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Shaq, Iverson, Yao make for epic Hall of Fame ceremony

Star-studded event features laughs, raw emotions and more

POSTED: Sep 10, 2016 1:30 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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— These are the nights that make the Hall of Fame, when Bill Russell, Shaquille O'Neal, Bill Walton, Alonzo Mourning, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo are under the same roof and all we need is for someone to run a play through center and dare the guy with the ball to get past Russell or Mutombo, when Allen Iverson can barely get through a syllable without choking up while mentioning Larry Brown, John Thompson and Julius Erving on stage with him as presenters, and when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, of all people, is auditioning for "Saturday Night Live" while being enshrined.

"A Bar Mitzvah is the time in his life when a Jewish boy realizes he has a better chance of owning a team than playing for one," Reinsdorf said, recalling his in 1949, the same year he would scrape together money to watch professional basketball at Madison Square Garden.

That was some Friday night at Symphony Hall. That was some party.

There hadn't been this kind of star power at the enshrinement since 2010, probably the greatest of all, with Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the 1960 Olympic team led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, plus the 1992 Dream Team that mostly came down from Mt. Olympus to attend. This time, O'Neal, Yao and Iverson were among the 10 members of the Class of 2017 and sparkle was everywhere in the audience, some just watching and some with ceremonial duty as presenters: Russell and the entire center depth chart, Dr. J, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Earl Monroe. On and on.

It wasn't just the list of career accomplishments under one roof either. Put O'Neal, Iverson and Yao, the headliners among the inductees with NBA or ABA ties, in front of a microphone anywhere and good things will happen. Put them in front of a microphone at the same event, with historical figures engrossed or laughing along in the audience and a very good night for basketball happens.

I'm a Texan, I'm a Houston Rocket for life.

– Yao Ming

Yao was dignified and humorous and smart and personable, everything he was as a Rocket, even in the trying times as the injuries piled up, until finally he had to retire early and his only chance for enshrinement was through the International committee, not on his NBA credentials. He successfully meshed growing up in China with growing in stature in Houston -- "I'm a Texan, I'm a Houston Rocket for life" -- and later, after returning to the audience to hear the nine speeches that followed, laughed along as O'Neal told the story of not knowing for years that he could converse with Yao in English.

Iverson was again the A.I. everyone expected, just as he had been the day before with a series of candid, thoughtful responses, especially in choking through his words and tearing up at the seemingly vanilla question on the importance to his career of having good teammates. He didn't even get that far Friday. Iverson got emotional before even taking the stage, just from host Ahmad Rashad beginning the introduction. The audience cheered in support, backing him in a way few, if any, enshrinees had been cheered in recent years.

I have no regrets being the guy that I am, a person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love, my fans love.

– Allen Iverson

When Iverson did deliver his acceptance speech, he was The Answer in his prime, storming downcourt with the ball, on a laser line to the rim, no finesse, no pretense. He did 31 minutes straight from the gut. Iverson thanked Thompson, his Georgetown coach, "for saving my life" and listed dozens of family members, teammates, executives, coaches and media members. There were more raw emotions.

"I have no regrets being the guy that I am, a person my family loves, my friends love, my teammates love, my fans love," Iverson said.

And Shaq. It may have been his best speech of the last 20 years, true appreciation of his place in basketball history without the loud stomping, the dramatics, that accompanied so many previous comments. It was strange to not mention Jerry West among many, many names who influenced his career, and any impression of a thawing with Kobe Bryant in recent seasons now must include O'Neal at the podium noting "the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant, a guy who will push me and help me win three titles in a row. But also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami."

The crowd roared.

I'd rather be a terrible free throw shooter that in about 15 minutes will be in the Hall of Fame.

– Shaquille O'Neal

"I'd like to thank Nick Anderson for missing those four free throws in a row in my first NBA Finals," O'Neal said at another point, referring to his Magic playing the Rockets in the 1995 championship series. "I'm just playing, Nick. But when I was writing this speech I was like, 'You know what? It'd be pretty funny if a terrible free-thrower criticized a bad one.' And then I said to myself, 'Damn, I should have listened to Rick Barry.' Then I also said to myself, 'You know what? I'd rather be a terrible free throw shooter that in about 15 minutes will be in the Hall of Fame.' So, Rick, thanks, but no thanks. I'm too damn big to be shooting underhanded."

There were also acceptance speeches by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Sheryl Swoopes, a former great of the women's game in college, the WNBA and international play. Videos were shown as part of the ceremony for the four new Hall members elected posthumously: Zelmo Beaty, Darell Garretson, John McLendon and Cumberland Posey.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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