Emotions rise for stellar Class of 2010
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- They say you never want to see a grown man cry.
After being at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday night, I take issue with that statement.
Tears of joy are quite the thing to behold, and those were real ones dripping from Karl Malone's eyes and real ones welling up behind Scottie Pippen's eyelids as they received the ultimate honor their profession can bestow, enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
"Charles, I lost the bet," Malone called out to former Dream Teammate Charles Barkley, having a laugh at his own expense as the tears kept welling up and finally burst forth -- first at the beginning of his speech, and then again at the end when he remembered his mother on the seventh anniversary of her death.
"It wasn't about me," Malone said. "It was always about trying to do something to make everyone proud."
As much as Malone and Pippen highlighted the ceremony, being inducted both alone and then together as part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team, the night belonged to a whole bunch of other people, too. It would be disrespectful to them and a disservice to you, the reader, to exclude them from this column, so I'll take you through the night just as it unfolded, from Pippen being inducted first to the Dream Team going in last, including everyone else who was honored in between.
He was the first inductee of the night, and he was tripping and stumbling over his words as he began, a combination of nerves and those watery eyes getting the best of him. But Pippen quickly gained his composure, reminded everyone that playing with the best not only meant playing alongside Michael Jordan, but also under Phil Jackson. And at the close of his speech, Pippen said "It has been a great ride" before pausing for a few seconds, his eyes down, his head slightly bowed, catching the audience somewhat off-guard with his silence. "For all this I say thank God, and thank you."
The five-time All-Star was inducted posthumously, 23 years after his death at age 48, and his brother Marty spoke on his behalf and told everyone that Gus, who played 10 years in the NBA with Baltimore and Phoenix and won an ABA championship with the Indiana Pacers, was still playing ball nearly every day right up until the moment he died.
1960 U.S. Olympic Team
Jerry West told the crowd that the most thrilling moment of his life was standing atop the medal podium alongside co-captain Oscar Robertson as the Star-Spangled banner was played, making it worth the while after a summer spent living on a $20 per diem and in dorm rooms in which the temperature was "200 degrees." In a video tribute that included rare color footage, Adrian Smith recalled how the U.S. team cut down the nets after the game. "I don't know if they'd ever seen anything like that in Rome before," Smith said.
Maciel "Ubiratan" Pereira
He was known as "the King" in his homeland long before anyone had ever heard of a certain latter-day king from Akron/Miami, or, for that matter, before anyone in Brazil had ever heard of Oscar Schmidt. "He was the one everyone wanted to go to the gym and see," said Anderson Varejao, who spoke along with Leandro Barbosa in a videotaped tribute to the deceased three-time Olympian who also won a gold medal at the 1963 World Championship.
The Mailman wore a tuxedo for his induction, and the dark handkerchief that came with it did not stay in his breast pocket. He spoke of his love for hunting and his rural upbringing, making a distinction between Louisiana and northern Louisiana to emphasize how "country" he was. Known as much for his tireless work ethic as he was for being the most dominant power forward of his era, he was the most emotional recipient of the night. "I always tried to do it the right way -- try to live life the way you want to be remembered."
This was the first time I had ever heard him speak when he wasn't holding a championship trophy on a podium after one of his Lakers teams had won a title, and his best line was pointing out that he was one of the few people in the room who at age 21 (as he was finishing his undergraduate degree at Wyoming) had absolutely zero inkling that he'd one day be a Hall of Famer. The Celtics fans in the building (and there were many) were jealous of his closing statement: "I added a little Spanish by getting a future Hall of Famer, and voila, another two championships. Life is good. Life is sweet."
The head coach at St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, N.J., for the past 38 years became just the third high school coach inducted into the Hall. His speech produced the most startling statistic of the night -- only two of his players, in all those 38 years of coaching, had failed to go on to college from the small, 300-student Catholic school that has won 25 state parochial championships under his leadership.
As mentioned above, there were quite a few Celtics fans in the building. And they let their cheers be heard when highlights were shown of Johnson helping the Celtics seal both the 1985 NBA championship, with a 21-foot jumper late in Game 7 at the old L.A. Forum, and the 1987 Eastern Conference title by converting a layup off a pass from Larry Bird after Bird stole Isiah Thomas' late inbounds pass. His brother, Gary, accepted on behalf of Johnson, who died in 2007, and gave thanks to Barkley for repeatedly saying on TNT over the past several years that it was "shameful" that Johnson was not yet in the Hall.
No tears came out of this proud woman's eyes, but there was one sentence spoken in Italian to a former teammate she played with before the inception of the WNBA. "I wanted to play in front of my mom, my friends and American fans, and I wanted to hear people cheer in English," said the four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets and current head coach at UNC-Wilmington. She threw a special shout-out to her deceased mom, whom she said was watching in heaven with Jesus. "And it's in HD. That's how God does it."
The Dream Team
Magic Johnson gave another shout-out heavenward, saying there was a guy upstairs wearing a three-piece suit with his hair impeccably styled by the name of Chuck Daly who was watching that HD broadcast, too. Johnson reminded Christian Laettner what happened on the first day of practice, when Barkley slammed him to the floor with exceptional force, stood over him and said, "Welcome to the NBA." Bird then took the microphone and recounted what he had learned from spending a few hours with the members of the 1960 team, saying the '92 team was probably the lesser of the two because the Dream Teamers didn't have to endure horse-and-buggy rides across the country, followed by a 3,000-mile march to the coliseum in Rome.