I arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts today where many of the game’s greats have gathered to honor the latest batch of soon-to-be inductees poised for enshrinement. This year’s Class of 2010 includes two Olympic gold-medal teams. The 1960 Olympic Team was arguably the greatest amateur team that we have ever assembled. Legendary Co-captains Oscar Robertson and Jerry West along with Jerry Lucas led their team to Olympic gold in Rome, doing so with relative ease.
Back then our teams were primarily comprised of guys from the Amateur Athletic Union along with NCAA players. And we always took a couple servicemen – guys serving in the armed forces who were playing service basketball. However after the 1971 “Haywood Decision” permitted college underclassmen to enter the NBA draft, our college ranks gradually became depleted.
By the eightees many other countries were sending pros to compete in the Olympics, but NBA players were not permitted to participate in international competition. Fortunately FIBA Secretary-General Boris Stankovic decided that this was not only unfair, but bad for the sport of basketball. So he led a movement to change the rules. 1992 was the first year that NBA players were allowed to compete in the Olympics, and hence the Dream Team was formed.
To me the 1992 Dream Team is the greatest Olympic team ever assembled. Marv and I were working for NBC at the time and had the incredible opportunity to cover the Dream Team both at the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, which was the Olympic qualifying event, and throughout the Barcelona Olympics including the gold-medal game. Coached by Chuck Daly along with Lenny Wilkens, P. J. Carlesimo and Mike Krzyzewski, our guys were overwhelming against every opponent. It was the most awesome display of talent I have ever seen.
In addition to these two teams, a number of outstanding individuals will be honored at this evening’s induction ceremony at Symphony Hall. Karl Malone was an incredible performer from the standpoint of his consistency, his reliability and his durability. And though Scottie Pippin ended his career with Portland, we will always remember Pippin as part of the Bulls’ dynasty and as Jordan’s running mate en route to six NBA Championship Titles.
Unfortunately Dennis Johnson is no longer with us, but the three-time NBA champ is being recognized for being such an integral part of both the Boston and Seattle franchises. He was an excellent defender and a solid, steady point guard who played well within the structure of the Celtics team alongside Bird, McHale, Parish and Angie.
Cynthia Cooper’s name is among the top five that always come up whenever you talk about women’s basketball and the great players who have gone on after their collegiate careers to have outstanding pro careers. She was instrumental to the success of our women’s teams at the international level.
Bob Hurley’s story is just incredible. The 35-year veteran coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City is known to be a very demanding coach, but he is a highly respected coach who has captured 23 State Championships and turned out more than 100 graduates who have earned Division I basketball scholarships. While the success of his basketball program is remarkable, it pales in comparison to what he’s done for these young men and for their lives in terms of giving them direction and helping to keep the heartbeat of their small, parochial school alive by finding people to make the donations that allow it to stay open year after year. Bob is an outstanding and special individual.
Jerry Buss is one of the premiere owners in the NBA. He has done for the Lakers organization what the late George Steinbrenner did for the Yankees. New York City has always taken great pride in the Yankees and Steinbrenner felt it was his obligation to keep them on top. Likewise, Los Angeleans take great pride in the Lakers and for over three decades Buss has done everything in his power to help maintain the high standards they have come to expect. He is a great owner and being memorialized in Springfield alongside many of his former players is a well-deserved honor.