Orange Thoughts From the Hall of Fame
August 9, 2014
Set with an assignment to cover Joe Gilmartin and his acceptance of the Curt Gowdy Media Award, I squeezed in enough time during my two-day visit to gauge the impact of Phoenix basketball in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In short: it's pretty significant. From the days of Connie Hawkins all the way through the Phoenix Mercury's star duo of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, there was a plethura of nods toward the culture of hoops in the desert.
Here's a few takeaways from my brief visit in Springfield.
One fun feature in the H.O.F. is a set of highlighted players based on position. Jerseys, shoes and other items represent a multitude of positional players who made their mark over the years.
Hall-of-Famer and Suns Ring of Honor member Connie Hawkins' jersey was easy to spot. Its placement is worth noting if only because younger fans will be prompted to wonder how good he must have been if his jersey is right next to that of LeBron James.
Coincidentally, I ran into former Pacers star and Hall-of-Famer Mel Daniels, whose ABA prime coincided with Hawkins' brief tenure in the league. When I brought up Hawkins, he simply shook his head and said, "He was something else, man."
The point guard section featured a pair of Suns jerseys, which should come as no surprise. From Gail Goodrich to Kevin Johnson to Steve Nash (and several in between and since), Phoenix has always seemed wealthy at the point guard spot.
The presence of Johnson's jersey was fairly bittersweet given that he'd been a finalist to be an official Hall-of-Famer this year. It wouldn't be a shocker, however, if this year's class brings further attention to KJ's case. Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond and Sarunas Marciulionis all hail from Johnson's heyday, which can't hurt his future consideration.
As for now, it's not the worst thing in the world to have your jersey hung alongside others of the best floor generals in NBA history.
Speaking of point guards, there was a lot of Hall of Fame love for Michele Timms. She was probably the most visible WNBA player in the HOF other than former Houston star Cynthia Cooper, which is saying a lot.
To be fair, it was hard not to appreciate her style of play. She was an aggressive attacker who could also stop and pop for the jumper. Plus she wore No. 7. No wonder fans gravitated toward her.
More Timms love, but with a twist. Next to her jersey in this particular display is a pair of Suns shorts. Why? They belong to fellow basketball pioneer Horacio Llamas, the first Mexican-born player in the NBA.
Llamas was a fan favorite not only for that, but also because he'd played his college hoops locally at Pima Community College and Grand Canyon University.
Credit the Hall of Fame for arranging items in a way that snags your attention, because this odd-but-awesome pairing of Timms' jersey and Llamas' shorts certainly caught mine.
"What-if's" are part of the NBA life cycle. Believe it or not, Hall of Fame inductee Mitch Richmond plays that role for Phoenix.
Heading into the 1988 NBA Draft, the Suns were extremely interested in selecting Richmond. The problem: they didn't pick until No. 7.
Richmond worked out in Phoenix anyway, and all the signs pointed to both parties wanting to work together. In the end, it never happened. Richmond fifth overall to Golden State and the rest is Hall-of-Fame-worthy history.
It's tempting, however, to think of what could have been. Phoenix experienced great success the following four years thanks to a massive roster overhaul, but the small forward spot was the most fluid in that span. Tyrone Corbin, Armen Gilliam, Tom Chambers, Tim Perry and Cedric Ceballos all took turns at the position. Had Richmond fallen to Phoenix, it's likely the Suns would have run a starting five of Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Richmond, Tom Chambers and Mark West over the next half-decade.
After seeing this particular item, it's likely I'll be calling Ann Meyers Drysdale "First Lady Meyers" from now on.
In all seriousness, the Hall helped hammer home what I hadn't fully grasped: how ridiculously talented she was. There were at least three different items (this ball, a photo and something else I can't remember) pertaining to her, which is no small feat in the Hall of Fame.
In the end, maybe that's the point of the HOF: to emphasize what we didn't know or have forgotten as the years have passed. On a related side note, I overhead one kid asking a family member whether Charles Barkley was any good as a player.
How good was Barkley? Take a look at the ring: one of the 50 greatest players of all time.
Granted, Sir Charles still gets ribbed by TNT's Kenny Smith for his lack of a championship ring, but I'm pretty sure this one helps relieve the sting a little bit.
By the way, the Hall does it's best to recognize star players who made significant contributions to multiple teams. This photo shows Barkley in a Suns uniform, but his Sixers jersey is on display in the standout power forward display one floor below.
As with the KJ jersey, there are some items that don't necessarily represent a Hall of Fame inductee, but do emphasize the recent/current impact of individuals.
It's no surprise the Mercury - specifically Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner - made this particular cut, though it's hard to imagine even Steph Curry handling a double team from the best guard and center in women's basketball.
It's not just about players and coaches in the Hall of Fame. Executives can get the nod too, as Jerry Colangelo did.
His contributions to the game are almost too many to mention (and still growing), but this particular display should hold a warm place in Suns fans' hearts: the NBA Executive of the Year award for the 1992-93 season.
If you're not sure why, just go here.
I was fortunate to find myself sitting next to Al Attles, the former Warriors player and coach who guided Golden State to the 1975 NBA championship.
Attles -- there to receive the prestigious John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award -- is one of those guys you could listen talk about hoops for hours on end. He just knows how to tell it; tone, details, everything. When he found out I was from Phoenix, he immediately recalled the most heart-breaking coaching defeat from his career: Game 4 of the 1976 Western Conference Finals. Shaking his head, he remembered in vivid detail how the heavily favored Warriors had the game wrapped up against Phoenix -- and then didn't.
"I told the guys, 'Put your hands in your pickets. Don't foul.'"
Golden State was up three with seconds remaining at this point, and with no three-point line at the time, the Suns' only chance of tying the game was to convert a basket, get fouled and make the and-one free throw.
"Ricky Sobers was a tough guy. He goes up for the layup, gets hit on the writs and it's a tie game," Attles recalled. "I didn't get mad at our guy [who fouled him], because what will that do?"
"We weren't the same after that. We kind of fragmented from there. That loss...it's right up there."
So is Attles' ability to take you back in time.
Speaking of executives, former NBA commissioner and 2014 Hall of Famer David Stern was very much in the spotlight this week. My claim to fame: I raced to make the hotel elevator and only after I looked up from huffing and puffing did I realize Mr. Stern was in there.
Never mind that the kids asking for his autograph aren't old enough to remember him running his first NBA Draft, taking the microphone at Magic Johnson's 1991 press conference or possibly even his role in creating the WNBA. He's David Stern. That's all they - or anyone - needs to know.
This may seem like an odd and uncreative photo, but there's a reason it's here. See, the night before the actual enshrinement ceremony, the Hall of Fame hosts an awards banquet. This is the scene in which long-time Phoenix Gazette sportswriter Joe Gilmartin accepted the Curt Gowdy Award for print media, the highest honor a sports reporter can achieve.
For an hour before the banquet, current and past inductees, the award recipients and invited guests mingle in a veritable who's-who of basketball. Every Hall of Fame inductee and award recipient wears a HOF badge complete with name and designation (i.e. "Mel Daniels, Hall of Fame"). Those badges are a visible exclamation point that screams "I am somebody. I matter. I have arrived at the pinnacle." Of course, Gilmartin was humble to the point of hilarity about it. Every time someone would stop and congratulate him, he'd thank them, catch up with him/her a little bit, then hunch-walk away with the utmost effort so as to not accidentally bump someone.
I'll never forget seeing Gilmartin still acting his height (his NBA acquaintances, who brightened up as soon as they saw him, simply towered above him) -- despite sporting the ultimate badge that identified him for what he is: a giant in NBA history.