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W. Massachusetts in spotlight during annual induction

Date: 8/17/2010

Aug. 18, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

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SPRINGFIELD -- Michael Jordan is a tough act to follow, but the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2010 is certainly a distinguished group in its own right.

Headlining the class of inductees at this year's enshrinement on Aug. 13 were Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen.

Pippen spent the majority of his career with the Chicago Bulls and was known for his all-around play both with and without the basketball. He ranks in the top 40 all-time in seven major statistical categories and played tremendous defense throughout his career. He is fourth in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in all-time steals.

"I played the game the way it was meant to be played and I think people respected me more for that than trying to be more than I was," Pippen said.

Malone was one of the best low post players ever, finishing his career with 36,928 points, which is second all-time only to Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Nicknamed "the Mailman" -- because he always delivered -- Malone is also second in field goals and minutes played and sixth in total rebounds.

"I tried to do it the right way. I missed the mark sometimes as a player and a person, but we learn from our mistakes," Malone said. "But my legacy is I came to work everyday. I don't think me playing basketball was a job. What I did was not a job. I don't consider myself a hero."

It was a bittersweet day for Malone, who lost his mother on Aug. 13 seven years ago.

"People would say to her, 'You must be so proud of Karl' and she would say, 'I'm proud of all of my children,'" Malone said tearfully.

The heads of this year's class were immortalized not only because of their skill, but because they were great teammates.

Pippen shared the court with Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest of all time. The two won 16 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. Malone teamed up with John Stockton for 18 seasons, also a Hall of Famer, and the two all but perfected the pick-and-roll.

So perhaps it was fitting that two players known to be two of the best teammates on the court shared the stage at the 2010 Hall of Fame Enshrinement with two of the greatest American teams ever assembled.

Joining Pippen and Malone were two Olympic gold medal-winning teams from very different eras.

Included in the enshrinement with those two legends was the 1960 US team that captured gold when Olympic teams were strictly amateur.

"I will tell you that I played with, I think, the greatest amateur team that ever played," Hall of Famer Jerry West said.

That squad, which featured Hall of Famers such as West, Larry Belamy, Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson, compiled an 8-0 record, defeating teams by an average of nearly 43 points per game.

"I will tell you there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about those days," West said. "The single proudest moment of my life was to go up and receive the gold medal for the United States in 1960."

The 1992 USA Olympic "Dream Team," on the other hand, was the first American team to be allowed to use professional players. Along with Pippen, Jordan, Stockton and Malone, the team Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and former NBA All Star Chris Mullins came to the enshrinement to be honored for its dominance. The "Dream Team" rolled through the Barcelona Games, beating opponents by more than 43 points per game.

"We would try to kill each other during the regular season, but let me tell you something -- during that time we spent together ... I have never had more fun being around anybody," Barkley said.

While the 1992 team has been dubbed the "Dream Team," Barkley expressed great admiration for the 1960 team and what they accomplished.

"There's been a lot of trash talking going on," Barkley joked. "But I've got admiration and respect for them because that is something we will share winning the gold medal."

Those who were part of the "Dream Team" recognize the impact it has had on how basketball has been embraced around the world.

"The way we conducted ourselves and the way we played in Barcelona made a major change throughout the whole world in how people perceived the game of basketball," Bird said.

Once professionals were able to display basketball at its highest level on an international stage, it inspired players from other nations to drive for that level, something that has only strengthened the game, according to Pippen.

"I think that really propelled our game in the sense that now we see that players are getting better all over the world," Pippen said. "Basketball is not just an American game. It is an international game now. Players internationally feel more confident that they can play in the NBA and it's opened up a brand new era and generation of players," he added.

As new players are becoming increasingly skilled and are finding their way into American basketball, the Hall of Fame inducted a pioneer in the game as part of this year's class in Cynthia Cooper. Cooper is the first Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Cooper led the now defunct Houston Comets to the league's first four championships and was the MVP of two of those team efforts.

"This holds a lot of responsibility for me," Cooper said. "There's so much talent in the WNBA, both past and present and future. It's a humbling experience for me."

A product of inner-city Los Angeles, Cooper said she hopes she can be an example to children in under-privileged urban areas that success can come with hard work.

"What I want to show the kids growing up in those conditions is that when you're willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, you will be successful. If you're willing to put in the hard work, if you're willing to hang tough through the tough moments that life might bring you, you're going to be successful. Most importantly, if you look in the mirror and the person you see staring back at you is enough, than you don't need the outside influences, you don't need the drugs, you don't need the gangs, you don't need anyone but that person in the mirror staring back at you, you're going to achieve every goal that you set for yourself. But you have to be willing to put in that hard work."

Inducted posthumously was former Celtics great Dennis Johnson, who won three NBA titles with the Celtics and Seattle Supersonics, while being touted as one of the era's premier point guards and defenders. His wife Donna emotionally accepted his Hall of Fame jacket at the enshrinement press conference and fought through the tears to say thank you and that she was honored.

"As a player, he was excellent to play with. He knew when I wanted the ball and how I wanted it," Bird said. "As a person, we got along very well. He was a jokester and he loved to win."

NBA and American Basketball Association (ABA) star Gus Johnson was also inducted posthumously, with his brother accepting the honor for him. Johnson was known as a strong, yet graceful big man who recorded more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a season three times. According to the Hall of Fame Enshrinement press conference Master of Ceremonies Eddie Doucette, Johnson also "probably holds the record for most broken backboards."

Bob Hurley Sr. became a rare addition to the Hall of Fame as a high school coach. Hurley, the coach of St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, N.J., since 1972, has led his team to three USA Today national championships and has been named "USA Today Coach of the Year" each of those years.

His teams have put together five undefeated seasons under his charge and have a high school record 25 state championships.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Brazilian star Maciel Periera, honored posthumously, rounded out this year's class.

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