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All-amateur 1960 U.S. Olympic team joins basketball's elite

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Al Kelley retired in 1999 after a 45-year career in parts distribution with Caterpillar, Inc., the world-famous manufacturer of construction equipment. He is 77 years old, stands 5-foot-11 and looks more like your weekend poker buddy than an accomplished basketball player.

But Kelley is proof that appearances -- and resumes -- can be deceiving.

Friday morning, Kelley stood at Center Court in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, pulled on his official blazer and posed for pictures along with Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, David Robinson, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and other members of the Class of 2010. Friday night, during enshrinement ceremonies, Kelley and his teammates on the 1960 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team became Hall of Famers.

Never mind the fact that Kelley didn't play a day of professional basketball. He helped Kansas win the NCAA championship in 1952, was a star in the old National Industrial Basketball League, saw his Olympic dream come true in Rome, and is walking with the game's giants during this week's Hall of Fame festivities.

"This is the highlight of your life, to be with a group like this," Kelley said, surrounded not only by his 1960 teammates but also by the 1992 Olympic team known the Dream Team. "[Playing in the Olympics] was more than a basketball game, it was a representation of America, our way of life, our economic system and the fact we have our comfort.

"There's nothing like getting a gold medal and hearing the national anthem. I'm still reminded of it today when I go to a game at the University of Kansas and you hear the Star Spangled Banner. It's a passion for your country that really sticks with you every day of your life."

Led by Robertson, West, Jerry Lucas and a total of 10 players who went on to play in the NBA, that 1960 team won its games by an average margin of 42.4 points.

But those Olympics were played at time of civil unrest in the U.S., a space race and the brewing Cold War with the Soviet Union. Kelley, who saw limited time in Rome and scored only four points, said the tension between the two countries could be felt on the floor when the U.S. defeated the Soviets, 81-57. West spoke about his pride in a team accomplishment, by a team that was "truly amateur."

Fifty years ago, the Olympic team was a collection of college All-Stars and the top players from corporately sponsored amateur teams in the NIBL. That's where Kelley got his chance, as a guard for coach Warren Womble's Peoria Caterpillars, one of the ruling amateur teams from 1945-60.

Basketball was a different world too.

"It was a lot different then because the AAU controlled everything," Robertson said. "Now there are no amateurs anymore in anything."

The college All-Stars' domination of the amateur teams that year brought an end to the AAU's rule of the selection process, which began when basketball was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1936. Kelley, inspired by his older brother, Dean, who also played at Kansas and won Olympic gold in 1952, was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1954 -- but pay was low and there were no benefits.

"I've still got the letter and the offer was $5,000," Kelley said. "I think they wanted me to pay my way out there and then I had to make the team. I decided Caterpillar was more stability, so I went to Peoria and visited there. AAU was the place to be.

"But you went to work every day and we practiced after work. When we were gone on [game] trips, somebody had to cover your job. Your salary was based on your job, and you were reviewed every year by your boss -- basketball had nothing to do with it."

In Springfield, Kelley had a chance to renew his friendship with 1960 teammate Bob Boozer. The two laugh and joke. Even though Boozer starred at Kansas State and went on to an 11-year NBA career, they spent a year together on the Peoria Cats before the Olympics.

"I delayed going into the NBA for one year in order to tryout [for the Olympic team]," Boozer said. "There was no guarantee. I'd always wanted to play in the Olympics, from the time I was a little guy in Omaha. And I made up my mind it was only going around my way one time. I was going to do whatever I could in order to obtain that goal."

Charles Barkley, who spoke for the Dream Team at the morning press conference, said the 1992 players -- members of the first pro Olympic basketball team -- were enjoying "hanging out" with the 1960 team.

"There has been some serious, serious trash talking going on," Barkley said.

Boozer, a 6-8 forward, averaged 6.8 points for the 1960 team that defeated Brazil 90-63 for the gold medal.

"It probably would have been an interesting match up [with the 1992 team], if we had an opportunity at our prime," Boozer said. "But they were awful big. I think that would have been somewhat of a decisive factor."

Kelley played in five of the eight Olympic games. He also got the opportunity to go against Robertson and West in practice. Robertson gave Boozer, Kelley and all his teammates credit, for supplying a strong bench and perfectly running drills in practice.

For a humble guy like Allen, it was enough that he got to fulfill his Olympic dream. He never had any idea his ticket would get punched all the way to the Hall of Fame.

"As a player, you didn't have to play long with Oscar and Jerry West to know they had great ability," Kelley said. "There wasn't any dissension on the team because the best players were playing. The college boys were good. They beat us in the Olympic tournament.

"Players know who the best players are. So it was kind of nice to have a front-row seat and just watch the boys perform."