Barkley, Wilkins, Auriemma lead Hall of Fame class


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Charles Barkley and Dominique Wilkins grew up in the deep South, played in the Southeastern Conference and spent more than a decade as two of the NBA’s greatest forwards.

Now the men with the familiar nicknames and the formidable highlight reels will go into the Basketball Hall of Fame, fittingly, together.

Barkley and Wilkins each got the required 18 votes from the honors committee and will join former Detroit Pistons guard Joe Dumars, Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma, Italian coach Sandro Gamba and longtime contributor Dave Gavitt at September’s induction in Springfield, Mass.

“Charles and I go back since college,” Wilkins said Monday after the announcement was made. “None of us thought this would happen, we just wanted to play basketball. This is the highest honor that can ever be paid, and it’s mind-blowing.”

Barkley, Auriemma and Gavitt were first-ballot selections. Gavitt’s nomination was delayed because he had to wait two years after finishing his term chairman of the Hall of Fame board in 2003, a rule Gavitt helped craft.

Dumars played on the Detroit Pistons championship teams in 1989 and 1990, then helped the Pistons win another NBA title in 2004 as team president of basketball operations. Auriemma has already collected five national championship trophies with the Huskies and is closing in on winning his 600th career game next season.

As coach at Providence, Gavitt, a native of Westerly, R.I., had eight straight 20-win seasons. Later, he helped establish the Big East Conference, while also expanding the NCAA tournament to 64 teams and increasing network television coverage of the three-week event.

Among those that failed to get enough votes were former players Ralph Sampson and Adrian Dantley, former coaches Gene Keady and Don Nelson and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.

But those who were elected, notably Barkley and Wilkins, had a memorable impact on the game.

Wilkins’ flamboyant dunks led to the nickname “The Human Highlight Film.”

Barkley was an undersized power forward who muscled and mouthed his way into the hearts of fans.

“Rick Pitino let me know I was a superstar,” Barkley said. “We played the Knicks one night and after the game, he said Everyone talks about (Larry) Bird and Magic (Johnson) and Michael (Jordan), and everyone’s trying to put Charles with them.’ He said, He’s not knocking on the door, he’s kicking it down.’ When I woke up the next day, my confidence was through the roof and that gave me the confidence I needed.”

Off the court, Barkley was so outspoken he was sometimes called “The Mouth of the South.” He once said he shouldn’t have to be a role model for kids.

On the court, though, he was a fierce competitor best known as “The Round Mound of Rebound” and “Sir Charles.” He averaged 22.1 points and nearly 12 points in a 16-year career that included stops in Philadelphia, Phoenix and Houston. He was the league’s MVP in 1993, and he won gold at the 92 Barcelona Olympics as part of the original U.S. Dream Team.

“I think basketball has given me every single thing in life,” he said. “Hey, I’m 43 and I’ve never had a real job, and I hope I never do.”

Wilkins relied more on style points, playing at Georgia and with five NBA teams over a 17-year career, most with the Atlanta Hawks.

He was a nine-time All-Star, a two-time Slam Dunk champion and is one of three Hawks with his jersey retired. Unlike Barkley, though, Wilkins was left off the NBA’s 50th anniversary team, an omission that seems all but forgotten now.

“The 50 greatest players don’t matter when you’re in the Hall of Fame,” Wilkins said. “We all know that I was not one of the 50 greatest, I was one of the 25 greatest – in my mind.”

Dumars emerged as a key defender for the Pistons, teaming with Isiah Thomas to lead Detroit to two NBA titles. He was MVP of the 1989 Finals and was a four-time, first-team all-defense selection.

Dumars added a third championship ring in 2004 by putting together the components for another title run as Detroit’s president of basketball operations, but his memories are more about the tough battles.

“I could hear him before the game one time,” Dumars said of Barkley, laughing. “All I know is that there was a lot of talking going on early, like in the first two or three minutes.”

Auriemma has established himself as one of America’s premier women’s coaches but was surprisingly quiet after the announcement.

“For someone who spends a lot of time talking, I can’t express in words what this means,” he whispered to the crowd in a barely audible voice.

Gavitt had a different reaction. He seemed relieved with the election after hearing from friends and colleagues for years that he should be in the Hall of Fame.

It was worth the wait.

“I started preparing myself for what to do if I wasn’t elected,” he said. “So when I got that call, I was thrilled. It was very special.”

Gamba was the only inductee not in attendance. He’s coached European basketball for more than three decades, including four consecutive Italian Olympic teams from 1980-92. He earned a silver medal at the Moscow Olympics and won gold at the 1983 European Championships.

AP-ES-04-03-06 1714EDT