SPRINGFIELD, MASS. Larry Bird stopped just short of calling the Dream Team the best squad ever assembled.
With the talent standing behind him, he wouldn’t get much argument if he had.
The members of the 1992 Olympic champions joined him on stage Friday as they were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and the rest of the famed squad were Bird’s teammates in his last competitive games, a powerful and popular group widely credited for the growth of international basketball.
“Pretty good way to go out, winning the gold medal,” Bird said.
Fighting a bad back and nearing retirement, Bird had to be talked into playing in Barcelona by Johnson, his friend and a rival since their college days.
“I called your butt up and I said you’re going to play, we need this thrill one more time,” Johnson said.
Their predecessors from the 1960 Olympics, a group led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West and that included former Kansas University guard Al Kelley, also were enshrined during the ceremony at Symphony Hall.
Dream Teamers Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone were inducted as individuals.
Pippen opened his acceptance speech by praising Jordan, his fellow six-time NBA champion from the Chicago Bulls for being “the best teammate.”
“MJ, you have touched so many people’s lives, but none quite like mine,” Pippen said.
A little-known player from Central Arkansas when the Bulls acquired him in 1987, Pippen was the first player inducted. With Jordan standing nearby as his presenter, Pippen said he would “cherish their relationship forever.”
“Who knew that No. 23 would be here 23 years later presenting me to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame?” Pippen said.
The presenter does not speak, and Jordan also didn’t speak when the Dream Team assembled on stage. His remarks last year during his enshrinement speech drew some criticism after he singled out individuals whose slights had provided him with motivation.
Malone struggled with his emotions throughout his speech, especially at the end when he recalled his mother, saying she had died seven years ago Friday.
Earlier Friday, West said he believed his group of college players that won its eight games in Rome by 42.4 points per game was “the greatest amateur team that ever played.”