Throughout his career, Scottie Pippen was often praised for having great court vision, a point guard's gift to see the right play that paired well with his 6-foot-8 frame's ability to make it. During a media session after a morning press conference to introduce this year's class of inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he proved that his skills were as sharp as ever.
The proof came as Pippen was answering a reporter's question about whether or not it was fair to say that he played on the two greatest basketball teams ever - the 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, better known as the Dream Team, and the 1996 Chicago Bulls, better known as the juggernaut that decimated all comers en route to a 72-10 record and an NBA title.
"Well, I'm not going to argue against it," says Pippen, a soft laugh punctuating his response. "I played on some great teams in the early '90s, as well. Obviously, we weren't trying to win 72 games, but ... uh ..."
His concentration is momentarily broken by a fan standing in front of him, clad in cargo shorts and a black pinstriped Bulls jersey embroidered with Pippen's name and number 33 on the back. Pippen immediately starts gesturing toward the fan with an outstretched finger, moving it up and down in front of him. Not wagging it, per se; just moving it up and down, sliding it on a vertical axis between him and the jersey-wearer.
The fan, stunned by the fact that the newly minted Hall of Famer has singled him out, manages to reach into his pocket. Producing a cell phone, he seizes the moment, asking Pippen if he could get a photo with the Bulls great.
Pippen sees that the fan doesn't get the hint, so he vocalizes.
"Zip up," Scottie Pippen tells the man wearing his jersey.
The fan looks down, realizes that Pippen has literally caught him with his fly down, and sheepishly zips up. Pippen returns to the question-and-answer session. Chalk up another assist.
Other notes from this morning's Class of 2010 press conference, held on Center Court at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
- Three of this year's honorees - former Seattle SuperSonics and Boston Celtics great Dennis Johnson, former Baltimore Bullets legend Gus Johnson and Brazilian basketball pioneer Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira - will be inducted posthumously. Pereira's son, Maciel Jr., accepted his Hall of Fame jacket; Perry Johnson, Gus' brother, accepted his; Donna Johnson, DJ's widow, accepted his. All three offered brief remarks about how proud they were to be in attendance and how grateful they were for their loved ones' honors. An emotional Donna Johnson was consoled by her late husband's 2010 classmate, Cynthia Cooper, as she stepped away from the microphone in tears.
- Cooper's smile shone as she spoke of her groundbreaking status. "... For me to be here, inducted as part of the Class of 2010, it's a dream that I could have never dreamed, and I'm glad I'm living this one and I'm glad it came true," said Cooper, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player and four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets. "I feel very fortunate to represent the WNBA as the first WNBA player inducted; hopefully I'll represent y'all well."
- Karl Malone had quite a few laughs at his way-too-short Hall of Fame jacket, but his on-stage remarks were brief and serious. "I would like to say that we did lose some greats with Gus and Dennis," said the NBA's second all-time leading scorer. "I think we should dedicate this weekend to them and what they did for us. And I'd like to say thanks to our troops, putting themselves in harm's way - even though we live in the greatest country in the world, freedom is not free. And I just want to say to my wife and kids, thanks for letting Dad play the game of basketball. ... I'm very humbled and appreciative."
- Bob Hurley Sr., the legendary boys' basketball coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J., came to the stage before Malone, but was skipped over until after Malone's remarks by master of ceremonies Eddie Doucette, former voice of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Portland Trail Blazers. When his turn at the mic did come, Hurley had a line chambered and ready to fire.
"I literally have been overshadowed by Karl Malone in the festivities today," said Hurley, who has racked up more than 900 wins (against only about 100 losses, according to Doucette), 25 New Jersey state parochial titles, three USA Today national championships and countless other accolades at St. Anthony's. Hurley also paid respects to a fellow titan on the high school level: "I'm humbled to be the second high school boys' basketball coach to go into the Hall of Fame. Morgan Wootten, who was the first, is still the standard."
- Speaking as a representative of the 1960 U.S. men's national team that won gold at the Summer Olympics in Rome, Jerry West spoke about the unique composition of that talented young team. "I've always felt one thing about sports, particularly team sports - it's not about the person," said West. "I think the thing that makes this so gratifying to me is to be able to share this with all the people [with whom I won] a gold medal when we were truly amateurs. The greatest thrill in my life was to win a gold medal, not an NBA championship. I will forever be grateful to these men. ... Time separates all of us, but it certainly doesn't separate memories. For you guys, I loved you. It was truly a team."
The legendary West, who was inducted as an individual in 1979, then joked about the $1 per diem that the '60 team received and the air-conditioning-free dorms in which they stayed. "You guys did a bit better than that," he said to the assembled members of the 1992 Dream Team, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin, John Stockton, Pippen, Malone and Barcelona assistant coaches Lenny Wilkens and P.J. Carlesimo.
- Following West, the ever-quotable Barkley represented the Dream Team: "Well, the reason I got chosen is, they said Magic and Larry are gonna speak tonight and nobody else wants to do it."
"I want to acknowledge the 1960 team," Barkley said. "It's been so much fun hanging out with those gentlemen all weekend. It was been some serious, serious trash talking going on. It's been fun, but I've got such admiration for them, because it's something we'll all share, winning a gold medal."
Barkley especially recognized former opponents and Dream Teammates Pippen and Malone, as well as the Barcelona team's head coach, the late Chuck Daly: "We want to remember Coach Daly, because he was unbelievable."
"Clearly, everybody reminds me I never won a championship, but to me, that was like winning a championship," Barkley said. "I just want to personally thank every one of these guys. That was one of the greatest times in my life, and I think about it all the time."
And what about that 1960 vs. 1992 trash talk? Malone told me during a post-conference media session that he's "thrown [himself] in the ring now, because [the 1960 team members] are starting to go after my teammates on the Olympic team."
"They wouldn't have been close. Twenty. We'd have beat them by 20. Yes, yes," the Mailman says with a laugh. "We would have doubled Oscar and Jerry, and then we would have hit the forwards. The point guards, we would have set illegal picks on them. And they would have had them Chuck Taylors on, so they wouldn't be out there long. Their feet would've got hot."
Moments later, across Center Court, NBA TV's David Aldridge tells West about '60 teammate Oscar Robertson's comment that if the '60 squad had Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, he'd go play the '92 team right now. At that point, I tell The Logo that Malone says the Dream Team would have '60 by 20 points easy.
Jerry West didn't like that too much.
"No chance," he says.
And then he says it three more times, because it bears repeating.
"No chance. No chance. No chance," West says. "You know, basketball is really funny. I mean, the players today have so many more advantages. We had no trainers, we had no ability to work out on our own, all you did was individual stuff. We had no weight training, we had no stretching, we had as good of doctor care as you could get. Today, athletes are really specialized. But they make so much money, they don't have to do the other things. We had to work in the offseason."
But all that's just talk, so West gets back to the matter at hand.
"To say I'd be afraid of those guys? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. No," he says, not a trace of a laugh to be found in his voice. "To say we'd beat 'em? I would never say that. But it would be fun. Competing is the most fun thing in the world. But listen - I've seen these guys play, and some of 'em don't scare me, I can tell you that.
"I never try to compare eras of players," he adds. "But the one thing I do look at is how competitive people are, and there's some people that are ultra-competitive. And we had some ultra-competitive players on that team."
- Scottie Pippen