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David Aldridge

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Larry Bird's good-natured jab at the 1960 Olympic team had his 1992 Dream Team teammates in stitches.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Hall of Fame a dream realized for 1960 Olympic team


Posted Aug 16 2010 2:27PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.-- -- This is what Hall of Fame week here is all about:

Karl Malone giving his under-sized HOF jacket to a kid in a wheelchair. Autograph hounds surrounding the two hotels where most of the enshrinees were staying, and the Chuckster signing and posing for just about every one of them, then buying drinks for people in two bars, with his wife and daughter, well-versed in how to stay close but not get in the way, in good-natured tow.

Seeing Wayne Embry and Oscar Robertson surrounded by family and friends as they ate dinner. Scottie Pippen beaming all week, recognized in his own right as one of the all-time greats, not having to live in Michael Jordan's shadow a moment longer. Donna Johnson, Dennis Johnson's widow, being too overcome with emotion to be able to speak Friday morning. And Larry Bird, going in again, this time with the 1992 Dream Team, bringing the house down Friday night as he needled the newly enshrined 1960 U.S. men's basketball team.

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For two days, the '60 guys pointed out that they were amateurs, not pros, when they dominated the field at the Rome Olympics, and Jerry West pointed out that the '60 players had a $1 a day per diem.

"There's a lot of debate going around, who had the best team, the ones in the '60s or the one in '92," Bird said. "I don't know who had the best team, but I know that the team in 1960 was a hell of a lot tougher than we were. Because I couldn't imagine the '92 team getting in covered wagons for eight days [the crowd starts laughing], going across the country, jumping in the Atlantic Ocean [the laughter grows], swimming for six days, then walking 3,000 miles to the Coliseum in Rome [the crowd is roaring] ...

"For a dollar a day!"

Spring training, Bob Uecker wrote 30 years ago, is where the bubble gum cards come to life. It is the same here, having Adrian Smith, one of the 1960 Olympians, walk up to you and shake your hand with a great smile, and getting to spend a few minutes with Bob Hurley, Sr., only the second boys' high school coach enshrined into the Hall (Morgan Wootten, the legendary coach of DeMatha High School in Maryland -- the greatest high school of all time, says the president of the Class of 1983 -- was the first).

Hurley's work over 43 years at St. Anthony High in Jersey City has been well chronicled in a terrific book by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and a documentary by my former ESPN colleague Kevin Shaw, who'll have his pick of an Oscar or Emmy in the next decade. Hurley is Old School in the best possible sense, never giving up on kids who often never had anyone believe in them, and the kids that played for him -- and the ones that didn't, becoming managers and ball boys -- are reflections of his toughness and character.

Last weekend was about seeing Cynthia Cooper, the first player from the WNBA to make the Hall, handling the moment with humor and grace and pride, knowing she had to spend a decade, the prime of her career, overseas, yet still having enough game upon her return to be the WNBA's first superstar.

This is what makes a summer of calling agents and handlers and managers and and assorted hangers-on and general managers and coaches for the latest tidbit of free agent news worth it. To see those who built the game, and those who have taken it to incredible heights, was to be in basketball nirvana. And the best of it was the team whose exploits are now five decades removed.

You saw the members of the '60 team, proud men, but now gray- and white-haired, and many walking with the limp of the Old NBA Player, but when you listened to them, you remembered quickly that these were great players, with the same athletic arrogance of their successors. If you ask Oscar Robertson if he'd like to play the Dream Team, and what do you expect his answer will be?

"Oh, sure," Robertson said."With maybe one or two additions. Bill (Russell) and probably Wilt (Chamberlain). Come on, we would have ... I don't think they would have beaten us. You have to look at who you've got playing, and the skill at the positions. Because you can go and dunk a ball, they have great basketball players. But these guys, the ones I'm talking about, I think we can play, too. I don't think they would have beaten us. They think they would have. But we're never going to know now."

"It didn't take long to learn" how special the '60 team was, West said.

"I think I averaged about 13 or 14 points a game," he said."I was only playing about 20-some minutes a game. Oscar was the same. We played so many people because we had such huge leads. And we had smothering defense. You could not throw a diagonal pass. We were going to get it.

"We played so well together. And I think when you take a bunch of young, college players, and also seasoned AAU players, and put them together ... there was much more of a spread between amateurs and professionals then. That was the remarkable part. Because everyone bought in. We were going to play the way we need to play to win this. Some of the games we played, I'm telling you what, it was like an opus, it was so beautiful to watch. The teamwork, the precision passing."

Karl Malone, someone tells West, says the Dream Team wins a matchup with the '60 squad by 20 points.

"No chance," West says."No chance. No chance."

The two teams were together on Thursday night, and the woofing started right away. Who, Barkley wanted to know, would guard Malone or Patrick Ewing or David Robinson?

"I said 'Charles, you know the '60 team, we would have boxed your butts.' And that started it,' " said "Bullet" Bob Boozer, the rugged forward who starred at Kansas State, leading the Wildcats to the Final Four in 1958. He went on to be an All-Star with the Bulls and won a championship in his final NBA season in 1971 in Milwaukee with Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Boozer acknowledged that Barkley had a point.

Barkley also pointed out that Jordan was the reigning Most Valuable Player in 1992.

"We had to remind him that we had four Rookies of the Year, four MVPs," said Walt Bellamy, the first pick in the 1961 Draft, a four-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.

Could they have beaten the Dreamers? I doubt it. The '92 team had such a combination of size and quickness. Its 11th man was Bird, who barely took off the warmups with his aching back. Chris Mullin, who rarely is mentioned among the Dreamers, didn't miss for weeks from behind the 3-point line. Jordan rarely played like Jordan, concentrating on offense and setting up others, like Clyde Drexler and Pippen. I just think the '92 team's defense was so good, it would have forced enough turnovers to win enough skirmishes to win.

"I know Jerry and Oscar want a piece of us," Magic Johnson said on the Red Carpet Friday afternoon. "I think in a seven-game series, it probably would have ended in a tie, with Michael hitting a last-second shot to give us a 4-3 victory, right?"

But does it matter?

Aschburner the Great detailed the '60 team's march through Rome with his usual excellence a couple of weeks ago, so I'll not re-plow that ground. Suffice it to say that the '60 version was just as tenacious defensively against its opponents as the Dreamers were three decades later, with the late Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell running the show.

Bellamy said Newell "molded us into a defensive team only because that's what he taught at the University of California. It was not a great transition, I don't think, to any of the players. But it was his tenacity of creating the best team with the best talent that he had assembled. And he chose the team. The coaches chose the team at that time ... he was on top of his game from the first day of practice. So there were not a great deal of adjustments to make in terms of adjusting to the coach's style of play."

"Pete Newell was a great tactician," Robertson said. "His biggest moment was when he said he needed to get some non-shooters in the game we had, and he put Les Lane in the backcourt, which was great. We worked out together to develop some plays, where we attacked the other teams. I didn't see him get upset about anything at all."

The selection process that got Lane and the others on the '60 team is a story unto itself. In those days, the Amateur Athletic Union -- yes, the AAU -- was the dominant force in basketball, stronger than the NCAA and NBA.

Its teams, which came from the old Industrial League, barnstormed the country and around the world, and college players who weren't quite certain the then-still-nascent NBA had legs often played for AAU teams that allowed them to keep their amateur status while working full-time for their companies -- and often paid more than the NBA could.

So AAU teams included players like Boozer, who had graduated from Kansas State in 1959 but played for the AAU's Peoria Caterpillars in 1960. And those teams used to produce the majority of players that played on the Olympic teams. (The coach of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team was Gerald Tucker, who coached the AAU's Phillips 66ers.)

But 1960 was a watershed year.

Back then the majority of spots on the U.S. Olympic team went to the winner of an eight-team, invitation-only, round-robin tournament. The NCAA champion, Lucas' Ohio State team, was invited, as were three AAU teams -- Phillips, Peoria and the Akron Wingfoots, backed by Goodyear Tires. The Armed Forces All-Stars came, as did an all-star team from the NAIA. And the NCAA fielded two all-star teams: one for universities, one for colleges. Robertson (University of Cincinnati) and West (West Virginia University) were on Newell's university all-star team. Having two of the best players in the history of the game in one backcourt seemed to help, and the NCAA all-stars won the tournament, which began to break the control of the AAU on amateur ball. (A much different AAU dominates the U.S. game these days.)

But Newell didn't get to pick everyone he wanted; a committee still had final sway. This explains why college players like John Havlicek, Lenny Wilkens and Satch Sanders didn't make the team. But Lane, the 5-foot-11, 28-year-old point guard from the Phillips 66ers, was selected, and Newell made him the starting point guard for the U.S. team.

With Newell coaching, the U.S. team held its opponents to 59 points per game and won by 42 points per game -- despite playing with a ball that, Boozer said, looked like a soccer ball.

"And when you shot the ball for a long jumper, it would get up in the currents and kind of wave with you," Boozer said. "If we had had the regular basketball, we would have probably beat the teams by more of a margin."

Said West: "You could dribble it for a little bit, and that ball would bounce perfectly. And all of a sudden, you could pick it up by the string, and put it behind your back. I thought I (just) had really big hands. But the problem was shooting the ball from any distance. At that point in time, I was a pretty good jump shooter. And we would try to get rid of those balls that were used a lot. You could roll it on the floor and it would just jump."

When they weren't dominating the opposition, the Olympians were cheering on their fellow U.S. team members in other sports, with a young Cassius Clay holding court nightly in the Olympic Village, then winning the boxing gold medal. And Clay was desperately smitten with Wilma Rudolph, the sprinter who won the 100 and 200-yard dashes.

"Everybody had a crush on Wilma," Robertson said. "He wasn't the only one." Fifty years later, Rudolph is gone and Newell is gone and Clay is Muhammad Ali, living with Parkinson's. But the team with no nickname has gotten the ultimate recognition.

Other than Lane, who died of a heart attack in 1973 just after getting the coaching job at the University of Oklahoma (his assistant coach was the late Denny Price, the father of future NBA point guards Mark and Brent Price), all of the 1960 players are still alive. West knows that that will start changing, and very soon. This was a special week, and it well could be the last time these men are together in the same room.

"To think that all these players have survived, with so many other people being gone," West said. "It's sad that (Lane) is not here. But he was a great person. Tough, hard-nosed, very, very competitive. Our coach, Pete Newell, believed that we pressed and trapped. We had so many athletes. People talk always talk about different eras, athletes. We were athletic.

"It was the highlight of my life. I can't tell you what it was like to receive the gold medal for all of our players, Oscar and I ... I learned a lot over there. It was an experience of a lifetime for a young person who'd never been exposed to very much. And to share it with people like this was very special."

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Why hasn't Memphis signed Xavier Henry yet?

Henry, the first-round pick out of Kansas, taken 12th overall by the Grizzlies, missed all of the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas because he hadn't yet signed his rookie deal, and still doesn't have his signature on a contract. And no one seems to know exactly when this is going to get done. The holdup concerns a little-known feature of first-round contracts; the 20 percent rule.

After Glenn Robinson's $68 million rookie contract in 1994, owners got the Players' Association to agree to a rookie wage scale that severely cut back the amount of money new Draft picks could make. The new deal ended the astronomical salaries rookies were getting -- the very problem the NFL now faces -- and redistributed the money toward veterans, in the form of salary cap exceptions. One of the features of the new scale was a provision that allows teams to pay as much as 20 percent more or 20 percent less than the agreed-upon scale figure for the player in that Draft slot. If Player Jones is due $1 million next season, for example, his team could pay him as little as $800,000 or as much as $1.2 million.

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Xavier Henry has met the media in Memphis, but still hasn't signed his rookie contract.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Most teams generally give the player the 20 percent as a sign of good faith, or at least make it easy for him to earn it through incentives like workout bonuses. But a few don't. Memphis has become one of those few. The Grizzlies are offering Henry the exact amount he's due under the CBA -- $1,683,500, according to the union's own numbers. And they're giving him a chance to earn the extra 20 percent --$333,700 -- by playing a certain number of minutes next season.

The Grizzlies don't have a deal with their other first-rounder, guard Greivis Vasquez, either. But Vasquez decided to play in Vegas anyway, and the team got insurance for him as many teams do with summer league players that are not yet under contract. Cole Aldrich, taken just ahead of Henry by the Hornets with the 11th overall pick and subsequently traded to Oklahoma City, didn't play in Vegas either, but he signed his rookie contract with the Thunder in early August.

(The only other first-rounders who missed summer league play were Golden State's Ekpe Udoh [wrist surgery]; Kevin Seraphin, taken 17th by Washington, who was still working out a buyout with his French team in July, and Elliot Williams, taken 22nd by Portland, who missed Vegas with a knee injury.)

"There have been some teams that have tied performance bonuses to the 20 percent," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said on Sunday."Basically, our position is that the extra 20 is a bonus. And bonus means additional performance. We feel like if a guy gets on the court and plays for us, then you're contributing to our team in a significant way."

Assuming Memphis would pick up the third- and fourth-year options on Henry, the difference during the four years of the deal would be $1.619 million, with Henry earning a little more than $8 million if he doesn't get the 20 percent bonus and $9.716 million if he does."That's not an insignifcant amount of money," Wallace said. The qualifying offer for a fifth season, after which Henry could become an unrestricted free agent, would be $3.67 million without the bonus, $4.4 million with it.

That Henry's agent is the high-powered Arn Tellem only adds to the tension. Tellem is not one to be trifled with, and while the Grizzlies may win the battle by playing hardball, they risk losing much more by annoying one of the league's biggest players.

The word "impasse" has come up with regard to Henry, and that's not promising. Henry showed lots of promise in his one year at Kansas, but it was just one year. He has a lot of work in front of him, and even if the Summer League games are light lifting, even missing the practices with the other Grizzlies in Vegas is going to set him back a little. Memphis had a good summer with the re-signing of Rudy Gay and the signing of free agent Tony Allen; it doesn't need to take a step back.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Mr. Lacob. Welcome to The Rock. From Michael Martin:

I reside out here in the Bay Area and have been a long-time (mostly frustrated) Warriors fan. There is a sense of optimism with the new owner, particularly Joe Lacob coming in. He recently interviewed on the Ralph and Tom (Tolbert) show out here. He was very impressive. Needless to say being a minority owner with the Celtics doesn't hurt as he is familiar with a winning franchise and the NBA. Plus he has been a Warriors season ticket holder so he has first hand knowledge of what the fans have been through and a good pulse on what needs to be done. He does have a bit of timing challenge however in that when he receives league approval (mid-September-early October), it might be too late to make a wholesale coaching and GM change. So there has been a lot of speculation as to whether he lets Nellie finish out his contract versus paying him off, hiring a new coach on a multi-year contract and then the possibility of playing him during a lockout.

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The Warriors may end up holding off on buying out coach Don Nelson's contract.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Everything I've heard about the guy, Michael, has been first-rate. I think he wants to get rid of Nellie but doesn't want to buy him out at the full rate. If that happens, while I think Keith Smart deserves a crack at the full-time gig, it wouldn't surprise me if the Warriors engage in a full search.

Our Associated Press stylebook in college, in reference to the word "over": "Over implies a spatial relationship, as in, 'the plane flew over the city.' Do not use 'over' when referring to a number of people; use "more than."

Yes, it is just as exciting to read now as it was then. From Louise Finley:

Wednesday's 4-team trade is AMONG (not between) four teams. Use preposition 'between' when there are two; 'among' when there are three or more.

Between us, Louise, I will do that in the future.

Size matters. So I'm told. Well, I'm not told, but that's what I hear. Why are you looking at me like that? From Don Dobson:

Are people making too big a deal of Miami's lack of size/quality big men? After all the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls won 72 games with Luc Longley and Bill Wennington [as their centers]. While they weren't All-Stars, those two could knock down the open jump shots that were created for them by MJ and Pippen. Similarly Ilgauskus is a good shooter. Also the Thunder and Suns gave the Lakers all they could handle despite not having the size to match up with Gasol and Bynum.

A little, Don, because they have to have something to question about Miami now that the Super Friends are together. I think Udonis Haslem will be perfectly serviceable in the middle, and Z and Joel Anthony and even Juwan Howard will get minutes there, too. I do think that the Heat could be in trouble when they play the Orlandos and Lakers of the world, because those teams don't just have size, they have talented, mobile size.

Apparantely, it does take a village. From Tony Alam:

In response to the letter about a global team not doing well, please remember the 2002-2003 NBA champions. I saw San Antonio Spurs routinely field the following line-up: 1. Tim Duncan (Saint Croix) 2. Tony Parker (France) 3. Manu Ginobili (Argentina) 4. Rasho Nesterovic (Slovenia) 5. Bruce Bowen (U.S.). Five players, five countries. I even saw them once counter another team's small line-up by substituting Bowen with Beno Udrih (Slovenia). Five international players showing us how to play our game. That should have told us what was upcoming in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

Touche, Tony; the Spurs did put together a General Foods International House of Basketball, and won a couple of titles with that core.

By the Numbers

3.5 -- Hours that league and union representatives met on Thursday in New York, in their first collective bargaining session since the All-Star break. No real progress was made during the discussion on a new agreement, with a lockout for the start of the 2011-12 season still quite likely.

$3.64 million -- Amount that San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman claims former NBA players Christian Laettner and Brian Davis owe him as part of a failed business deal. Merriman filed an affidavit in a Maryland court last week, arguing that Laettner and Davis' company, which took a loan from Merriman in 2007 for the money, was supposed to pay him back in 2009.

3.14 -- Pi. Come on; I needed another number with three in it to give the list some symmetry.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Good start for the U.S. World Championship team on Sunday in MSG. Though I'm not sure I would have cut JaVale McGee; the U.S. team is down to Tyson Chandler for size, with five (Rose, Billups, Westbrook, Rondo, Curry) point guards currently on the roster.

2) Pretty sure the Turner party in Springfield next year is gonna be off the chain.

3) This story was touching beyond words. I met the young man afterward; he said he's going to Rutgers University and has designs on being a broadcaster. I asked him not to take my job for a few years, as I have growing kids and a mortgage.

4) This is one great read on Scottie Pippen by Sam Smith, who oughta know.

5) Durantula is right: Janelle Monae's new CD is amazing.

6) The Palace of Auburn Hills is still a state-of-the-art building, but I would not miss the 30-plus mile drive from the airport to the arena. And I would love to see Magic and Joe Dumars rebuild that team together.

Not Feelin' ...

1) Phil. I know your back is jacked up. But Scottie Pippen, as key as anyone to your winning your first six NBA championships, was enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Friday. And so was Jerry Buss, your current owner, with whom you've had your ups and downs but who also has paid you tens of millions of dollars over the last decade and whose organization has continually stocked you with the best talent money can (and does) buy. Don't you think you could have swallowed a little pride, as well as a few pain pills, and been in Springfield this weekend? I know you aren't crazy about the Hall because it has yet to enshrine your longtime assistant coach, Tex Winter. But Pippen and Buss have nothing to do with Tex not getting in. I think it would have meant a lot to both of them if you had shown up.

2) And I want to win Mega Millions next week. Same odds.

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Sore back and all, Phil Jackson (right) should have been there for Scottie Pippen's induction.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Coby Karl, waived on Friday by the Nuggets, should be on somebody's roster next season. This isn't a cute coach-bites-son story; this is a man who's earned the right to some playing time by working his butt off.

4) Dude seriously got the shutout when they got home.

5) And this is my last column for a month. With everyone in the NBA outside of the World Championship team on vacation, time for me to take mine. We're working on some guest columnists I think you'll really like, who'll talk about the NBA from vastly different perspectives. They'll start next Monday. Hope you enjoy them.

Tweet of the Week

Reporters who never played the game of basketball or never succeeded in it ... Shouldn't b able to report on it#FACT
-- Wizards center JaVale McGee (@bigdaddywookie) Sunday.

As JaVale (big daddy?) said later, he's allowed his opinion, and that is one that is shared by many people. So let's take this to its logical extreme. If you've never been an astronaut, you can't write about NASA. If you've never written a song, you can't review concerts; if you haven't passed the bar, you can't cover the Supreme Court. This notion that you "had to play the game" to know it is ... well, the idea that there is something so esoteric, so unknowable, about whether a screen-roll works or doesn't work is endlessly amusing.

They Said It

"I think LeBron, Bosh and Wade took full advantage of the Oscar Robertson Rule."
-- Oscar Robertson, asked his opinion of the Super Friends' get-together, at the Hall of Fame Enshrinement news conference on Friday. The rule that bears his name was adopted in 1976 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit Robertson had filed against the league six years earlier, seeking to eliminate the reserve clause in then-existing player contracts that essentially bound them to their teams for the balance of their careers. The elimination of the reserve clause marked the beginning of free agency in the NBA.

"I'm more honored to be here 'cause Dennis is going in. That means more to me than me going in with the Dream Team."
-- Larry Bird, sharing his happiness at sharing the stage with his former teammate, the late Dennis Johnson, who was finally voted into the Hall of Fame this year, three years after his death. Bird has said, and continues to say, that Johnson was the best player with whom he ever played.

"Dr. O'Neal."
-- Shaquille O'Neal, telling the New York Times Magazine this week that he plans to drop all of his "Big" sobriquets (The Big Aristotle, The Big Cactus, etc.) when he gets his doctorate (in God knows what) from Barry University in Florida, and will no longer allow anyone to call him by his celebrated four-letter nickname.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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