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Patrick Reusse

Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968.

Reusse: Dream Team showed value of star power

The Timberwolves are in San Diego for a week of training camp. The most famous basketball unit in history also officially assembled in San Diego, although that might not mean much to this team, since it was 25 years ago and five of the 14 Wolves with guaranteed contracts weren’t born yet.

The 1992 NBA Finals ended June 14, with Chicago defeating Portland in six games. A week later, the Dream Team — including the Bulls’ Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and the Blazers’ Clyde Drexler — arrived in San Diego.

The great Brian McIntyre from the NBA was overseeing the media operation, and he cleared lowly sportswriters to stay in the same Torrey Pines hotel as the team. I was leaving my room one evening and the gentleman coming out of a larger room was Jordan.

Michael was wearing a very nice suit, for which I complimented him.

The Dream Team was tasked with going to Portland for the Tournament of Americas, where four of 10 teams would qualify for the Olympics. The NBA stars (plus college selection Christian Laettner) won six games from June 28 to July 5 by lopsided margins.

The 12 players took a short break and then went to Monte Carlo for a final tuneup. Coach Chuck Daly said he would not impose a curfew in Monte Carlo, one reason being his favorite hangout there didn’t open until midnight.

The Dream Team arrived in Barcelona on July 24, the Friday before the Opening Ceremony. It was madness everywhere the players were spotted between then and Aug. 8, when they wrapped up the 8-0 sweep of international competition by demolishing Croatia for the gold medal.

It was proven in Spain: Star power was now more important than taut competition in the modern world.

The NBA offered largely boring playoffs for two months last spring, yet the offseason events created a furor (Kyrie Irving, Lonzo Ball) on the national sports scene.

The purists whined as the Dream Team rolled past opponent after opponent. And yet 25 years later, taking its legends to the Olympics remains an epic and long-serving marketing triumph for the NBA.

PATRICK'S PLUS THREE

Charles Barkley quotes with the Dream Team:

• Asked about opponents looking on with awe: “Whoever put this team together made sure there would be some awe on it.’’

• Asked about their first qualifying opponent: “What do I know about Cuba? The country is run by a scruffy-looking guy who smokes cigars.’’

• Asked about their first opponent in Olympics: “I don’t know anything about Angola but Angola is in trouble.’’

Reusse: Thibodeau has found something new to stress himself out

Tom Thibodeau was making the rounds of media outlets at the State Fair, and included a stop at an AM station that focuses on sports for 21 ½ hours per weekday.

Thibs took up station on the porch and talked for 15 minutes in a jovial and optimistic fashion about the 2017-18 Timberwolves, the local NBA team made over to his liking for a second season as coach and president of basketball.

Those of us involved in the broadcast, and the thousands (OK, maybe it was a couple of dozen) standing in front of the porch agreed what we were seeing here was an all-new, relaxed Thibs, now that he had Jimmy Butler and some other familiar veterans on his side.

Three weeks later, I was attending interview sessions for the Wolves media day, and must admit that the jovial, relaxed Thibs of the State Fair can be written off as a small sample size.

The Timberwolves have been starved for attention for years in this crowded sports market – so much so that they appeared to underestimate the level of intrigue the Twin Cities media has in this new roster.

Either that, or there wasn't an available room parge enough in the practice facility, because this space was jammed with reporters and television cameras. This was the lone shot at the Wolves for over two weeks for 98 percent of the media gathering, since the team left for training camp in San Diego on Friday afternoon.

They will practice in paradise for a week, play a couple of exhibitions and then depart to China next weekend to play two exhibitions against the Golden State Warriors.

Thibs is said to be less than pleased with these two days of practice lost on long flights to Asia. And we found during his 20 minutes of answering questions Friday what Thibs would have the athletes working on if he only had those two lost days of gymnasium labor:

“Getting the back foot forward on the defensive closeout.’’

Honest. Whether you’re a player, a media member or a ticket buyer, I have decided that if you take him with the right attitude, Thibs is hilarious.

I regret not counting precisely, but it had to be eight times minimum that he cited the improvement this team can make defensively if the players get their back foot forward on a closeout.

There is no greater junkie in sports than the basketball junkie. I’m not talking about fans; I’m talking the basketball junkie coach.

We all listened to Hubie Brown on TV analyzing every trip down the court as if it should be designed as intricately as a football play. Amidst the chaos and a 15-second possession, Hubie could find four major screw-ups that either led to allowing a basket or failing to score a basket.

These basketball-as-trigonometry guys are hilarious – and Thibs is one of ‘em.

Bill Musselman was the first coach to bring Thibodeau to the NBA with the Timberwolves in 1989, and Thibs certainly does not have the same outgoing personality as did The Muss.

What the late, wacky, wonderful Musselman and Thibodeau have shared is the absolute obsession with basketball.

The fact that Thibodeau could spend his offseason endlessly pouring over 82 games (31-51) worth of video, and see his defenders fail to put a back foot forward on a closeout until it frustrated him to the point it now controls his every waking moment …

You gotta love it.

The Timberwolves meandering over the next couple of weeks is tied to the fact the construction crews have not yet completed the $140 million remodeling of Target Center. They won’t have a game there until the home opener on Oct. 20 vs. Utah.

This is good news for Wolves season-ticket holders, as they won’t be ripped off to pay for an exhibition or two – in contrast to Wild ticket holders being held up for full price for the annual three exhibitions in St. Paul.

The bad part of it is that Target Center regulars in the lower bowl won’t be able to observe Thibodeau watching every movement and, using his Hubie Brown-like powers, see a mistake, spin furiously to shout at an assistant, “Write that down,’’ and turn back without missing a dribble.

And I have a new theory after Friday on the moment Wolves followers can be certain that this team, this franchise, is finally on the right track after 13 lost seasons:

It’s not the much-repeated nonsense about needing to make more three-pointers. It’s when we see those back feet moving forward on defensive closeouts, with the precision of ah, uh … OK, the Rockettes at their Christmas show.

Then we'll know.

So, get on ‘em, Thibs. Get that back foot a-movin’.