SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A weird thing happened — and it seems weirder by the decade — to both John Stockton and Karl Malone back in 1984.
The Hall of Famers were each cut from the amateur-only U.S. men's basketball squad.
"The guys that played was worthy of going, but I always thought about it," Malone said Friday morning at a Basketball Hall of Fame press conference. "And once it came and went, I never thought I would have an opportunity to play."
Only eight years later, however, Team USA and the Utah Jazz legends got a second chance to make things work after professionals were allowed to play for their countries.
You might say it played out like a dream for everybody involved.
On Friday night, Stockton and Malone joined their 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball teammates in being enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Every Dream Team player was in attendance for the ceremony at Symphony Hall: Malone, Stockton, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing and Christian Laettner. Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Lenny Wilkens were also there. The late Chuck Daly, the team's head coach, was the only one absent.
The Dream Team, which Jerry West joked was more like a "Nightmare Team," easily marched through its in-awe competition, beating its eight opponents by a could-have-been worse margin of 43.8 points to win the gold in Barcelona.
But while the games were a cakewalk for what's considered the greatest hoops team ever assembled, Malone said the practices were anything but that.
"The most competitive and most challenging thing I ever did was the practices. It was truly off the charts," Malone said. "Once the game started we all felt that was fun. We was representing our country."
A smiling Stockton said memories and inside jokes "started flooding back" as the team reunited for the first time since the glory days in Spain 18 years ago. One weird part for the Hall of Fame point guard was that Malone sat on the stand instead of with the Dream Team at the side during the morning press conference because of his personal induction.
"It's odd. When we congregate as the '92 team, I should be sitting next to him, shoulder to shoulder with him," Stockton said. "But he's sitting up there on an individual basis. It fires me up to see him up there as Karl Malone, as he well deserves (the recognition)."
Malone takes pride in the fact that he played for his country, something he and Stockton repeated in 1996. Listening to the national anthem and playing while wearing the red, white and blue was a huge honor for him.
"I've always had great admiration for our armed forces — always, all my life," he said. "And that's the closest to me representing our country was playing on the gold-medal team."
Certainly not the same, he added, but as close as he'll get since he doesn't plan on enlisting anytime soon.
Helped make bitter memories from '84 a bit easier to swallow.
GRIN AND WEAR IT?: Malone had some chuckles Friday morning after trying on his jacket during an annual ceremony only to discover that it was too small. The sleeves rested several inches above his wrists, and the shoulders were tailored too tightly.
He held the snugly fitting navy blue blazer with an embroidered Hall of Fame patch up to his chest during photo ops with a smile before putting it on.
The wardrobe malfunction elicited a comment that brought back memories of Greg Ostertag.
"Look," Malone said, "I'll go on the record and tell you that's not because I'm a fat (a--)."
In classic Malone fashion, The Mailman gave the jacket to a youngster sitting in a wheelchair next to the podium.
The little mishap certainly didn't get in the way of him enjoying a special day.
"It's all good," Malone said. "The jacket is fine. I just want the patch off of it."
TOUGH TREK: Members of the two enshrined U.S. gold-medal-winning Olympic squads had fun reminiscing, rubbing shoulders and razzing each other this week. While the Dream Team was aptly named, the 1960 team is considered the best amateur-only team, what with guys like West, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and Walt Bellamy on its roster.
"There's some serious, serious trash-talking going on," Barkley said.
But Larry Legend landed the knockout verbal punch at the end of Friday's ceremony.
"I don't know who had the best team," Bird said, "but I know the team in 1960 was a helluva lot tougher than we were."
"Because," Bird continued, "I couldn't imagine the '92 team getting into covered wagons for eight days, going across the country, jumping in the Atlantic Ocean, swimming for six days, then walking 3,000 miles to the Coliseum in Rome for a dollar a day."
Having said that, Bird returned to the assembled '92 team amidst an eruption of laughter.
FAME FODDER: A week's worth of Hall of Fame festivities will wrap up tonight when inductees receive rings during a private celebration at a Connecticut resort. … Some 70-plus Hall of Famers attended Friday's historic enshrinement, a record number that included the likes of Jerry Sloan, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Pat Riley and the bevy of Dream Teamers and 1960 Olympic champs. … New and old inductees signed a brand-new Corvette, which will be auctioned to benefit the Child Safety Network and the Hall of Fame, both nonprofit organizations. Last year, an Aston Martin signed by attending Hall of Famers sold for nearly $1 million.
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