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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Thoughts and Observations About the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

In my article Maurice Cheeks, Charlie Scott and Rod Thorn Are Among the Basketball Hall of Fame's Newest Members, I focused on three of the 13 members of the Basketball Hall of Fame's 2018 class. Last night, those men and their classmates were officially enshrined.

Grant Hill was enshrined first. He and 2018 Hall of Fame classmate Jason Kidd will forever be linked not only as co-Rookies of the Year in 1995 but also as unselfish, all-around players who focused first and foremost on team success. Hill alluded to his tendency to be verbose and joked that his wife had urged him to remember the "Five Bs: Be brief, brother, be brief." Turning serious, Hill said that he "fell in love with the game of basketball" by watching Patrick Ewing dominate in both college and the NBA. Hill called Ewing his "basketball hero." Ewing and Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski were Hill's two presenters. Hill thanked Coach Krzyzewski for providing the "blueprint" for success. Next, Hill mentioned Isiah Thomas. Hill seemed uncertain whether or not Thomas was in attendance (perhaps that is why he did not choose Thomas as a presenter as well) but as soon as Hill realized that Thomas was in the building he called him up to the stage and embraced Thomas, who he called a "hero, a friend and an advocate for me." Hill thanked Alonzo Mourning for providing the inspiration for how to come back from health problems/injuries. Hill became emotional when he thanked his parents for how they raised him and when he acknowledged his two daughters and his wife. Hill asked his wife if his speech had been short enough and he promised that the other enshrinees' speeches would be shorter.

Rod Thorn spoke next. He was presented by Jerry West. Thorn thanked the Hall of Fame and Jerry Colangelo in particular. Thorn singled out three Hall of Famers who had a special impact on him:  Bob ("Slick") Leonard, Richie Guerin and Lenny Wilkens.

Younger fans may not remember or know that Thorn was a collegiate star at West Virginia who was selected by the Baltimore Bullets with the second overall pick in the 1963 NBA Draft. Thorn played eight seasons in the NBA before becoming a coach, general manager and league executive. After injuries forced him to retire from playing, Thorn considered going to law school before Kevin Loughery offered him a job as an assistant coach with the New York Nets in the ABA. Thorn recalled, "I knew in my heart I wasn't ready to let the game go."

Thorn said that since his career started as a player he wanted to mention three players "who all had a profound impact on my life": Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Jason Kidd. Thorn said of Erving, "In 1974, my first season with the Nets, we won the league championship, sparked by the incomparable Julius Erving, who led the team in nearly every statistical category. Night after night, he would perform such incredible athletic feats that would have Kevin and I looking at each other and exclaiming, 'I cannot believe he just did that.' As great as Doc was as a player, he was equally good as a teammate. Thank you Doc for proving that superheroes can be humans, too."

These comments reinforce what Thorn told me over a decade ago about Erving: "I think that he was the best teammate of all the players I've been involved with in 40-plus years of NBA basketball. He was our leading scorer, our leading rebounder, our leading shot blocker, our leading assist guy--you name it, he led our team in it, plus he was the leader of our team. He guarded the best forward every night, whether it was a small forward or a big forward. He took most of the big shots. Not only was he a great player, but more importantly he was a great teammate. He had great lateral quickness and he was a tremendous jumper. He was a tough guy--that is one thing that is not talked about that much when you talk about Julius, because of his great athleticism, but he was a tough guy. I mean he would physically get after guys and play hard. He took a challenge. He played 43-44 minutes a game for us and guarded the best guy on the other team every night and was our leading scorer, so the energy that he expended during a game was much more than the average player did. It was just phenomenal what he did."

As the Chicago Bulls' general manager, Thorn drafted Michael Jordan. Thorn joked that without Jordan he would not have a Wikipedia page and he would not have people sending him items to autograph asking for his signature and "by the way" asking for Jordan's signature as well.

Thorn won the 2002 NBA Executive of the Year Award after acquiring Kidd and building the Nets into a championship contender. Thorn recalled that when he rejoined the Nets, "The team had challenges defending, rebounding and passing, which as you know are the ingredients of a 26 win season." After trading for Kidd, Thorn's Nets won 52 games, one of the best one season turnarounds in league history.

Maurice Cheeks followed Thorn. In the video tribute before Cheeks spoke, Erving said, "He had a very, very high basketball IQ. He was a champion, he was an All-Star and I loved playing with him." Erving and Billy Cunningham presented Cheeks. Cheeks is known as a quiet man of few words but he gave the most emotionally gripping speech of the evening. He opened by saying, "This is amazing and Grant, you're right, this will be short." Cheeks credited his experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago for teaching him to look out for others as others had looked out for him. He said, "My life has been a string of small moments that led to amazing experiences." Cheeks mentioned his high school teammate William Dise, who was a highly recruited player who signed with West Texas State on condition that the school also sign Cheeks, a skinny and lightly recruited prospect. Cheeks said that his career would have gone much differently if not for Dise.

Cheeks thanked Coach Cunningham and said that he was the kind of coach that you never wanted to let down. Cheeks praised Erving for teaching him how to be a pro and Cheeks also thanked his veteran teammates Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones, and Henry Bibby. Cheeks said, "Over the years I have had many reasons to thank the Lord and two of them are my beautiful kids...I'm proud to be your dad and I love you both." Cheeks thanked his three brothers, one of whom was murdered in 1991. Cheeks started to get emotional at that point and mentioned that Charles Barkley told him not to cry but Cheeks broke down when he talked about "my very first coach, Mama Cheeks" and all that she did for him and their family--including calling out Maurice's name and his brothers' names so that they would come inside when it got dark. Mama Cheeks attended the ceremony and she looked very proud. As Cheeks wept, Erving walked over, gently grabbed his shoulders and said softly, "Come on Mo, you can do it," lending a helping hand much like Cheeks had lent a helping hand to National Anthem singer Natalie Gilbert years ago. I felt as a kid that the 76ers were a special team with special people and moments like this just confirm that. I am so blessed to have watched that team and then to have had the opportunity to interview Erving, Cunningham, Jones and Pat Williams. Cheeks concluded by thanking the Hall of Fame for "thinking enough of my contributions to the sport to select me for such an honor. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my 40 years in the NBA and my 62nd birthday (on Saturday). Thank you and God bless."

Later in the program, Charlie Scott was presented by Jerry Colangelo, Dave Cowens, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood and Roy Williams. During the video tribute to Scott, Erving noted, "He broke the color barrier very much like Jackie Robinson did (in baseball), except it was getting a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina and integrating the school. Charlie Scott was a monster on the basketball court. He could score inside, he could score outside."

Scott began by explaining how he selected his presenters. He said that they were each friends of his for over 40 years. Scott joked that his wife said if they have known him for 40 years and still speak to him then they all deserve to be on the stage with him. "This is an honor that I always dreamed of but could never imagine happening," Scott declared. He called Dean Smith "My mentor and the person who I admire the most in my life." Scott thanked his North Carolina teammates, including Larry Miller, for standing beside him during the sometimes difficult racial integration process. He individually thanked each of his presenters. Regarding Erving and Cowens, the never hesitant to shoot Scott quipped that he helped each of them become great rebounders.

Scott concluded by thanking his wife and children. He said that he once asked a friend to describe him honestly, good and bad. Scott asked his family to raise their hands if they disagreed with this characterization: "People sometimes might take your aloofness as arrogance. You can become very demanding in getting your way. You don't know when to let things go. You never give compliments. You think you're always right....The shocker was his next sentence: Let me tell you about your bad points!" Scott paused after each point and noted that no one in his family raised their hands. He laughed and said, "This was the individual you had to deal with. Your unconditional love and understanding have been my North Star."

In 2015, I wondered if Julius Erving had been a Hall of Fame presenter more than anyone else. At that time, Erving had been selected as a presenter nine times. Now, including last night, he has been a presenter 13 times:

1995: Presented Cheryl Miller
1996-2000: None
2001: Presented Moses Malone
2002-2003: None
2004: Presented Clyde Drexler
2005: None
2006: Presented Dominique Wilkins
2007-2010: None
2011: Presented Artis Gilmore
2012: Presented Katrina McClain, Ralph Sampson and the All-American Red Heads
2013-2014: None
2015: Presented John Calipari
2016: Presented Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal
2017: None
2018: Presented Maurice Cheeks and Charlie Scott

That list of names spans multiple generations and includes teammates, opponents and players who grew up idolizing Erving. What a tribute to Erving's deep and continuing impact on the sport!

There is a lot of depth to Ray Allen beyond his basketball accomplishments. When you read his words or listen to him speak you understand that he is a remarkable person, not just a great basketball player. Allen spoke repeatedly of the dedication, discipline, perfectionism and sacrifice that it takes to become a great individual player and to become a two-time NBA champion. Those words resonate and are true but what resonated the most is when he talked about his children. Allen was the only enshrinee who talked to/about each of his children specifically and described why each child is so special to him. Allen emphatically declared, "All of you kids are my greatest legacy. I learned in life that our kids pay attention to everything we do, everything we say and everything we don't say and everything we don't do. So I have to be an example to these young people at all times and we got to make sure that we are an example to the kids in our lives at all times, because we do set the tone and the example in all of our communities."

Allen also said, "I don't believe in talent. I'm here because I worked hard my whole life. Without that work, no one in this room would know who I am except my family. So to all the kids around the world watching, paying attention and aspiring to be like us or even on this stage, put the work in and watch the magical ride you go on."

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:15 PM

2 comments

2 Comments:

At Monday, September 10, 2018 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Steve Nash doesn't rate a mention?!

 
At Monday, September 10, 2018 11:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Initially, I planned to just write about Cheeks, Scott and Thorn--three members of this year's class who I feel have been overshadowed by the media "headliners"--and then I expanded the focus a bit to include a few others but I decided, for a variety of reasons, not to discuss each member of the Hall's largest class ever. Nash will of course be discussed in my ongoing 50 Greatest Players series, but I am not sure when the next article in that series will be posted.

 

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