Dreams and Memories--Some Personal Reflections on the 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement CeremonyDreams and memories--anything that is great begins with a dream and after it is over only memories remain; that is what I thought of as I watched the NBA TV telecast of the 2006 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony, which honored Geno Auriemma, Charles Barkley, Joe Dumars, Sandro Gamba, Dave Gavitt and Dominique Wilkins. Based on their comments, none of the enshrinees dreamed of making it to the Hall of Fame when their basketball careers began--but they all dreamed of creating a better future for themselves and basketball proved to be the vehicle for achieving that. They played and/or coached because they loved basketball and their great accomplishments flowed naturally out of their passion and dedication for the game.
I couldn't help but notice that each of the NBA players who were enshrined this year--Barkley, Dumars and Wilkins--mentioned how much Julius Erving inspired them and how he served as a tremendous role model not only on the court but off the court as well. Wilkins selected Erving to be his presenter, "stealing" him from Barkley, a former teammate of Erving's who otherwise would have chosen him. Barkley tapped Moses Malone and Jerry Colangelo, but made sure to mention Erving more than once in his speech. Joe Dumars logically picked his backcourt mate Isiah Thomas to present him, but cited Erving in his speech as an example of an athlete who expressed himself articulately and always conducted himself with grace and class, win or lose.
I don't know if the Hall of Fame keeps statistics for who has served most often as a presenter, but Erving could very well become the all-time leader at some point, if he isn't already. He mentioned before the ceremony that he has been honored to fill that role a few times previously and looks forward to the chance to do so again if asked. The next few years will witness the induction of NBA players who played in the 1980s and 1990s, guys who grew up watching Erving play.
Erving is a unique figure in basketball history in that he not only inspired his teammates but also players on opposing teams and players from multiple generations. Wilkins seemed almost overwhelmed with emotion when he mentioned that he admired Erving as a young player, felt thrilled to compete against him for several years and could scarcely believe that he was standing at the Hall of Fame podium with Erving presenting him. I certainly mean no disrespect to Michael Jordan, but I wonder if 10 or 15 years from now the players from the 1990s and 2000s will ask him to be their presenter the way that Wilkins, Clyde Drexler and Moses Malone (and Barkley) have asked Erving. I could be wrong, but Erving's bond to these players seems closer than ones that Jordan has forged.
Barkley was only joking about Wilkins "stealing" Erving but Wilkins (and Drexler as well) stole--or at least borrowed--the childhood dream of many people who grew up watching Dr. J's aerial acrobatics: they played in the NBA while Erving was still active, received mentoring/guidance from him, ultimately became his friend and were able to choose him as their Hall of Fame presenter.
Yet, if you would ask Erving about his impact on the game, I'm sure that he would defer credit to players who inspired and/or mentored him, such as Bill Russell and ABA teammates Adrian Smith and Fatty Taylor, plus his high school and collegiate coaches.
Watching some of Wilkins' highlights and hearing him talk about how he tried to emulate Erving, I reflected back on how much Erving has shaped my dreams and memories as well. His grace and skill inspired my life long love for playing basketball and served as the muse for some fine basketball writing by Pete Axthelm, Marty Bell, Tom Callahan, Frank DeFord, Tony Kornheiser, Dick Schaap, Diane K. Shah and many others. In turn, their colorful word pictures of his play fueled my desire to similarly capture the essence and spirit of basketball's greatest players. When Callahan wrote in Time Magazine of Erving's farewell "victory tour," he said that Erving was both "savoring" the last moments of his career and "being savored" by the fans around the country. He traced the arc of Erving's career from ABA obscurity to NBA fame to status as an all-time legend. I first saw the article in a dentist's office, of all places, but I made sure that I went to the library so that I could photocopy that story--I still have it to this day, along with an earlier Callahan piece for Time which described Julius Erving and Larry Bird as the two "sublime" forwards in the game and a host of works by the authors listed above. You can find these two great Callahan articles in Time's online archive:
Dr. J is Flying Away
The Best the Game Offers
I don't know if it is really true that some Indian tribes don't like to be photographed because they believe that the camera can capture their souls but I do know that a well crafted piece about a basketball player can make those who saw him play respond, "Yes, that is just how I remember him" and can create an indelible image in the minds of those who never saw him play.
My own version of the Drexler/Wilkins enshrinement moments came when I had the opportunity to interview Erving for an article about the 1971 and 1972 ABA-NBA All-Star Games. Later, I met Erving in person at the 2005 All-Star Weekend in Denver and also had a chance to see him interact with the public. If Hall of Famers like Drexler and Wilkins are enthralled with Erving, you can bet that Erving has long since lost count of the people he has met who tell him how much he has entertained and inspired them, but he responds warmly to such praise, without evincing either a trace of boredom at having heard it all before or the arrogance that is displayed by individuals who have accomplished a lot less and are much less worthy of adulation.
A life's journey begins with a dream. Whether it leads to the heights of the Hall of Fame or concludes at a more modest level, when it is over, only the memories remain--but those memories can inspire future dreams, so the circle continues unbroken.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:19 AM