By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Sep 14 2009 11:23AM
SPRINGFIELD, MASS. -- The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony is an annual event, and it always elicits a pilgrimage of the basketball community to this small city in southwest Massachusetts.
But the event has never had, and probably never will have, the buzz that this year's ceremony did. The enshrinement of Michael Jordan brought more people, more attention and more buzz than Springfield or the Hall of Fame has ever seen. A night which usually doesn't see much fanfare beyond the world of basketball turned into something more like the Academy Awards.
That should be no surprise, because Jordan's presence has had that effect since his days in Chapel Hill. Whether or not you agree that Jordan was the greatest player in history, you can't deny that there has never been a player who has influenced more aspiring players around the world than he has.
On the court, he was the ultimate combination of talent and competitiveness, the ultimate showman and the ultimate winner. Off the court, he was the ultimate spokesman and marketer of the game. To this day, Jordan's highlights elicit an emotional response, and they drew oohs and ahs from the Symphony Hall crowd before he was introduced.
As it was with his career, competitiveness was the theme of Jordan's acceptance speech. He named each and every person who added "another log on that fire," starting with his parents and siblings. He talked about Leroy Smith, who infamously beat out Jordan for the last spot on the Laney High School varsity team when they were sophomores and was in attendance on Friday.
He mentioned Buzz Peterson, who was named North Carolina's Mr. Basketball their senior year in high school, inspiring Jordan to outplay him when they both arrived at the University of Chapel Hill. He even called out Dean Smith for keeping him off the cover of Sports Illustrated as a freshman. "That burned me up!" Jordan exclaimed.
Moving on to his pro career, Jordan thanked his first coach with the Bulls, Kevin Loughery, for switching him to the losing team in scrimmages and making him work harder to win and avoid extra sprints. He chastised Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf for trying to keep his minutes limited as he returned from a broken foot in his second season, and he made sure to reassert to general manager Jerry Krause that players, not organizations, win championships.
From the players who may or may not have participated in the alleged "freeze out" episode of the 1985 All-Star Game to opposing coaches like Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, Jordan didn't leave anyone out.
"You look for any kind of message to get you motivated to play the game of basketball at the highest level," he said.
Jordan saved his final "thank you" for the guy he burned on the final offensive play of his Bulls career (and neither Jordan nor the Hall seemed to acknowledge his two seasons with the Wizards), Byron Russell.
Russell and Jordan ran into each other in the time that Jordan was retired for the first time, playing baseball in the minor leagues. Russell, for some reason, told Jordan that he could stop him. "Believe me, ever since that day, he got his chance," Jordan said.
"If I ever see him in shorts, I'm coming back."
Competitive when he played and competitive in accepting his place in the Hall, the 46-year-old Jordan finished his speech with more thoughts of a comeback.
"I don't look at this moment as the defining end to me and the game of basketball," he said. "This is simply a continuation of something I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. Don't laugh. Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion."
While Jordan didn't hesitate to call out those who motivated him, there's one word to describe the rest of his Hall of Fame class, and "class" is it.
David Robinson, who has much of an impact on the city of San Antonio with his philanthropic acts as he had on the Spurs franchise with his talent, showed that he is a true family man by thanking his wife and children with words than brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd.
C. Vivian Stringer and John Stockton remain soft-spoken and forever humble. And when Jerry Sloan recounted every step of his basketball career, he said getting drafted to the NBA was "due to our success as a team [at Evansville University]."
All five enshrines made it a memorable night, but it was Jordan that most of the crowd came to see. And he reminded them of why they call him the greatest of all-time.
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