But Wilkins' induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night was vindication for his entire game, not just his ability for acrobatic dunks.

"It's funny to have people introduce me and the first highlight you see is me dunking," Wilkins said. "I tell people, dunking was just a small part of it. Dunking was just an intimidating tool I used to put fear in people. I had a much-more rounded game than just dunking. To get 26,000 points, you don't get them all on dunks."

Wilkins, who played 15 years in the NBA including his first 11 with the Atlanta Hawks before retiring in 1999, scored 26,668 career points on a variety of drives, finger rolls, and spin moves.

"Once I started dunking in the league I knew it would stick," Wilkins said. "When you're that kind of high-wire act, that's all people see. But if you look at the record, I lead the (Hawks) franchise in steals so I played both ends of the floor. I still hold the NBA record for most free throws in a game without a miss (23). All the things I did come from hard and committing myself year after year to do something different to keep my opponents off balance."

Wilkins, who played collegiately at Georgia, was a nine-time NBA All-Star and led the league in scoring 1985-86 at 30.3 points per game. In 1988, he was involved in one of the most memorable duels in NBA playoff history.

It was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Boston Garden as Wilkins and the Hawks took on Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Celtics led by two entering the fourth quarter when Wilkins went off, scoring 16 of his game-high 47 points. But Bird answered every time, scoring 20 (on 9-for-10 shooting) of his 34 points as Boston held on for a 118-116 win. The Celtics would eventually fall to the Lakers in the Finals.

"If we had won that Game 7, we would have won the championship," Wilkins said. "We were playing great basketball. The Celtics had a great team. You had two teams that wanted it. We blew our chance in the sixth game and I knew in Game 7 that Bird would try to do something out of the ordinary to win for them. It came in the fourth quarter.

"And I'm still mad at (Hawks teammate) Kevin Willis to this day. We were running down the court and Kevin reached across me and put his finger in Bird's chest and said to me, 'Don't let this son of a gun score anymore tonight.' I looked at Kevin and thought, 'What are you doing? You don't get Larry Bird upset.' You had two guys that refused to lose that night. Afterwards Larry said to me that we both deserved to win but one of us had to go home."

"I played 110 percent every night," Wilkins said. "I never made excuses. I never not played because I was hurt. I made sure opponents that played in our building and played the Hawks knew they were in for a fight that night and they'd have to bring their A game because I refused to accept defeat. I hope I'm known for my hard work, dedication, and respect for the game."

* After noting Geno Auriemma's introduction included that the UConn coach would win his 600th game next season (he has 589), Barkley said, "He might have a sorry team and not get to 600."

* While acknowledging Wilkins' election in his second year as a finalist, Barkley said, "He must have had a helluva year to get in this year and not the first time."

* While pointing out his family had come here from his hometown of Leeds, Ala., for the ceremony, Barkley said, "Everyone's here, so don't steal all my family's stuff. It's the only big house in town, so don't steal all our crap while we're here."

Barkley saved some of his best barbs for the USA Basketball team that recently finished third in the FIBA World Championships. Barkley, a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, was asked what the Americans had to do to get back on top.

"They've got to play better, first and foremost," Barkley said. "I was very disappointed. You guys (in the media) make excuses for them. They don't have outside shooters? Then don't shoot from outside. They don't have enough time together? We've never had a lot of time together. They play international rules? We've always played international rules. Stop making excuses and play better.

"We've got the most talent. We've got the right players - LeBron (James), Carmelo (Anthony), Dwayne Wade. No other team has that many talented players. It's simple, play better."

Joe Dumars was presented for induction Friday night by Isiah Thomas, his running mate in the backcourt back in their days with the Detroit Pistons.

Dumars, who now serves as president of basketball operations for the Pistons, has been keeping a close eye on Detroit's WNBA team while here. The Shock takes on defending champion Sacramento today in the fifth and deciding game of the Finals.

"They're the two best teams for sure," Dumars said. "The best thing about it? Both teams act like they're the best team. It should come down to the final game."

Dumars smiled when asked about some of the friction that has come up between Shock forward and former UConn All-American Swin Cash and her coach Bill Laimbeer, an ex-teammate of Dumars.

"She's a professional athlete and that stuff happens," Dumars said. "It's not a big deal. It's an everyday occurrence. It happens and you move on.

"Swin's a great girl and a great competitor. She represents herself, the Shock, UConn, everything, very well. I've talked to Geno about her here. She's special and the people here should be very proud of her."

Dave Gavitt was just 41 years old when he gave coaching at Providence College in 1979. He had a record of 209-84 in 10 seasons and led the Friars to the 1973 Final Four in St. Louis.

"In some ways I regret it," Gavitt said. "Once a coach, always a coach. But in my case I didn't have to go cold turkey. It's not like I stopped coaching and had to sell insurance. I stayed in the game."

Gavitt, who was the 1980 Olympic coach (the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games), is the founding father of the Big East. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a contributor and was presented Friday night by a foursome of coaches from the Big East - UConn's Jim Calhoun, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, ex-St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, and ex-Georgetown coach John Thompson.

"I did give up coaching at a far younger age than I wanted," Gavitt said. "I did so because I had a young family and I felt I needed to be there for them and be at wife's side more. Professionally, I was committed to putting the Big East together. It was my idea, my concept. I knew I couldn't convince people like Looie Carnesecca and John Thompson to be a part of it while competing against them."

Alessandro Gamba admits his English isn't that great. But the veteran coach of Italy's national and Olympic teams (1979-1992) had a small comfort zone as he could carry on a conversation with Auriemma.

"Greece has a great tradition and many times they've played well in the Olympics and European championships," said Gamba, who was presented by Carnesecca. "What I think the Americans must do is scout the style of each team. They usually scout the individual - are they a left, or a good leaper, or quick. It's important to know the quality and style of each team."

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