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Friday, February 12, 2010

Dream Team, Top 50 Players Malone and Pippen Among 19 Hall of Fame Finalists

The 19 Finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2010 include three members of the fabled 1992 Dream Team, plus that team collectively (only six teams have been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame); Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen--who were both selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--join fellow Dream Teamer Chris Mullin in a star-studded group that also features NBA players Richie Guerin, Gus Johnson (who had many legendary battles with Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere), Dennis Johnson, Bernard King and Jamaal Wilkes. The other Finalists are WNBA player Cynthia Cooper, women's coach Harley Redin, the All-American Red Heads (a women's team founded in 1936), international coach Vladimir Kondrashin (best known for leading the Soviet team that controversially beat Team USA in the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal game), Brazilian player Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, high school coach Robert Hurley, Sr., NBA coach Don Nelson, Triangle Offense innovator Tex Winter (who also was the 1958 NCAA Coach of the Year, becoming the youngest person to win that honor) and the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team, which is arguably the greatest amateur squad ever assembled. None of the Finalists came to the press conference, a departure from years past but perhaps not surprising considering the inclement weather and also the fact that some of the honorees who have previously been Finalists may not relish having to go through the process again only to possibly face disappointment.

After the 19 Finalists were announced by NBA TV's Marc Fein, Magic Johnson (Hall of Fame Class of 2002 and a member of the Dream Team) made some brief remarks. Johnson said that the passing of Chuck Daly last year makes it a "bittersweet moment" for the Dream Team to be a Hall of Fame Finalist but Johnson is sure that Daly is smiling in heaven. Johnson contended that some people initially "underestimated" the Dream Team because they thought that several of the players would feud over shot attempts or minutes. Johnson insisted that this was never an issue because the players had only one goal: dominate the opposition. He said that they felt like if they did not have at least a 30 point halftime lead in each game then they were not doing their job. Johnson also reminded everyone that Charles Barkley was the "best player" on that team (Barkley led the Dream Team in scoring), while Michael Jordan and Larry Bird provided great leadership. Johnson said that he still savors the relationships and bonds that he and other players formed off of the court during that time, noting that Bird and Patrick Ewing went everywhere together and that he (Johnson) played countless games of cards with Jordan, someone who he previously did not know that well.

Johnson said that it was a "blessing and honor" to represent the United States in international play, that he was very pleased to see last year's Team USA earn respect not just for the United States but for the game of basketball itself by playing the right way and that he hopes that all future members of Team USA maintain that kind of mindset.

Johnson answered questions for a large media throng well after the press conference ended, much like Julius Erving did last year. He said that while he was playing for the Dream Team he and the other members of the team did not really think about the historical ramifications of what they were doing, reiterating his earlier comment about dominating the opposition: "We didn't really talk about history. What we talked about was dominating. Because we dominated it became historic. You can't really talk about it. You have to be about it. We were about showing the world that this team was great and that this collection of All-Stars would come out and play together and would blow out every team in the world--and we did that, but we did it with style and class and so I think that is why the world enjoyed this team. We just kept coming at them but we did it with style and class; we never talked trash. We just played basketball at a high level."

Even though Scottie Pippen has received a lot of accolades, I have contended for many years that he is overlooked and underrated. I asked Johnson, "What sticks out in your mind about playing against Scottie Pippen and, particularly, what are your memories of the 1991 NBA Finals when he matched up against you defensively?" Johnson answered, "Playing against Scottie was tough because he was fast, quick, long and tough-minded. He was a guy who didn't let you get to the spot you wanted to get to. He always put pressure on you. He was pressuring me full court; from baseline to baseline he had an advantage with his quickness and his length. So, I give him a lot of credit--and he did that against everybody. That is the one thing I would say about Scottie: he was probably the most versatile player to ever play. He could play guard, he could play forward, he could defend any of those type of guys--and he did it well."

I asked Johnson if Pippen is underrated and before I could even get the words completely out of my mouth, Johnson flashed his trademark megawatt smile and declared, "Oh, of course, of course. Of course he's underrated. When you have a super, super, super star like Michael (Jordan) that overshadows you, you are going to be underrated." Then Johnson chuckled, looked right at me and concluded, "But us basketball players, we know how great Scottie Pippen was and how great he played every single night."

When Kobe Bryant was a young player he faced an older Pippen who had already been through multiple surgeries on his back and feet. People constantly talk about Jordan versus Bryant but I always thought that Bryant had a certain glint in his eye and bounce to his step when he played against Pippen, as if Bryant were really trying to prove something and that he considered the matchup to be a personal challenge or measuring stick. I asked Bryant about those matchups with Pippen and Bryant acknowledged that my perceptions of how he viewed those battles were quite correct: "Had to be (a personal challenge); I had to have another bounce in my step, because if not there was no way that I was going to get around him. He was one of those guys who was ultra-competitive, as Michael was, and he wanted to win, would do everything to win. So when you played against him you had to make sure that you were on your 'A' game."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 PM

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