Hall call is simply Awesome
Goose-bumps just go through my body when I think about the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday. Just thinking of the words "Hall of Famer" next to my name keeps me awake at night.
I cannot believe it. Growing up as a youngster, chasing the dream, eventually working my way up to coaching in high school in New Jersey, to now entering with the elite honorees … it is awesome, baby, with a capital A!
I think about the phrase that was so appropriate in my life: a boy, a ball, a dream. I always wanted to compete against the best as a collegiate coach.
It has been an incredible run. I remember when I was younger, and people used the term, "you can't." People told me I didn't know the right people, I never played the game. I was lucky enough to come from a family that was about hard work and had a blue-collar mentality. They exemplified what America is all about.
My mom worked in a factory and sewed coats until she suffered a stroke. Then she continued to sew coats in our cellar, dragging her leg as she worked. She would go to St. Leo's church in Elmwood Park, N.J., dragging her leg as she walked. I used to ask my mom why she would endure that. She simply said she had to go to church.
When I lost my eye, she told me, "don't feel sorry for yourself because so many other people have it worse." She instilled in me the ability to do whatever I wanted to do, and to be whatever I wanted to be.
I learned about love, family and loyalty. I watched as my dad pressed coats in a factory. He told me that I needed to get an education so that I could do other things in life. I cannot thank my mom and dad enough for instilling in me to never use the word "can't". It will be so emotional thinking about them as I stand there on Friday night, in front of all the people who mean so much to me.
When I think about the people who will be gathered there, such as Bob Cousy, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, John Thompson and all of the coaches and players I have admired and respected for years, it will be so, so emotional. To be inducted into that club with all of those giants, it brings me to tears.
I am so honored to be part of a 2008 Hall of Fame class that has so much greatness. When you talk about Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Riley, Adrian Dantley, Cathy Rush and Bill Davidson, it is a special group. It is amazing to be included with the class being honored in Springfield, Mass.
It is ironic that Davidson, the Pistons owner and my boss, is the man who changed my life. In 1970, I was teaching the sixth grade. In seven years, my career exploded and was on a fast track to coaching in the NBA. All of a sudden, the ziggy came on Nov. 8, 1979, when Davidson came to my house and told me the Pistons made a coaching change.
Mr. Davidson really had no choice since I did not get the job done. If I had one regret, I am sorry for not living up to what was expected when he hired me. In looking back, my personality and spirit belonged on the college scene anyway. I thank Davidson for giving me a chance to try coaching on the NBA level.
Just like that, it was over, and I found out the importance of the love of my family. They stood behind me and supported me. I assure you, they have been there through good times and bad ones.
I will never forget what happened shortly after I was let go by the Pistons. I got a phone call from Scotty Connal, who gave me my first TV opportunity at a new place called ESPN. He gave me a chance to be part of this new sports network, and the relationship is in its 30th year now.
Early on in my career I was fortunate enough to be assigned with Jim Simpson. He really taught me a lot about calling the games. I also learned a lot about studio work from Bob Ley and John Saunders. They were very special to me in my career.
It blows my mind that I've been with ESPN for three decades. When you are having fun, time flies. I have been blessed and lucky.
I know my selection was a subjective one. When picked to be part of a Hall of Fame as a contributor, it is the opinion of a selection committee. I respect the views of those who did not feel I should make it. I am thrilled about those who voted for me.
I have been giving speeches for years now. They told me I have five to seven minutes at the Hall of Fame ceremony to talk about everything and everyone who has helped me. Are you serious? I can barely say hello in two minutes! I will live by the rules. I will thank my mom and dad, my beautiful wife, Lorraine, a Hall of Famer in her own right for putting up with me; she is Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird all rolled into one.
My daughters, Sherri and Terri, have bought us so many golden moments. It will be so special to have my entire family up there in Springfield. My brother, John, has been a Hall of Fame husband and father. My sister, Terri, had been a Hall of Fame mom.
I have to give thanks to Sue Lipton, Sandy Montag and the fabulous people at IMG. I have been fortunate to be with the best agency representing me. Over the years, I have also been lucky enough to be with the Washington Speakers Bureau. I cannot thank CEO Harry Rhoads enough for all he has done for me.
Thank you to all of the beautiful people at ESPN, starting with president George Bodenheimer. To all of the executives, from John Skipper to Norby Williamson, and to my current boss, Dan Steir, and my buddy Howie Schwab, who has supplied my research over the years, I truly appreciate all of your help. To the members of the public relations staff, most notably Mike Soltys and Josh Krulewitz, thank you for all you have done.
A genuine thank you to all of the play-by-play guys I have worked with, from Dan Shulman to Mike Patrick, Brad Nessler and Brent Musburger, for putting me into a comfort zone. There have been so many great people to work with in the studio, such as John Saunders, Chris Fowler, Mike Tirico and Rece Davis. All of my buddies such as Jimmy V, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis, and now Robert Montgomery Knight, who will present me at Springfield.
Think about that … the coach with the most wins in Division I college basketball history. I watched at Madison Square Garden from the third deck when Bob Knight coached Army. I listened to him speak at clinics when he was a young coach at West Point. To think he is going to walk out and present me, that is a dream come true.
Thanks to the sideline reporters I have worked with over the years, including Doris Burke and Erin Andrews most recently.
Basketball became my love, and that journey is taking me to the Hall of Fame. Thank you to all of the coaches, players and fans. To the members of the media, whether pro or con, thanks for giving me a fair shake over 30 years. It has been an incredible run.
I simply say, to each and every one of you, thank you and I love you for letting me be a part of a moment that will be so, so special. My only wish would be to have my mom and dad sitting there. They would be so proud.
Without their love, guidance and direction, there would be no Hall of Fame ceremony for yours truly.
Thank you … I love you dearly.
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