This is a picture of scrabble tiles spelling out the word Dream. Above them it says 1996 and below them it says Team.

Why Was the 1996 Dream Team called Dream Team 3?

The 1996 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team was called Dream Team 3 because they followed the Original Dream Team from the 1992 Olympics and Dream Team 2 from the 1994 World Championships. Dream Team 3 featured 11 Hall of Fame players and cruised to a gold medal with an undefeated 8-0 record at the Olympics. 

Why was the 1996 Dream Team Called Dream Team 3? 

The Original Dream Team famously won gold in the 1992 Olympics. So it makes sense to think that the 1996 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team would be called Dream Team 2. 

But they were not. The 1996 Dream Team was called Dream Team 3 because there was a Dream Team 2 that played in the 1994 FIBA World Championships in Toronto. 

The Original Dream Team had been a success by any measure. It was the first time a group of professionals from the NBA played basketball in the Olympics.

They won the Olympic Gold Medal easily and captured the attention of basketball fans across the globe. 

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1992 Dream Team Poster

So USA Basketball faced some pressure to follow up that success when choosing a team to go to the 1994 Basketball World Championships in Toronto. 

To help market that team, and to grab a piece of the buzz surrounding the 1992 Dream Team, USA Basketball marketed their 1994 World Championship squad as Dream Team 2. 

Two years later when the Olympics returned, the US once again put together a dominant squad of NBA pros. But because they had called the 1994 World Championship team Dream Team 2, the 1996 Men’s US Basketball team became Dream Team 3. 

Who were the Members of Dream Team 3? 

The roster for Dream Team 3 included a mix of veterans from the 1992 Dream Team and newer players. You  can see the roster for the Original Dream Team here. 

David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley were the players returning from the ‘92 roster. 

Gary Payton was a late addition to the team replacing an injured Glen “Big Dog” Robinson.

The team had plenty of future Hall of Fame players, but Robinson has not, and, as I wrote here, likely never will, make it.  It is interesting to think he was a choice ahead of a player like Payton who was in the prime of a clear-cut Hall of Fame career. 

It is likely that positions had something to do with that decision as Robinson is a small forward and Payton a point guard. 

In any case, every player on the team except Penny Hardaway has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Hardaway was a young star at this point who looked like a surefire Hall of Famer, but injuries destroyed his potential. 

You can see the roster and basic statistics of the 1996 Dream Team below.

David Robinson1214.34.60
Reggie Miller11.421.812.1
Scottie Pippen11223.93.3
Charles Barkley12.418.16.62.4
Mitch Richmond9.619.11.61.3
Shaquille O'Neal9.315.55.30.9
Penny Hardaway9182.84.4
Karl Malone8.417.54.51.4
Grant Hill9.721.72.83.5
Gary Payton5.1173.14.5
Hakeem Olajuwon512.43.11.1
John Stockton3.811.90.82.8

Did Dream Team 3 Win Gold? 

The 1996 Dream Team cruised to an Olympic Gold Medal. They won every game in the competition finishing 8-0. The games were not close – their closest contests were a couple of 22 point wins vs Lithuania and Brazil. 

Who was on the First Dream Team? 

The Original Dream Team had an incredible roster featuring some of the greatest players ever. 

  1. Michael Jordan 
  2. Scottie Pippen 
  3. John Stockton 
  4. Karl Malone 
  5. Magic Johnson
  6. Larry Bird
  7. Charles Barkley
  8. Patrick Ewing
  9. David Robinson
  10. Chris Mullin
  11. Clyde Drexler
  12. Christian Laettner

Who was on Dream Team 2? 

The second Dream Team was constructed to compete in the 1994 World Championships in Toronto, not in the Olympics. Dream Team 2 easily won the World Championship Gold Medal. 

They dominated the competition and won games by an average of 38 points. Like Dream Teams 1 & 3 they went undefeated, finishing 8-0. 

The roster is below: 

  1. Derrick Coleman
  2. Joe Dumars
  3. Kevin Johnson
  4. Larry Johnson
  5. Shawn Kemp
  6. Dan Majerle
  7. Reggie Miller
  8. Alonzo Mourning
  9. Shaquille O’Neal
  10. Mark Price
  11. Steve Smith
  12. Dominique Wilkins

It was not easy for USA Basketball to draw the big names who were willing to play in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games because playing in the World Championships is not as prestigious as playing in the Olympics. 

The roster for Dream Team 2 is not quite at the level of the rosters for both the Original Dream Team and Dream Team 3 because of that step down in prestige. 

The only player on the roster who would be in contention for a list of top ten players of all time is Shaquille O’Neal. Dream Team 2 had seven players who have not made the Hall of Fame: Derrick Coleman, both Kevin and Larry Johnson,  Shawn Kemp, Dan Majerle, Mark Price and Steve Smith. 

That stands in contrast to both Dream Team 1 & 3 who  had more all-time greats on their rosters and both featured 11 Hall of Famers as well. 

Even still, the 1992 Dream Team had been such a huge deal that many players wanted to be a part of it and were happy to join the 1994 Dream Team 2. 

USA Basketball was still able to put together a pretty strong team – as I mentioned, they cruised to Gold. 

Which Dream Team Was the Best? 

It is clear that Dream Team 2 is the worst of the first three Dream Teams for all the reasons I mentioned above. So the contest is between Dream Team 1 & Dream Team 3. 

Both teams featured 11 players who would make the Basketball Hall of Fame for their individual play. 

The Original Dream Team made it as a team, so they’re all Hall of Famers, but Christain Laettner never made it as an individual. 

As I mentioned earlier, Penny Hardaway was the lone 3rd Dream Teamer not to make the Hall. 

When you look at the rosters of the two teams, it is clear that the Original Dream Team was the better group. 

Setting aside the five players who repeated, you have seven different players on the teams. Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon from Dream Team 3 are strong additions to the squad who get mentioned in top ten all-time lists. 

But Michael Jordan gets mentioned in best-player-to-ever-live lists and Bird and Magic also make a lot of those top ten lists as well. Losing those three makes it obvious to me that 1992 had the better roster. 

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Poster: Larry, Michael and Magic

Beyond the best players on each team, the depth of the first team was also amazing. Laettner was not chosen for his play, but to honor the college tradition on the Olympic teams. 

The worst player to make the first Dream Team on merit was probably Chris Mullin: he was pretty damn good! 

The next-worst player might be Clyde Drexler – that is crazy, because he was amazing! 

Not many would put the bottom tier players on Dream Team 3,  Reggie Miller or Mitch Richmond,  at Clyde the Glyde’s level. They are both Hall of Famers but Drexler was a cut above them both. 

The depth of the first Dream Team was incredible. 

The Original Dream Team had insane high-end talent and incredible depth. They were the best of the Dream Teams. 

Summary: Why Was the 1996 Dream Team called Dream Team 3? 

The U.S. men’s basketball team has fielded many Dream Teams. The Original Dream Team won gold at the 1992 Olympics. Dream Team 2 was fielded to compete at the 1994 World Championships. They too won a gold medal. Dream Team 3 was the third straight Dream Team to win gold – they won the 1996 Olympics.

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