August 8, 1992: The U.S. Dream Team clinches the gold medal in basketball by defeating Croatia 117-85 in Barcelona.
After the U.S. was upset by the Soviet Union in the semifinals en route to a bronze medal at the Seoul Games in 1988, FIBA and the IOC agreed to make the rule change allowing professional players to compete. Stacked with future Hall-of-Famers like Chicago's Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Philadelphia's Charles Barkley, Utah's Karl Malone and John Stockton, New York's Patrick Ewing, the Lakers' Magic Johnson and more, the 1992 American team was considered a lock to win.
As the tournament began, the team matched all of its expectations, winning its five pool play games by an average of 45.8 points. After a 115-77 win over Puerto Rico and a 127-76 blowout over Lithuania in the knockout stage, the U.S team found itself in a rematch with Croatia for the gold.
The Croatians had given the Americans their closest game up to that point (which was still a 33-point decision), and they had New Jersey guard Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc, who was drafted by Pippen's and Jordan's Bulls in 1990 but had not made his NBA debut yet.
Croatia's stars carried the team to surprising early success in the final, as the Americans trailed 25-23 in the first half.
The Americans settled down soon after, as their offensive balance wore down the thinner Croatian squad. According to Lang Whitaker of GQ, Pippen and Jordan in particular were "tired of hearing how great Kukoc was" after the Bulls agreed to pay Kukoc heavilly despite his lack of NBA experience, and the stars succeeded in containing their future teammate the rest of the way.
Croatia got 24 points from Petrovic and 16 points and nine assists from Kukoc, but the Americans had seven players score in double figures, as the USA squad pulled away for 117-85 win -- its closest margin of victory for the whole tournament, but still pretty comfortable by most standards. Jordan scored 22 points to lead the Americans, who also got 17 points, four assists and four steals from Barkley and 15 points and six rebounds from Ewing.
In the five Summer Olympics since 1992, the USA men's basketball team has won gold medals in every competition except 2004 (bronze), but the legacy set by the dominance of the 1992 team lives on. The team's average margin of victory of 43.8 points has not been approached, as Sports Illustrated later called it "arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport." Highlights of the tournament can be seen here:
In addition, the excitement created by the team also helped the game grow tremendously at the international level. The 2012 Olympic basketball competition featured numerous international stars such as Luol Deng (England), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Andrew Bogut (Australia), the Gasol brothers (Spain), Tony Parker (France) and many more.
As of now, 11 of the 12 players on the roster (all but Christian Laettner) have been inducted into the Hall of Fame for their individual careers. The team as a unit was inducted in 2010.