From left to right, that’s Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and Clyde Drexler. All three are world-famous basketball players and are now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. The photo was taken after the men’s basketball tournament in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. All three were members of the colloquially-named “Dream Team” — the first-ever USA Basketball Olympic team made up of almost entirely NBA players. The Dream Team dominated the tournament, winning all of its games by at least 30 points, including a 117-85 victory over Croatia in the gold medal game. And while this result surprised no one, it nonetheless attracted the attention of the nation if not the world. Head coach Chuck Daily equated the Dream Team’s popularity to “Elvis and the Beatles put together.”
And where there is popularity, there are sponsors, hoping to get their brand in front of all of those fans. In this case, sneaker and apparel company Reebok was the sponsor of note. The jacket-like “USA”-emblazoned sweat suits Pippen, Jordan,and Drexler are wearing above are the ones all USA medalists wore on the medal stand, regardless of sport, during the 1992 Summer Games. Each of the sweat suit tops had a “Reebok” patch on them. Take, for example, the picture below, featuring swimmer Summer Sanders, showing off her four medals (two gold, one silver, and a bronze) from the 1992 Games. You don’t have to look too carefully to note the word “Reebok” on her right shoulder.
But it’s conspicuously absent in the top picture. That’s no accident. For many members of the basketball team, the “Reebok” was a problem — those players had endorsement deals with competitors. Charles Barkley (pictured below), for example, told the press that “us Nike guys are loyal to Nike because they pay us a lot of money. I have two million reasons not to wear Reebok,” per the New York Times. Unfortunately, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s (USOC) rules were very clear on the point: in the medal ceremonies, winners had to wear the apparel given to them by the USOC.
The sponsor conflict was predictable, of course — everyone knew that Nike sponsored Jordan and Barkley and that there were other sponsorship conflicts among Dream Team members. And everyone assumed, correctly, that the Dream Team would top the medal stand. According to the Baltimore Sun, USA Basketball and the USOC spent two years negotiating, trying to find a solution, but came up empty. Ultimately, Jordan came up with the solution — he, Barkley, and Magic Johnson (a Converse endorser) draped American flags over their shoulders, obscuring the Reebok logo. Because there were only three flags available for some reason, the other members unzipped their jackets far enough such that their lapels covered up the Reebok name. Pictured below, for further example, are John Stockton, Chris Mullen, and the aforementioned Barkley, doing just that.
Twenty years later the USOC and USA Basketball found a different solution. During the 2012 Games in London, Adidas sponsored Team USA generally, but Nike was the sponsor of the men’s basketball team. That resolved almost all the conflicts — as luck would have it (and really, there’s no conspiratorial BS going on here), the entire team was affiliated with Nike.
You’ll note that the first player from the left, Dwight Howard (#11), is the only one with is left arm hanging down — and the only one who is blocking the trademark Nike swoosh from the camera. Further, coach Mike Krzyzewski is sitting (which is weird for a team photo) and his left leg is obscuring Howard’s sneakers. Nike told CNBC that this was a coincidence, but unlike the other members of the 2008 team, Howard is an Adidas endorser.
From the Archives: It’s Gotta be the Shorts: How Michael Jordan changed our collective fashion sense when it comes to gym shorts (for the better).
Related: A collection of children’s books by NBA player Amar’e Stoudamire (who never played for Team USA). Five books, each with more than four stars.