would have blown the competition away, perhaps even more impressively than the 1992 Dream Team did two decades later.

This is partly because the rest of the world played better foreign basketball in 1992 than it did in 1972. As far ahead of the basketball world as the U.S. was in 1992, it was even more superior in 1972.

Probably only the Belov brothers from the USSR, as well as a few other foreign players at the time such as Yugoslavian center Kresimir Cosic (a Brigham Young University standout), could even have played in the NBA at that time - especially when there were only 17 NBA teams with shorter rosters than exist now.

Sergei Belov was voted the greatest player in FIBA history in 1991, and his skywalking brother Alex was also very talented. Probably no other player from the 1972 Soviet squad, with the possible exception of good-shooting forward Modesta Paulaskas, could even have come close to making an NBA - or ABA - roster in 1972.

So, what would the Team USA rosters have looked like from 1972 through 1988 had American professional players been allowed to compete? The following is my 12-man roster for each Olympic year with the requisite two alternates in case of injury.

Celtic legend Red Auerbach might have been the best choice to coach the team, since he was retired for six years but still closely involved in the NBA as Boston team president/general manager. If USA Basketball went for a current pro coach back then instead of Red, former Celtic sharpshooter Bill Sharman or Knick mentor Red Holzman would have been the best choice. USC alumnus Sharman was younger and had coached Utah to the 1971 ABA title before jumping to the NBA to coach the Lakers.

Los Angeles Lakers Vs Boston Celtics At Boston Garden
Former Celtic great teammates (left to right) Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn combined to win five NBA titles as head coaches - and a whopping 20 more rings as Boston players. Jones also assisted Sharman on the 1971-72 Laker title team, the first NBA championship team in Los Angeles. Sharman is the only man to coach teams to titles in three pro leagues - the ABL (1962 Cleveland Pipers), ABA (1971 Utah Stars) and NBA (1972 Lakers).
Photo by Dan Goshtigian/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

His assistant with the Lakers was another California Celtic, K.C. Jones. Sharman led the Lakers to a 69-13 record his first season and their first championship when based in Los Angeles. His 1971-72 Lakers authored a still-standing record for consecutive wins that season with 33, set a record for wins in a season that stood for 24 years, and dispatched the Knicks 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Thus on their ninth try to win the Finals, the “Los Angeles” Lakers finally succeeded with two Celtics at the helm (the Laker franchise won five titles behind center George Mikan from 1949-54 when the team was based in Minneapolis).

A forward-thinking fitness fanatic well ahead of his time in many ways, Sharman invented and implemented the game day shootaround that season, a routine which college and pro teams virtually all use today. But veteran Laker center Wilt Chamberlain, a notorious night owl and late riser, had to be convinced to try the new format that called for an 11 a.m. shootaround.

”You can have me at 11 a.m. or 8 p.m. for the game, but not both,” Wilt originally groused. But once Sharman got the Big Dipper to give it a try, even he could not argue with the incredible results.

Sharman, the NBA’s first truly great shooter and still one of the league’s all-time leaders in foul shooting accuracy, believed in muscle memory, especially when it came to shooting. The seven-time NBA free throw champion and eight-time All-Star knew what he was talking about. He was also a fine boxer and a tremendous baseball player who led Southern California to the 1947 College World Series.

Sharman was actually a reserve player on the Brooklyn Dodger bench in 1951 when they lost the playoffs to the rival New York Giants on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world.” A September minor league call-up, he didn’t get into a regular season game and decided to concentrate on pro basketball.

Eventually he would win four NBA titles as a player, three as a head coach in three different pro leagues, and five more as a GM/front office executive for the Lakers in the 1980s. A basketball innovator, he also convinced an aging Wilt to morph into Bill Russell in his final two seasons. He got Chamberlain to focus on defense, rebounding and starting the vaunted fast break he brought cross-country from Boston.

He turned superstar shooting guard Jerry West into the de facto point guard in his 12th season. West responded by leading the league in assists (9.7) for the first time while still scoring 25.8 points a game and making the all-defense squad at 33-years-old. West won the All-Star Game MVP in LA as well in 1972, hitting a jumper from the top of the key despite Walt Frazier being draped all over him with one second left to provide a dramatic 112-110 victory. Interestingly, Jerry’s All-Star jersey read West on the front and back as he won the MVP award before his adoring home fans in the Forum. A happy coach Sharman shook his hand after the winning shot.

The tortured West finally got his long-awaited title in 1972 after seven losses in the Finals, six at the hands of the Celtics and one to New York in 1970. Four of those Finals defeats came in seven games, three to Boston by a combined total of seven points in the seventh games.

In 1969, West became the first and only player to win the Finals MVP despite being on the losing team as the favored Lakers fell at home 108-106 in Game 7 to the Celtics in the swansong for Bill Russell and Sam Jones. West authored a 42-13-12 triple-double in the seventh game, despite a strained hamstring, and averaged 37.9 ppg in those Finals. So if anyone deserved an NBA title, it was Jerry West in 1972.

Of course, twelve years earlier at the 1960 Rome Olympics, West teamed with Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas to lead an amateur U.S. team coached by Pete Newell to the basketball gold medal. Many observers believe that star-studded squad and the 1984 U.S. team coached by Bob Knight featuring Michael Jordan and Chris Mullin are the two best amateur Olympic hoop clubs ever. Ironically, West’s West Virginia squad had been denied by Newell’s California squad in the 1959 NCAA Finals 71-70, beginning a long string of agonizing championship losses for West and the Lakers.

Boston Celtics - John Havlicek
A classic early 1970s confrontation: Havlicek vs. West, two of the greatest all-around players in NBA and major college hoop history.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Yet the maniacally driven West was still arguably the best all-around guard in the NBA in 1972 as he chased that elusive ring. Former early 1970’s Los Angeles teammate Stu Lantz, a long-time Laker analyst, called West the most driven superstar he had ever seen in Jerry’s recent autobiography. He recalled West running wind sprints by himself until he threw up - and this was AFTER practice, in his 30’s.

So the game’s greatest clutch player of that era who literally is the NBA logo is an obvious choice for one first team, Team USA guard starting spot. If West was not the best all-around guard in the NBA in 1972, then Knick great Walt Frazier was. In his prime at that time he was a deadly clutch player, superb defender and rebounder, as well as an excellent mid-range shooter and passer.

The poker-faced Clyde was the epitome of cool and grace at the time, with his stylish wardrobe and muttonchop sideburns. A very smart and gracefully economical player, he made everything look easier than it was. Frazier was an expert at changing speeds to make up for a lack of great speed as a big guard.

When asked by a reporter if he was the “black Joe Namath” at the time, Walt thought for a moment and said that maybe Broadway Joe “was the white Walt Frazier.” Ironically, Frazier had been a top high school quarterback in the deep south but was not recruited as a QB, so he turned to hoops. Frazier averaged over 23 points and nearly seven rebounds plus six assists a game while making all-defense in 1972 and leading the Knicks to the NBA Finals.

1973 Eastern Conference Finals: New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Arguably the two best all-around players in the NBA during this early 1970s photo, New York’s Walt “Clyde” Frazier hand checks swingman extraordinaire John Havlicek during a showdown between the two ancient east coast rivals. The duo could have teamed up to lead a pro team of cagers at the 1972 Olympics. The Celtics and Knicks are the only two existing original NBA franchises who have never changed cities.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Very probably the best all-around player in the NBA in 1972 was legendary Celtic swingman, John Havlicek. Not only was John a perennial All-Defense first team performer and the league’s most versatile player, he nearly averaged a triple-double (27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists a game) in 1971-72. That year and the previous one in 1970-71 (28.9/9.0/7.5) authored by Hondo are arguably the most complete campaigns ever in the fabled history of the Celtics, perhaps even better than the best of Larry Bird due to his superior defense. Behind the tireless Havlicek, Boston posted the best record in the East in 1971-72 at 56-26, but lost to the wily New York Knicks in the conference finals.

An alternate on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team who was overshadowed in college at Ohio State by superstar center Jerry Lucas, Hondo became the better pro by sheer determination, drive, athleticism, skill development and incredible stamina. It would only be fitting that 12 years after he was overlooked for the American Olympic team led by West, Lucas and Robertson, Hondo would be front and center on the 1972 squad.

The indestructible former sixth man great just kept getting better until he eventually won the Finals MVP award in 1974 upon leading Boston to a thrilling seven-game win at age 34 over Milwaukee club led by the Big O and Kareem.

”I finally am a winner,” John said to his college coach Fred Taylor after earning that satisfying first title in 1974 without Russell or Lucas. Shocked by such an admission from his understated former star player - who had already won an NCAA title and six NBA rings - Taylor told Havlicek, “John, you were always a winner.” Those comments speak volumes about Havlicek’s relative lack of ego, immense pride and humility.

Billy Cunningham was an athletic, versatile forward known for his intensity, all-around game and slashing drives to the hoop. A good leaper with fine hang time and superb body control, he was nicknamed the Kangaroo Kid for his jumping ability. None other than Havlicek said Billy C was the quickest forward he ever guarded. A top rebounder and fine passer, the 76er star was also a very smart player (and future championship coach), as well as a prodigious scorer.

His 23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game in 1971-72 recalls Bird in terms of all-around excellence, but without the outside shooting accuracy of Larry Legend. Cunningham was also a fine defender who was very good at stealing the ball with his long arms, anticipation, and quickness.

Philadelphia 76ers v Milwaukee Bucks
Fellow New York natives and Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Billy Cunningham take a break during an early 1970s contest between Milwaukee and the 76ers. Both would be first teamers on my proposed 1972 Olympic U.S. Dream Team of pros.
Photo by Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images

Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then of the Bucks, was simply the most unstoppable force in the game at the time. He had led Milwaukee to the 1971 NBA crown in just their third season of existence the year before. In 1972, Milwaukee went 63-19 as Jabbar averaged 34.8 points, 16.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He won the second of his six regular season MVP awards in 1971-72. At that time he was very agile and slender, not the more muscular and aged Jabbar of the mid to late 1980’s who dueled with Boston.

Rising young second team center Dave Cowens was one year ahead of his MVP season in 1972. The game’s premier hustler was also a top-notch athlete and a skilled, smart player with boundless competitive desire. The energetic Cowens averaged 18.8 points and 15.2 rebounds in his second season of 1971-72, following up his Rookie-of-the-Year campaign strongly to earn second team center status.

New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Two of the most intense players in NBA history do basketball battle as Dave Cowens of the Celtics pressures Knick great Dave DeBusschere in a 1970s meeting of Hall of Famers. The great defensive duo of “Dave’s” would headline my 1972 U.S. Olympic second team.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Rugged 6-6 veteran forward Dave DeBusschere was the prototype coach’s player, and with good reason. With Detroit in 1964 at the tender age of 24, he was named player-coach of the Pistons. Although his teams did not fare well record-wise during his three-season tenure, such responsibility at a young age made him see the game more completely. The experience helped him understand interpersonal relationships and the subtler nuances of the game better. When he gave up coaching in 1967 and returned to “just” playing again, his new insights helped him become the ultimate teammate. A truly great defender and rebounder, he was totally unselfish and a tremendous streak shooter from deep.

Even though his stats were good, his game was so much more than numbers due to his great intangibles of intensity, intelligence, toughness and unselfishness. He was also an excellent athlete, possessing great strength, surprising speed and good jumping ability. In fact, Dave was good enough to pitch well for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1960’s before deciding to concentrate on hoops. Featuring smart and aggressive defense, Dave was the ultimate stopper on defense at forward in those days.

An incredibly intense competitor in the mold of Dave Cowens, DeBusschere made everyone around him better a la Bird, whom Celtic coach Bill Fitch compared Larry to as a rookie. Knick teammate Willis Reed called Dave the “most talented and best small power forward ever.”

Golden gunner Rick Barry had jumped to the ABA after leading the NBA in scoring in just his second season of 1966-67. A superb long-range shooter and free thrower, he led the Warriors to the Finals that year as he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s seven-year hold on the scoring title with a whopping 35.6 ppg.

But Barry was also a great passer, second only to Bird among forwards, and remains Larry’s closest all-time analogue (although Luka Doncic today is very reminiscent of Bird in many ways). Many fans, media and opponents disliked Rick for his constant complaining and perceived arrogance, but Barry was an all-time great, and incredibly intense competitor with excellent skills and a great basketball IQ.

Barry is the only man to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring for a season - a record that can never be equaled. In 1972 he carried the upstart New York Nets to the ABA Finals, where they lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers. The courts would order Rick back to the NBA for the 1972-73 season. He won 1975 NBA Finals MVP honors after carrying the Warriors to a 4-0 sweep over favored Washington. After retirement, he sired four NBA-playing sons, showing off his impressive athletic bloodlines.

NBA All-Star Hall of Fame Press Conference
Mid-1960s All-Americans and eventual Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich (far right) and Rick Barry (second from right) were perennial stars of the NBA during the 1970s. The underrated Goodrich and Barry would be key members of proposed U.S. Olympic teams in the so-called ”Me” decade.

Some might question the inclusion of little lefty guard Gail Goodrich on the second team. But the 6-1 southpaw led the Lakers in scoring at 25.9 points a game during their 1971-72 championship season. Isiah Thomas lauded Goodrich by calling him the most underrated player in NBA history in the 1990’s.

Wilt Chamberlain went so far as to call Gail “the real star of that (title) team”, offering that he was past his prime and that West was, too. In the pressurized 1972 Finals vs. New York, Goody topped both teams in scoring (25.6 ppg) while shooting 88 percent from the line and 47 percent from the field.

He so completely outplayed his opposite number, Knick Hall of Famer Earl Monroe, that LA was able to roll 4-1. Monroe shot just 28 percent for the series and scored a mere 6.8 ppg. He played so poorly that he was benched for Game 5 in favor of Dean Meminger, a defensive ace assigned to guard Goodrich. Gail was able to outscore Dean the Dream 26-4 as the Pearl netted 16 off the bench in the clincher. But Wilt was awarded series MVP honors.

Goodrich had suffered two other major snubs before 1972. As a college junior in 1964 he played well at the Olympic trials. But he was cut in favor of Larry Brown (yes the future coach) and UCLA backcourt mate Walt Hazzard, much to the chagrin of his coach John Wooden. So an Olympic spot eight years later would have been poetic justice for Goodrich.

In 1965 Goodrich averaged 35 points a game in the NCAA tournament - 35! - as he led the Bruins to their second straight national title over Cazzie Russell and Michigan, this time without the departed Hazzard. Goodrich scored a record 42 points in the championship game victory against the Wolverines. Only Bill Walton’s 44-point, 21-22 shooting night in the finals against Memphis State eight years later has still since surpassed Gail’s big night.

Yet what did the voters do? They named Princeton great Bill Bradley the 1965 Final Four Most Outstanding Player after he poured in 58 points in a now-defunct third-place win over Wichita State. Never mind that Goodrich scored 42 to win it all, at just 6-1 to boot. Even legendary UCLA coach Wooden called Goodrich’s title-game performance better than Walton’s, noting that Bill’s shots were almost all from close range and that he was 2-5 at the foul line, while Goodrich shot 18-20.

Oscar Robertson Dribbling Around Wilt Chamberlain
Three all-time NBA greats in Oscar Robertson (#14), Wilt Chamberlain (#13) and Bob Pettit (right behind the duo) battle for a loose ball in a 1960s NBA All-Star Game. The superstar trio would have been mainstays on early U.S. pro Olympic hoop teams. The underrated Pettit won four All-Star MVP awards, and when he retired in 1965 Bob was the league’s all-time leader in points and rebounds.

Even though he was two years from retiring at the end of an incredible 14-season career, Oscar Robertson still was one of the smartest and most skilled players in the NBA in 1972. A great passer and floor general with uncommon floor vision, Oscar possessed a very soft mid-range shooting touch and great strength. Arguably the game’s best all-around player in the 1960s, the original Mr. Triple-Double was still good enough to lead Milwaukee to the 1971 title and a 63-19 record in 1971-72.

One of the great ironies of Wilt Chamberlain’s career was that after Russell retired in 1969 and the Dipper had lost much of his mobility to a knee injury and age, he began to morph into a new version of his old nemesis. No longer counted on to score 30-plus points a game in the twilight final third of his career, Wilt muscled up and became primarily a shot-blocker/rebounder who triggered the fast break and shot almost exclusively dunks, finger rolls or tip-ins. He refined his passing touch out of the low post, often hitting cutters with clever behind-the-back feeds.

Bill Sharman convinced Wilt to take on this Russell-type role in 1971 and made the persecuted big guy feel valued, often soliciting his opinion on matters - although not often taking his advice. Sharman realized that after going through so many coaches and gut-wrenching losses for over a decade that Wilt simply needed to be heard. The shrewd ex-Celtic guard had learned the art of basketball psychology well from the Sigmund Freud of hoops sideline artists, Red Auerbach. In fact, Sharman played for Red with Washington in the very early 1950’s before both moved on to greater glory in Boston.

At the end of Chamberlain’s career, then-ABC analyst Russell noted that Wilt was a “much better defender than Jabbar.” Still able to leap high and boasting a ton of basketball smarts with his vast experience, Wilt easily led the NBA in blocked shots before the statistic officially began being kept the year after he retired.

The Dipper was named First Team All-Defense in his last two seasons from 1971-73, when he was in his mid-30s. He also led the NBA in field goal percentage those two seasons, shooting a still-record 72.7 percent from the floor in 1972-73 and 64.9 percent in 1971-72. Even though he was at the end of his career, Wilt was still a force, albeit a different type than the one who dominated the 1960’s. His inclusion as a backup center ensures that Team USA could have a great rim protector in short stints if needed against the likes of 7-4 Soviet behemoth Vladimir Tkachenko.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
NCAA all-time scoring leader Pete Maravich shoots a lane floater vs. Cleveland in the old Boston Garden during his final pro season with the Celtics in 1980. Slowed at that time by knee injuries, he had been the NBA scoring champ as recently as 1977, and was a perennial All-Star in the 1970s. In 1988, he would tragically die of an undetected congenital heart defect at just age 40. Pistol Pete averaged 44 points a game over three seasons at LSU - before the three-pointer and shot clock!
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Pete Maravich, who ended his career with the Celtics in 1980, was already in just his second season arguably the most complete offensive guard in the NBA. No player combined all the offensive skills - ballhandling, court vision, passing, shooting, scoring, shotmaking, creativity, ambidexterity - that Pete possessed in the extreme.

Even though his stats were not the best of his career in his second season, Maravich had been slowed by a bout with Bell’s Palsy that paralyzed one side of his face for much of his sophomore NBA season. His incredible skill set, underrated speed and immense improvisational talent give him the last spot on the 1972 team after he was left off the 1968 squad by conservative coach Henry Iba.

1972 U.S. Olympic Dream Team

Head coach: Bill Sharman, LA Lakers

First team: Position, Player, Team, Age, 1972 Key stats

Center-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee-34.8 points, 16.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists, NBA MVP

Forward-Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia-23.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 5.9 apg, All-NBA 2nd team

Forward-John Havlicek, Boston-27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists a game, 1st team NBA & 1st team all-defense

Guard-Jerry West, Los Angeles-25.8 ppg, 9.7 apg, 1st team All-NBA, 1st team all-defense

Guard-Walt Frazier, New York Knicks-1st team All-NBA, 1st team all-defense, 23.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.8 apg

Second team:

C-Dave Cowens, Boston-18.8 ppg, 15.2 rpg, 3.1 apg

F-Dave DeBusschere, New York Knicks-1st team defense, 15.4 ppg, 11.3 rpg

F-Rick Barry-New York Nets (ABA)-31.5 ppg, 1st team All-ABA, ABA runner-up

G-Gail Goodrich, Los Angeles-25.9 ppg, 4.5 apg, 85% FT

G-Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee-17.4 ppg, 7.7 apg

11th man-C Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles-14.9 ppg, 19.2 rpg, 64.9 FG%, 1st team all-defense

12th man-G Pete Maravich, Atlanta-19.3 ppg, 6.7 apg

Alternates-F Elvin Hayes Houston, G Dave Bing Detroit

Actual 1968 amateur U.S. Olympic gold medalists Jo Jo White of the Celtics and Spencer Haywood of Seattle narrowly missed inclusion.

1976 U.S. Olympic Dream Team II

Head coach: Tom Heinsohn, Boston (Celtics won 2nd NBA title in 3 years under Heinsohn in 1976)

First team:

Center-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles

Forward-Rick Barry, Golden State

Forward-Julius Erving, New York Nets

Guard-Pete Maravich, New Orleans

Guard-Walt Frazier, New York Knicks

Second team:

C-Dave Cowens, Boston-19 ppg, 16 rpg, 4.2 apg

F-Elvin Hayes, Washington

F-John Havlicek, Boston-17 ppg, 1st team all-defense, 2nd team All-NBA

G-Doug Collins, Philadelphia

G-Nate Archibald, Kansas City

11th man-C Bill Walton, Portland

12th man-G Jo Jo White, Boston-1976 Finals MVP, 18.9 ppg, 5.4 apg

Alternates-F/G David Thompson Denver, C Alvan Adams Phoenix

1980 U.S. Olympic Dream Team III

Head coach: Jack Ramsay, Portland

First team:

Center-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles

Forward-Larry Bird, Boston-Rookie of Year, 1st team All-NBA, 21.3/10.4/4.7

Forward-Julius Erving, Philadelphia

Guard-Paul Westphal, Phoenix

Guard-Dennis Johnson, Seattle

Second team:

C-Artis Gilmore, Chicago

F-Marques Johnson, Milwaukee

F-Walter Davis, Phoenix

G-George Gervin, San Antonio

G-Earvin Johnson, Los Angeles

11th man-F Bobby Jones, Philadelphia

12th man-G Brian Winters, Milwaukee

Alternates-F Dan Roundfield Atlanta, C Jack Sikma Seattle

1984 U.S. Olympic Dream Team IV

Head coach: Don Nelson, Milwaukee

First team:

Center-Moses Malone, Philadelphia

Forward-Larry Bird, Boston-League MVP, Finals MVP, 24.2/10.1/6.6, 88.8 FT%

Forward-Bernard King, New York

Guard-Isiah Thomas, Detroit

Guard-Earvin Johnson, Los Angeles

Second team:

C-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles

F-Kevin McHale, Boston-18.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%

F-Julius Erving, Philadelphia

G-Sidney Moncrief, Milwaukee

G-Dennis Johnson, Boston-13.2 ppg, All-defense

11th man-G Jim Paxson, Portland-2nd team All NBA, 21.3 ppg, 51.4 FG%, 84.1 FT%

12th man-F Adrian Dantley, Utah

Alternates-G Andrew Toney Philadelphia, C Robert Parish Boston

1988 U.S. Olympic Dream Team V

Head coach: Pat Riley, Los Angeles

First team:

Center-Patrick Ewing, New York

Forward-Karl Malone, Utah

Forward-Larry Bird, Boston-29.9 ppg, 1st team All-NBA 9th straight year

Guard-Michael Jordan, Chicago

Guard-Earvin Johnson, Los Angeles

Second team:

C/F-Kevin McHale, Boston-22.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, led NBA in FG % 60.4, All-defense

F-Tom Chambers, Phoenix

F-Charles Barkley, Philadelphia

G-Isiah Thomas, Detroit

G-John Stockton, Utah

11th man-F James Worthy, LA Lakers

12th man-G Mark Price, Cleveland

Alternates-F Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta; G Fat Lever Denver

All five of these pro American Olympic teams would have easily swept undefeated to the gold medal from 1972-88. Yet which one is the best?

I would rank the 1972 team a close first. All 12 of its players are in the Hall of Fame, and the top 11 were all voted to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list in 1997. That is the most of any of these fictional squads and most of that top 11 are in the top tier of that exclusive list. It shows tremendous depth when Wilt and Pistol Pete are the 11th and 12th men. The 1984 squad, led by Larry Bird in his prime, gets my silver medal, with 1980 taking a close bronze. Fourth is 1988 with 1976 right behind in fifth.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics have the most players represented on these teams. Bird-3 times, Havlicek-2, Cowens-2, McHale-2, Heinsohn-1, Macauley-1, Sam Jones-1, DJ-1, White-1, Parish-1. And they also have the most head coaches (Heinsohn, Nelson, Sharman).

Plus, Boston boasts several other fictional Olympians who were Celtics before (Westphal) or after they would have been on these Olympic teams (Walton, Paxson, Archibald, Maravich, DJ, Gilmore). Boston greats Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Havlicek, Sharman and Auerbach would also be regulars on the retroactive teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

A Celtic, or sometimes two or three, was on every one of the fictional teams from 1952 on.

Prior to 1972 retroactive pro U.S. Olympic squads:


Head coach-Alex Hannum, 76ers

C-Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 76ers

F-Elgin Baylor, LA Lakers

F-John Havlicek, Celtics

G-Jerry West, LA Lakers

G-Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

2nd team

C-Bill Russell, Celtics

F-Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati Royals

F-Dave DeBusschere, Detroit Pistons

G-Dave Bing, Detroit Pistons

G-Hal Greer, Philadelphia 76ers

Special alternate-F Connie Hawkins, Pittsburgh Pipers (ABA)


Head coach-Red Auerbach, Celtics

C-Bill Russell, Celtics

F-Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks

F-Elgin Baylor, LA Lakers

G-Jerry West, LA Lakers

G-Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

2nd team

C-Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco Warriors

F-Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati Royals

F-John Havlicek, Celtics

G-Sam Jones, Celtics

G-Hal Greer, Philadelphia 76ers


Head coach-Red Auerbach, Celtics

C-Bill Russell, Celtics

F-Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks

F-Elgin Baylor, LA Lakers

G-Richie Guerin, Knicks

G-Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

2nd team

C-Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors

F-Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nats

F-Tom Heinsohn, Celtics

G-Jerry West, LA Lakers

G-Gene Shue, Detroit Pistons


Head coach-John Kundla, Lakers

C-Neil Johnston, Philadelphia Warriors

F-Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks

F-Paul Arizin, Philadelphia Warriors

G-Bill Sharman, Celtics

G-Bob Cousy, Celtics

2nd team

C-Clyde Lovellette, Lakers

F-Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals

F-Maurice Stokes, Royals

G-Tom Gola, Warriors

G-Slater Martin, Lakers


Head coach-Joe Lapchick, Knicks

C-George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers

F-Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals

F-Paul Arizin, Philadelphia Warriors

G-Bob Davies, Rochester Royals

G-Bob Cousy, Celtics

2nd team

C-Ed Macauley, Celtics

F-Vern Mikkelsen, Minneapolis Lakers

F-Jim Pollard, Minneapolis Lakers

G-Andy Phillip, Philadelphia Warriors

G-Bobby Wanzer, Rochester Royals


Head coach-Eddie Gottlieb, Warriors

C-George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers

F-Jim Pollard, Minneapolis Lakers

F-Joe Fulks, Philadelphia Warriors

G-Bob Davies, Rochester Royals

G-Max Zaslofsky, New York Knicks

6th man-G Bobby McDermott, Ft. Wayne Pistons

To message the author, contact Cort Reynolds at

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