Dennis Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone Enter Basketball Hall of Fame

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Larry Bird stopped just short of calling the Dream Team the best squad ever assembled.

With the talent standing behind him, he wouldn't get much argument if he had.

The members of the 1992 Olympic
champions joined him on stage Friday as they were inducted into the
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson
and the rest of the famed squad were Bird's teammates in his last
competitive games, a powerful and popular group widely credited for the
growth of international basketball.

"Pretty good way to go out, winning the gold medal," Bird said.

Fighting a bad back and nearing
retirement, Bird had to be talked into playing in Barcelona by Johnson,
his friend and a rival since their college days.

"I called your butt up and I said you're going to play, we need this thrill one more time," Johnson said.

Their predecessors from the 1960
Olympics, a group led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, also were
enshrined during the ceremony at Symphony Hall. Dream Teamers Scottie
Pippen
and Karl Malone were inducted as individuals.

Pippen opened his acceptance
speech by praising Jordan, his fellow six-time NBA champion from the
Chicago Bulls for being "the best teammate."

"MJ, you have touched so many people's lives, but none quite like mine," Pippen said.

A little-known player from
Central Arkansas when the Bulls got him in 1987, Pippen was the first
player inducted. With Jordan standing nearby on stage as his presenter,
Pippen said he would "cherish their relationship forever."

"Who knew that No. 23 would be here 23 years later presenting me to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame?" Pippen said.

The presenter does not speak,
and Jordan also didn't speak when the Dream Team assembled on stage. His
remarks last year during his enshrinement speech drew some criticism
after he singled out individuals whose slights had provided him with
motivation.

Malone struggled with his
emotions throughout his speech, especially at the end when he recalled
his mother, saying she had died seven years ago Friday.

"I'm here because of her," he said.

Malone also thanked late Utah
Jazz owner Larry Miller for believing in him. Malone is a two-time MVP
and second on the league's career scoring list, and said his success
came from staying true to his Louisiana roots.

"I hope I did it the way my peers did it before me," Malone said. "I didn't do anything but try to play hard."

Earlier Friday, West said he
believed his group of college players that won its eight games in Rome
by 42.4 points per game was "the greatest amateur team that ever
played."

West also talked about the
difficult conditions they faced 50 years ago, when they were housed in
dorms without air conditioning and had a per diem of $1 a day.

Bird seized on that to get the last word on the debate of which was the better team.

"I don't know who had the best
team, but I know the team in 1960 was a hell of a lot tougher than we
were," he said. "I couldn't imagine the '92 team getting in a covered
wagon for eight days, going across the country, jumping in the Atlantic
Ocean, swimming for six days, then walking 3,000 miles to the Coliseum
in Rome for a dollar a day."

Cynthia Cooper, the first Hall
of Famer from the WNBA, coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony's High School in
New Jersey, and Lakers owner Jerry Buss also were inducted. Dennis
Johnson
, former Baltimore Bullets star Gus Johnson and Brazilian Maciel
"Ubiratan" Pereira
were enshrined posthumously.

Dennis Johnson, who died in
2007, was a favorite teammate of Bird's and respected for his tenacious
defensive play. His wife, Donna, cried during a morning press conference
at the Hall of Fame as she tried to offer thanks for her husband's
long-awaited induction.

The focus this year was on teams
more than individuals. All the living players from the 1960 champions
were in Springfield, including Hall of Famers Walt Bellamy and Jerry
Lucas
.

Robertson, a co-captain of the
team along with West, agreed and urged all players to take part in the
Olympic experience if they have the chance.

"I think that any time an athlete gets an opportunity to play for your country, he should accept it," Robertson said.

Charles Barkley, the leading
scorer in Barcelona, might agree. He called the summer of 1992 one of
the greatest times of his life, and pointed to the Dream Team's 10
individual Hall of Famers as proof of its greatness.

So were the team's eye-popping
stats: 117.3 points per game, a victory margin of 43.8 per game. Still,
Barkley said it wasn't quite that easy.

"That was probably one thing
that we never got credit for. It's easy to sit there and say you're
going to win every game by 40 or 50 points, but we went out and actually
did it," he said Friday morning during the press conference. "We knew
we were going to win the games, but to play at such a high level the
entire time was incredible."

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