SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Considering how point guard-heavy this Class of 2018 was, it only made sense that all sorts of things were passed out at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s enshrinement ceremony Friday.
Things like accolades. Compliments. Friendly jabs. Funny anecdotes. Bits of wisdom. And a whole lot of thank yous.
Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Maurice Cheeks were the actual career playmakers among the NBA stars and representatives of amateur, international and women’s games who were officially inducted in a show staged at Symphony Hall and broadcast on NBA TV. But as so often happens on a basketball court, generosity becomes contagious.
It could be argued all the honorees in attendance became point guards, point forwards, point coaches or point executives, dishing back to those who had helped them along the way.
Nash, notably, was at his two-time MVP best. He wrapped up his speech in the gorgeous setting before an audience of hoops royalty, sharing a laundry list of tips to kids who be growing up playing hockey and soccer, in some unlikely basketball outpost like Victoria, British Columbia.
“Find something you love to do” Nash said, launching into his staccato advice. “Do it every day. Be obsessed – balance will come later. Use your imagination. Put pen to paper. Declare your intentions. Set small goals. Knock them off, set more goals. Gain momentum. Build confidence. Form a deep belief. Outwork people.
“Play the long game – you don’t have to be the chosen one. The secret is to build a resolve and spirit, to enjoy the plateaus in the times when it feels like you’re not improving and you question why you’re doing this. If you’re patient, the plateaus will become springboards.
“Finally, never stop striving, reaching for your goals until you get there. But the truth is, even when you get there – even when you get here, standing on this stage – after striving, fighting, pushing yourself to the limit every day, that you’ll miss and you’ll long for. You’ll never be more alive than when you give something everything you have.”
Given Nash’s underdog background and underwhelming physical stature – he cracked a few jokes at his own expense – the ideas he imparted sounded as applicable to any endeavor a young (or frankly an old) NBA fan might pursue.
Kidd started his speech by crediting Gary Payton – the fellow Hall of Famer, friend and big brother growing up in the Bay Area and All-Star point guard he’d chosen as his presenter – for harshly but properly challenging him when the game seemed to come too easily in their youth.
Rod Thorn, another 2018 inductee who was running the New Jersey Nets when Kidd led them to consecutive Finals in 2002 and 2003, distilled the point guard’s special skill. “From the start,” Thorn said, “he made everybody want to run, everybody want to play, because they would get the basketball.”
There were lessons to be learned in Ray Allen’s story as well. Raised in a military family, he became a poster guy for preparation and diligence across 10 All-Star appearances and four franchises. Allen boiled his career down to a stark admission.
“I don’t believe in talent,” he said. “I’m here because I worked hard my whole life. Without that hard work, no one in this room would know who I am, except my family.”
Cheeks, from a previous generation of NBA point guards, grew emotional when talking about his mother. At one point, he teared up enough that former teammate Julius Erving stepped over from his presenter’s chair to lend support.
“There was nothing you wouldn’t do for us,” Cheeks said, directly addressing his mother in the audience. “I love you so, so much, Mama.”
Others talked through tears, too, including early WNBA legend Tina Thompson. Legendary NCAA coach and raconteur Lefty Dreisell, meanwhile, had fellow Hall of Famers and audience members wiping away tears with some of the funniest tales, and delivery of them, of the night.
Repeatedly wondering if he was going over his allotted time, Dreisell preemptively wrote off any possibly mistakes to the fact he was 86 years old. “When you get old you spend all your time trying to remember names and going to the bathroom,” he said.
Longtime team and league exec Rick Welts drew laughs a few times too with a speech written as if a letter addressed to his younger self. Of his early days with the Seattle SuperSonics when Bill Russell was the team’s coach, Welts warned himself. “ ‘Now, he’s going to call you ‘white boy down the hall’ a lot,’” he said.
And of his time spent working for, learning from and sometimes being leery of a driven NBA commissioner David Stern, Welts said: “There are some who would say that working for him for 17 years and living to tell about it will be your greatest professional achievement.”
The rest of the night went similarly, with smiles and emotions sharing the spotlight with kudos and nods to the glittery group of presenters hovering to the inductees right or left, supportive but silent.
Here is the Class of 2018 and the Hall of Famers they chose as their presenters:
- Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (2005, 2006), finished his 19-season career with Phoenix, Dallas and the Lakers ranked third all-time in assists. The league’s lifetime leader in free-throw percentage (.904) was presented by legendary NBA coach Don Nelson, who spends his days in Hawaii and – with his swept-back silver mane and deep tan – looked like a bass player from a tribute band.
- Kidd was a 10-time All-Star who shared the 1995 Rookie of the Year award with 2018 HOF classmate Grant Hill and helped Dallas win the NBA championship 16 years later. Second all-time in both assists (12,091) and steals (2,684), the five-time all-NBA first team selection had his mentor and tormentor Payton present him.
- Grant Hill, despite injuries that kept him from reaching his full potential, still achieved enough to merit first-ballot inclusion. He was co-Rookie of the Year with Kidd in 1995, a seven-time All-Star and a three-time winner of the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award. He also racked up credentials as a two-time NCAA champion with Duke and a gold medal winner in the 1996 Olympics. Hill was presented by former NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Isiah Thomas and his college coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
- Allen won championships with Boston and Miami, hit double digits in All-Star invitations and retired after 18 seasons as the league’s all-time leader in 3-pointers taken and made. The former UConn star who played for the Bucks, the Sonics, the Celtics and the Heat was presented by kindred sharpshooter Reggie Miller.
- Cheeks has been involved in the NBA since 1978 as a player or a coach, beginning with his work for the Philadelphia 76ers and pivotal role as point guard on the 1983 championship squad. Cheeks, who ranked fifth in steals and assists when he retired and was a four-time all-Defensive team selection, chose Sixers cohorts Erving and Billy Cunningham as his presenters.
- Charlie Scott began his pro career in the defunct American Basketball Association and averaged 34.6 points in two seasons before jumping to the NBA’s Phoenix entry. The first black scholarship athlete at the University of North Carolina, Scott helped the Boston Celtics win their 1976 NBA title. Scott chose a hardwood murderer’s row of hoops legends as his presenters: Erving, Dave Cowens, Larry Brown, James Worthy, Jerry Colangelo, Roy Williams and Spencer Haywood.
- Katie Smith, one of two selections by the Hall’s women’s committee, was a two-time WNBA champion with Detroit and the league’s MVP in 2008. Smith ranks as the all-time leading scorer in the women’s game between her years in the ABL and the WNBA. Her presenter was Dawn Staley.
- Thompson helped Houston win the WNBA’s first four championship after becoming the league’s first draft selection ever in 1997. Like Smith, Thompson was named as one of the WNBA’s Top 20 players when the league commemorated its 20th anniversary in 2016. Thompson’s chosen presenters, Magic Johnson and Cheryl Miller, were unable to attend.
- Dino Radja became known to NBA fans in four seasons with Boston, but most of his career and production came overseas, with multiple EuroLeague championships and MVP honors. Chosen by the international committee, Radja was named as one of FIBA’s 50 greatest players in 1991. He tabbed Celtics legend Larry Bird to present him.
- Thorn has served the NBA for more than 50 years as a player, coach, team executive and league official. He spent nearly 17 years as the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations, between and after stints in Chicago’s and New Jersey’s front offices. Thorn was presented by fellow West Virginian alumnus Jerry West.
- Welts began his career in the league 40 years ago as a ball boy for Seattle, moved into a Sonics public relations job, then worked his way up to oversee the Phoenix Suns (2009-2011) and Golden State Warriors (2011-present). In a leadership role with the league, Welts developed the marketing campaign for the 1992 “Dream Team.” He chose Russell, Stern, Lenny Wilkens, Annie Meyers and Russ Granik as his presenters.
- Driesell might best be known for coaching at the University of Maryland, but he happens to be the only coach in NCAA history to win at least 100 games at four different schools and one of only 11 to take four schools to the NCAA tournament. Driesell had coaching peers John Thompson, George Raveling and Krzyzewski present him.
- Ora Mae Washington, selected by the early African American pioneers committee, was born in 1898 and, in her prime, was considered one of the greatest female athletes of her time. In 18 years as a player and coach in Germantown and Philadelphia, her teams lost just six games – all to men’s teams. Washington, also a nationally ranked tennis player who was segregated from competing against top white players, died in 1971 and was elected posthumously.
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