Michael Jordan was the best, no doubt about it.
That's what Charles Barkley was forced to acknowledge in 1984, when he came to the U.S. Olympic trials believing he was the best player in the nation and left realizing someone was better.
"I think it wouldn't be fair or realistic to say I thought he was going to turn out to be the greatest basketball player ever, but I knew he was good," Barkley said.
Countless others would call Jordan the best in the 25 years since.
Best on the biggest stages. Best in the clutch. Best product pitchman.
Best basketball player ever.
"Oh, yeah, and I mean I don't think it's even close," said Steve Kerr, the Phoenix Suns general manager and a former Jordan teammate.
And now Jordan takes his place alongside all the greats that came before him.
He will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on Friday, a final honor for someone who's already won everything else.
David Robinson, John Stockton, Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Rutgers women's coach C. Vivian Stringer are the other members of the Class of 2009. But the attention is largely on Jordan, the six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP and 10-time scoring champion.
Others have won more or scored more, but Jordan might top them all.
"I think you have to be realistic," Barkley said. "Michael Jordan to me is the best basketball player ever."
His entrance into the Hall is bringing unprecedented attention, forcing the enshrinement ceremonies to be moved to Springfield's Symphony Hall, with a capacity of about 2,600 that is more than double what the Hall of Fame can hold.
"Every class is special, there's no question about that, but this one seems to rise a bit above the normal class and obviously it's because of who's in the class," said John Doleva, the Hall's president and CEO.
"Not only Michael Jordan, but others that are joining him in this class. But he does bring a lot of notoriety and a lot of interest and obviously has a very broad fan base around the world, so I would say this is the biggest enshrinement we've had."
Doleva said nearly 60 Hall of Famers — more than for any induction — are returning for the festivities. He estimated there were nearly double the usual number of requests for media credentials.
Besides Jordan, those on hand will see Robinson, who helped San Antonio win two NBA titles and the United States win two Olympic gold medals; Stockton, the NBA's career leader in assists and steals who also won Olympic gold in 1992 and 1996; Sloan, Stockton's longtime coach who has won more than 1,000 games in Utah, and Stringer, the first women's coach to lead three schools to the Final Four.
It would be an elite class even without Jordan. With him, it becomes perhaps the strongest and has Springfield buzzing.
"I'm anxious to see who's there, but I've got to think there are going to be a lot of former teammates," said Kerr, who won titles with Jordan and Robinson and was travelling to Springfield on Thursday.
'We all owe Michael Jordan a lot of money'
Besides replica jerseys and rings from the championships he won playing for North Carolina, the Chicago Bulls and the U.S. Olympic team, Jordan's exhibit honours his legacy as a pitchman. There's a collection of his Air Jordans, the backbone of an endorsement empire that won the sneaker market for Nike and paved the way for today's players to make millions off the court.
"We all owe Michael Jordan a lot of money," said Barkley, who is Sloan's presenter. "There's three guys we owe a lot of money to. First there was Magic (Johnson), then (Larry) Bird. They really turned the NBA around, but Michael Jordan really took it to a whole other level. If you talk about golf, there was Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger (Woods) took it to a whole other stratosphere. And we do, we do owe Michael Jordan, and I thank him a great deal for that."
Woods, as fierce a competitor as anyone, has succeeded Jordan as perhaps the world's most recognizable athlete.
The enshrinement is Friday night followed by a ring ceremony Saturday at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Though it's largely a celebration of Jordan, he said during the election news conference in April that the Hall of Fame wasn't fun for him, "because at that time, your basketball career is completely over."
Maybe the greatest one in history.
"Michael Jordan -- unparalleled skills, ultimate competitor, consummate team player, and an assassin in clutch time," said Jack Ramsay, Hall of Fame coach and ESPN analyst.
And on Friday, a Hall of Famer.