Eighteen years later, these guys are still The Dream Team
Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, as expected, talked the most at the reunion
Karl Malone said the '92 squad won because the superstars did play as a team
By comparison, some players said, the '96 team had ego problems from the start
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Some six hours later, they would be inducted en masse into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But, at 2 in the afternoon on Friday, an assemblage of basketball's all-time greatest sat around a table in the ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel gossiping like high school kids in the lunchroom.
Most of the talking was being done by -- no surprise here -- Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson. Also at the table, listening and nodding affirmation from time to time as they pecked away at their grilled chicken, were four of their Dream Team mates -- Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin and John Stockton. Lenny Wilkens and P.J. Carlesimo, who were assistants on the 1992 gold-medal winning team, were there, also.
The occasion was a roundtable discussion in which the Dream Teamers reminisced about the '92 Olympics and their time together, Hall of Fame weekends being about nothing so much as reminiscing. NBA Entertainment will be slicing and dicing the 30-minute discussion into clips, probably for the next two decades.
The good people from NBAE had been trying for a while to get the thing started, but the gab session went on. As they entered the room, some of them started yakking immediately about how they wanted to "get it rolling," but then they wouldn't stop talking. Perhaps they realized that, as time goes on, the occasions when they will get together will become fewer and fewer.
Finally, another Dream Teamer, Karl Malone sauntered over from the other side of the huge room.
"If you guys don't mind," began Malone ...
"Anything you say, Karl," interrupted Drexler. "It's your weekend, man."
Malone stopped and embraced Drexler, who had just arrived for the weekend ceremonies at the Hall of Fame, where Malone and Scottie Pippen were to be inducted singly along with the Dream Team collectively.
Malone smiled. "I'm just getting old and grumpy, but I'd like to get this started," he said. This was not an easy group to order around but Malone's words immediately lifted the Dream Team chowhounds off their chairs.
Eighteen years later, they're still a team.
The ensuing discussion offered several priceless moments as a bunch of immortals sat around talking about the best time of their lives. The positive vibe of the thing might've come across as staged, except there was no script and the actual experience was pretty much like that. I covered the team from the opening of training in La Jolla, to the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, to the pre-Olympic camp in Monte Carlo, to the Games in Barcelona, and this was truly a special team with special feelings about each other, feelings that have endured. (You saw the same thing about the 1960 Olympic team, which was also inducted this weekend in Springfield. They won a gold medal 50 years ago in Rome, but the bond remains strong.)
There was Wilkens talking about the concern shown him after he severed his Achilles midway through the Olympics and had to limp through the final four games in a cast. "You guys always looked out for me, made sure I was getting around all right," said the Hall of Fame coach. "I never forgot that."
There was Pippen saying, "Chris, you'll be in next year," referencing the fact that Mullin was not voted in as an individual this year, an inexcusable oversight, by the way, considering the whole of the man's high school and college career, never mind what he did in the NBA. And there was Drexler patting Mullin on the leg in affirmation.
There was Mullin stopping in mid-sentence during a reference to the '84 Olympic team (which he and Michael Jordan were on) to say: "And you three should've been on it, by the way." He was talking to Barkley, Stockton and Malone, all of whom were cut by Bob Knight.
Small matter now. For they will always have Barcelona.
The only '92-ers who weren't at the roundtable were Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Christian Laettner, all of whom did arrive in time for that night's official induction at Springfield's Symphony Hall. The most glaring absence, of course, was that of coach Chuck Daly, who died of cancer in May 2009.
As the discussion evolved, it took on a familiar pattern, the players reprising the roles they had two decades ago. Magic and Barkley talked the most, the former showing his Sunday School sincerity, the latter in a rambling style that interspersed jokes and serious sentiments, often in the same sentence. (One of Barkley's highlights was his rambling tale of the day that Drexler brought two left shoes to a shootaround and was trying to skate through undetected.)
Bird didn't say much, but, when he did, everyone listened. Stockton had to be urged to talk at all and, typically, was self-deprecating when he did speak, partly because that's who he is, partly because he missed a great deal of the Olympics with an injury. Mullin didn't say much either but always made sense when he did; that's how he played. Pippen and Malone, who never stopped smiling the whole weekend, waxed eloquently about how the Dream Team represented the best moment of their professional lives. So did Drexler and Robinson.
Herewith a few highlights of the roundtable: