The NBA is a global game, and a ton of foreign players are leaking into professional basketball in North America. Based on their skillset, mentality, and physical toughness; European players have brought an excellent dynamic to the NBA game. That is why foreign players have adjusted immediately to NBA basketball, and some of the best players in the league right now are non-American. The last 3 MVPs have been European, and the future of the league rests in their hands.
But one particular foreign collection of players never got a chance to show its true power against American players, and that is the so-called “Yugoslavia Dream Team”. Yugoslavia does not exist anymore, as it has been split up into 6 federations: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. But back in the day, all 6 federations were one country, meaning there were some big-name stars such as Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, and Vlade Divac who would have all suited up for Yugoslavia.
Many fans might not know this, but the reason the USA “Dream Team” was put together was to stifle the threat of Yugoslavia because the talent and capabilities in Europe were immense. Quite frankly, the USA was starting to lose its shine thanks to the dominance of Yugoslavia in professional basketball. Led by Hall of Famer and future Michael Jordan teammate Toni Kukoc, Yugoslavia beat down the USA in the Junior FIBA Tournament in 1987. This was a warning sign for USA, as Yugoslavia would make the Gold medal game against the Soviet Union in the 1988 Olympics Games, leaving the Americans with a bronze medal.
Yugoslavia’s dominance did not stop there, as they once again usurped Team USA en route to a gold medal in the 1990 FIBA World Championship. Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc were perfect NBA players and had the talent to translate the American game more so than the players that were representing the USA at that point. Even though some big names were missing, guys like Alonzo Mourning and Kenny Anderson were still on the roster. But Yugoslavia’s talent was so great, the USA had to stop playing around and form the greatest basketball team known to man: the Dream Team.
Unfortunately for basketball fans worldwide, we never got a chance to see a showdown between the Yugoslavia Dream Team and the 1992 USA Dream Team due to a variety of factors to be discussed. While we will never know the winner of this matchup, politics came in the way of this all-time great basketball matchup because Yugoslavia and their legendary coach, Duda Ivkovic, would have put up the best fight possible against the Americans in any tournament.
The Legacy Of A Legend: Duda Ivkovic
The great Duda Ivkovic passed away on September 16, 2021, at 77 years old, marking the passing of one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball. Ivkovic was a born winner, dedicating his life to basketball for 60 years starting as a player and later a coach. The Serbian national won at every level, whether domestic or international, and was the last coach for an all-time great Yugoslavia team which featured Toni Kukoc, Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj, and Aleksandar Djordjevic among others. But what did the great Duda Ivkovic accomplish in his 46 years as a basketball coach which made his legacy so great?
Well for one, future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich once admitted to studying Duda’s playbook, because it always seemed to work at the right time. Ivkovic was a genius at studying the game, reading plays before they happen, and influencing a ton of legends in the game. Most NBA fans and professionals know about Duda’s influence in Europe, but the legendary coach missed his chance to lead the Denver Nuggets on the court. With an offer on the table, the move never materialized and Ivkovic never got a chance to show his worth in North America due to external factors.
The ideologies we see today with power forwards and centers handling the ball and doing multiple things on the court was a vision that Ivkovic brought forth in the 90s. As if he read the future, Duda Ivkovic knew that a new generation of athletes would come in and affect the game in multiple ways. While he never got a chance to boost his legendary name even further in the United States, Ivkovic had massive domestic successes in Europe such as winning the EuroLeague (x2) with Olympiakos, and major competitions such as the EuroBasket (x3), and FIBA World Cup in 1990 with Yugoslavia.
Duda Ivkovic believed in his heart that his Yugoslavia team would have taken down the USA Dream Team, a matchup that he would have coached on the sidelines. NBA fans around the world were robbed of this great matchup, but this is how both teams would field their players.
Yugoslavia Dream Team Vs. USA Dream Team
Yugoslavia Dream Team: Aleksandar Djordjevic, Predrag Danilovic, Jure Zdovc, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Velimir Perasovic, Arijan Komazec, Zarko Paspalj, Dino Radja, Zoran Savic, Zoran Jovanovic, Vlade Divac
USA Dream Team: Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Christian Laettner, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
Both sides have major stars including the NBA Hall of Famers. Team USA had 11 Hal of Famers on the team, while Divac, Radja, Petrovic and Kukoc were Hall of Famers in their own right. Yugoslavia’s team is filled with size and power, as the majority of the players bring tremendous height and skill to the table. With Djordjevic and Petrovic controlling the perimeter alongside Kukoc; this is one awkward team to match up with. Team USA had tremendous athletes in all positions, and it is hard to imagine a team featuring Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley losing to any team. But Yugoslavia had the best chance of knocking them off, and the game would have not have been a blowout by any means. But unfortunately, we never got the chance to witness this massive showdown in the Barcelona Olympics.
Politics Came In The Way Of The Greatest Basketball Game Ever
With Duda Ivkovic on the sidelines coaching basketball stars such as Kukoc, Petrovic, Divac, Paspalj, Djordjevic, and Radja; even a great team like the 1992 Dream Team would have a ton of planning to do in preparation for this showdown. But a game of this magnitude was never meant to be, as politics came in the way of arguably the greatest showdown in the history of professional basketball.
First, Yugoslavia began the breakup. Slovenia and Croatia became separate countries from Yugoslavia, and key point guard Jure Zdovc was forced to leave the Yugoslavia Dream Team. Other notable Croatian stars such as Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, and Dino Radja would all no longer be coached by Duda. This was a massive blow for European fans wanting to see the greatest incarnation of their talent face the greatest collection of American players, but a fairytale plot never happens in the real world. To make matters worse, more politics came in the way.
Even without a ton of Slovenian and Croatian stars, mainly Petrovic and Kukoc; Duda Ivkovic believed his side was still capable of outsmarting and defeating the Americans in a massive showdown. In fact, Duda’s side was fully committed to taking down the Dream Team and were obsessed with making sure it happened. In 1992, the legendary matchup almost happened. But the United Nations killed it from happening after they prevented sports teams from competing in the Barcelona Olympics due to the civil war in Yugoslavia. That meant the legendary Duda Ivkovic never had a chance to put his hard work to the test, and the greatest international “what-if” will forever be missed.
It is hard to predict how a matchup would end up between the Yugoslavia Dream Team and the USA Dream Team, although this would have been the greatest test for both sides. In actuality, Team USA would handle Croatia in the 1992 Gold medal game in a 117-85 blowout victory. There was nothing Croatia could do because the USA was perfect throughout the tournament with 8 straight blowout victories en route to the Gold. While no country had a chance, a united Yugoslavian team would have given Team USA a run for their money.