There had never been a basketball team like the one that climbed onto the gold medal platform in 1992.
Now the members of the Dream Team are ready to stand together again—as Hall of Famers.
Already inducted as individuals, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson will be enshrined as teammates Friday as the highlight of this year’s class.
Behind a group of NBA superstars, the Americans rolled to gold in Barcelona, taking basketball’s popularity to unprecedented heights along the way.
“It was the very first time they put the NBA players together, so that was very special,” Bird said. “The Olympics, growing up as a young kid, always dreaming, wondering what that feels like and being able to do it, it was very special, there’s no question about it.”
Dream Teamers Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone also will be enshrined as individuals. The 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medalists—a powerhouse in their own right with Jerry West and Oscar Robertson—also will be inducted during the ceremony at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
“They’re well deserving as going in as a team,” Hall of Fame chairman of the board Jerry Colangelo said of the 1960 squad. “The Dream Team speaks for itself. It’s a tremendous class overall.”
It also includes Lakers owner Jerry Buss; Cynthia Cooper, the WNBA’s first superstar; and Bob Hurley, the longtime coach of St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, N.J.
Dennis Johnson,—whom Bird has called his greatest teammate—former Baltimore Bullets star Gus Johnson; and Brazilian Maciel “Ubiratan” Pereira will be enshrined posthumously.
The United States sent the Dream Team to Spain after failing to win gold with collegiate players in 1988. A FIBA rule the following year opened the door for professionals to be used in the Olympics, and the U.S. team was loaded with the best of them.
The Americans scored an Olympic-record 117.3 points per game, winning by an average of 43.8. Bird said the team prepared as if the games would be close, but fans didn’t seem to care that they never were.
“It was the first time that people came to a game and said ‘I know the outcome, but I’m going to watch the artist perform,”’ said NBA commissioner David Stern, adding the team “without question” was a catalyst for the league’s international growth.
“In 1992 we probably were distributed in somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 countries and today we’re in 215 countries, and the fans got the sense that there was more to be had,” Stern said. “You not only could watch these extraordinary players as members of a national team, you could watch them all season long as members of NBA teams.”
That, as much as their dominating performances, is the team’s legacy.
“It was an honor to be on the Dream Team and to represent my country, but also it was really cool to start the foreign influence of the NBA,” said Charles Barkley, who led the team in scoring with 18 points per game.
It was the last title for Bird and Johnson, rivals since college who finally got to play together, and came as Jordan and Pippen had just started to collect their six. The team also included David Robinson and John Stockton, inducted along with Jordan last year; Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner. Only Mullin, who has been a finalist, and Laettner, the team’s lone collegian, aren’t in as individuals.
The entire roster and all three assistant coaches will attend; Chuck Daly, the team’s head coach, died last year. All the living members of the 1960 team, which ran through Rome under coach Pete Newell by 42.4 points per game and included Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy, also are scheduled to be in Springfield.
“To have the two U.S. Olympic teams coming in and to have each member of both teams arriving in Springfield to celebrate the occasion is outstanding,” Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame president and CEO John Doleva said.
Jordan, whose induction speech last year drew some criticism after he singled out people who had motivated him, will serve as Pippen’s presenter. Their relationship was rocky at first after the Bulls made the Central Arkansas product their top pick in 1987, but together they led Chicago to six championships and set the NBA record with 72 wins in 1995-96.
“That first year, he got beat to death (by Michael) every day in practice. He’d just get beaten to death,” former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said. “He had to find out how to compete with Michael, and Michael taught him how to compete. And Michael, of course, and him got to be very close.”
Malone was twice the league’s MVP and is second on the career scoring list. Both he and Pippen also won gold in 1996 in Atlanta, but it’s their other Olympic experience that will be celebrated Friday.
“That’s one of those teams that you wish you could play with forever,” Pippen said in an interview on the Bulls’ website.