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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hall of Fame Words of Wisdom, Part I

How do you summarize a lifetime of work, struggle and sacrifice in just a few short minutes? Each of the 2008 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees faced that challenge on Friday night. Here are some words of wisdom by--and about--people who reached the pinnacle of success:

Adrian Dantley

During the video recap of Dantley's career, Morgan Wootten--Dantley's high school coach and a Hall of Famer in his own right--praised Dantley's work ethic, noting that Dantley "began the weight (lifting) program at DeMatha High School...I knew he was really special when on Christmas Day there was a knock on my front door and it was Adrian. He said, 'Coach, I need the key to the gym. I got to work out.'"

Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who coached Dantley in Detroit, noted that Dantley's ability to draw fouls enabled the Pistons to slow the game down and set up their stifling half court defense. Of course, a player who draws fouls also creates foul trouble for the opponents and provides scoring opportunities for his teammates by getting the opponent into the penalty situation.

Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, Dantley's teammate on the Detroit Pistons from 1986-89, spoke in almost reverential terms about Dantley: "I think he was the most disciplined player I've ever been around in my life--did not deviate from his rituals, from his preparation, from what he ate, from what he drank, from what time he went to bed...I was a young, young guy in the league. He was truly a teacher for me personally. I was as close to him as I have been with any teammate I ever had."

The Pistons traded Dantley midway through what turned out to be the first of back to back championship seasons but Dumars insists that Dantley played a vital role in Detroit's success: "I think that every guy you would talk to from those teams back then would tell you that he helped prepare us to be World Champions with his focus, with his preparation, with his professionalism, with his discipline. Those are all things that you need to become a World Champion and he embodied all of those things. He was around us, he showed those things day in and day out and other guys picked up on it. By the time we went on to win a World Championship he had ingrained those things into our team."

Dantley began his speech by noting that he and fellow inductee Cathy Rush have something in common: "We waited and waited and waited" to receive the Hall of Fame call. He then said, "My entire basketball career has been based on my coach, Morgan Wootten. He taught me the fundamentals of the game, respect for the game and the right way to play the game."

Dantley identified some early influences on his game: "I patterned my first step after my idol, Elgin Baylor. I copied Chet Walker's head and pump fakes and everybody always went for them; I scored a lot of points on that move. I remember as a ninth grader meeting Red Auerbach. He said, 'John Havlicek weighs 205. You should weigh 210.' My best years as a player (were) when I weighed 210 pounds."

Dantley concluded, "The road to the Hall of Fame has not been easy or smooth. I had to remain focused through the changes and the trades while constantly proving that I belong in this game. But I believed in myself...Throughout my playing career, the critics said that I was too short, too fat and too slow. After being named the MVP at the prestigious Dapper Dan (Roundball Classic), I was told that I was too short and that meant that short players get short money--and this was said by someone 5-2. It was even said that I was a 'bastard' size--b-a-s-t-a-r-d--because I wasn't quick enough to play in the backcourt and not big enough to play in the frontcourt. But what they forgot to mention is that I had a b-r-a-i-n, a brain--and a heart and a work ethic and a will to win. These values served me on the basketball court and in the game of life...This is a day that I will always cherish."

Cathy Rush

Host Mike Breen noted, "Cathy Rush turned a small school named Immaculata into a national powerhouse." Rush compiled a 149-15 (.908) record at Immaculata, winning three straight AIAW national championships (1972-74). Immaculata barely had an enrollment of 500 students and yet prevailed against the biggest powers in women's basketball. Hall of Fame Coach Geno Auriemma compared this to "your local community college beating the Lakers."

Rush also ran summer camps that were the place to be for young female basketball players during that era. Rush's Immaculata players coached at the camps, spreading Rush's knowledge to the next generation. Theresa Grentz, an Immaculata player who became the all-time winningest coach at Illinois, said, "The (Immaculata) players were able to go to the summer camps and teach what we learned all year. Doing that, we became better players and I think that is one of the reasons that so many of us went into coaching afterwards."

Rush opened her remarks by joking, "Adrian, you wrecked the beginning of my speech," adding that Dantley made it in on the seventh try as a finalist while she made it in on the sixth try. She said, "I haven't coached for 31 years. Sometimes, when my sons aren't around, I don't admit to being that old--31 years and yet all of these wonderful people are bringing back memories from those wonderful years, and they were wonderful. So my line, before Adrian stole it, was, 'In so many ways we are the same and yet in so many ways we are so different.'"

When Rush started coaching at Immaculata, the school had no home gym, the players had one set of uniforms that they wore all year and they were responsible for finding their own transportation to the games--which of course were all played on the road. In 1972, Immaculata did not have enough money to send the entire team to the national tournament, so three of the 11 players did not make the trip. Rush recalled, "The team we beat in the national tournament had beaten us the week before by 42 points. People asked, 'How did you win that game?' Coaching." Rush paused for a beat before continuing with a smile, "They didn't ask how we lost the first one by 42 points."

Rush said, "I accept this honor, really, for all of the women who coached and played so many years ago and have been forgotten, whose scores and skill have never been brought to the fore but they played for the love of the game."

William Davidson

Davidson is the first pro sports owner to win championships in three different leagues--NBA (Pistons), WNBA (Shock) and NHL (Lightning)-- but Breen declared, "His impact can be measured not just by championship banners but by the contributions he's made to his sport and the admiration he's earned throughout the basketball world."

NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "Bill Davidson has been a successful owner because he believes in hiring the right people and then having them do the job that they were hired to do."

Pistons CEO Tom Wilson made a very interesting observation: "A lot of people say that you are great if you give your employees an opportunity to succeed but more importantly he gives you the ability to fail without second guessing because he knows that if you are the right person--they person he's picked out for the job--then you will learn from this and be better for it."

Stern added, "The Palace at Auburn Hills was really a pioneer. It said that you can have this great building, you can have plenty of suites, you can have great seating and it's a worthy investment. Really, it began a 25 year run that is going to have resulted in every (NBA) building being rebuilt or remodeled."

Daly said, "Ultimately he made all the changes necessary to win championships. I won two and Larry Brown won one. That's pretty good."

Dumars said, "When someone is a trail blazer, an innovator, a risk taker, that person should be recognized. If any owner deserves to be in there, it's this guy here, Bill Davidson."

Davidson came on to the stage in a wheelchair but he spoke without notes and with a strong, clear voice: "I want to first thank the Hall for this great honor and what it means to me. It is one of the things that kind of captivates my life. When I listened to Senator McCain's speech last night, one of the things that stood out was the fact that he started out as a brash young man and then realized when he had his experience in Vietnam that he had to have people help him. As you grow older, your ego doesn't disappear but it retreats and what you really want as you begin to hit your 60s and 70s is to help other people."

Davidson recalled that when he bought the Pistons in 1974 the leadership of the NBA was too passive and that he felt that a stronger, more aggressive stance was necessary in order for the league to grow. This did not take place until Stern became the league's legal counsel and then its commissioner. Now, Davidson, said with pride, the NBA is an internationally known brand name in a way that very few organizations can truly claim to be.

Part II will discuss Hakeem Olajuwon, Dick Vitale, Patrick Ewing and Pat Riley.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:17 AM

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