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NBA coaches share thoughts on Hall Class of 2016

POSTED: Sep 9, 2016 7:10 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Today's NBA coaches had plenty of memories to share about Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming.

— Scott Brooks was in the Windy City for the annual NBA head coaches meetings, organized by the National Basketball Coaches Association. But like a lot of folks in the basketball community this week, his thoughts were out in Springfield, Mass. -- at least they were when asked Brooks and a number of his peers about the Naismith Hall of Fame's Class of 2016.

Given the diversity and breadth of experience of this year's enshrinement group -- players Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Zelmo Beaty, Sheryl Swoopes and Cumberland Posey, referee Darell Garrettson, coaches Tom Izzo and John McLendon and owner Jerry Reinsdorf -- it was inevitable that the league's 30 coaches had crossed paths with, had personal connections to or had stories about the honored individuals.

Brooks, who played 10 NBA seasons as a backup point guard for six teams (1988-98), had several.

"A.I. crossed me up so many times, I said, 'What the heck? I've got to get out of this league,' " the Washington Wizards' new coach said. "Shaq was incredible. Just to see him do the things that he did was mind-boggling. People see Shaq in person, they can't believe. You see him on the court or on TV, you go, 'OK, he's big.' But in person, whoa.

"One time he blindly threw an inbounds pass and I was hanging out on the [baseline] and stole the pass. So I'm going up for a layup and he got so frustrated, he threw me into the basket stanchion. I thought I was gonna die! I had never been hit like that before. And I've been hit by Karl Malone and Rick Mahorn, a lot of big guys. But I'm still in pain."

Yao Ming's Ultimate Career Mixtape

Check out Yao Ming's mixtape spanning his Hall of Fame career.

Here are thoughts on the 2016 Hall of Famers from some of the NBA's coaches:

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets: "With Yao, we got there [to coach Houston, with Clifford as an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy] his second year. Not only the kind of player he was, but how hard he worked. The kind of teammate he was. It was a great four years... Just his whole approach, to working, to winning. He did it all, from the weight room to the way he took care of himself. ... He has great wit, a very personable guy. A terrific player, a great teammate and a great guy."

You'd talk about his height and his weight, but his heart and his basketball IQ were the size of Yao's or Shaq's. ... He wasn't afraid to get hit and he knew he was going to get hit.

– Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd, on Allen Iverson

Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers: "I'm making my third Hall of Fame journey especially to watch Allen Iverson. His history and his impact on the city of Philadelphia, with the organization is well-documented. I feel it's a night of true appreciation for people who have done great things in our sport. He's a gym rat like I am, so you bump into him in the summertime at different street-ball or pro-am events. You see him immerse himself in the city still. Those things along with his impact on the team I coach make me feel very obligated to go show support and let him know that people in the organization recognize his achievements."

Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves: "To watch the way Yao grew every year [like Clifford, in four years as a Van Gundy assistant], the work he put into it, to make himself who he is. Not only here but what he did over in China and what it means to basketball. ... He had a very unusual skill set. to be dominant in the post, to be able to shoot away from the basket, the way he did. He had incredible touch. And good vision. Obviously the length at the rim. And then what he did with his body, to change his body. ... Of course Jerry Reinsdorf getting in is a great honor. To build two championship teams in Chicago the way he has, with the Bulls and the White Sox, I'm just very happy for him as well."

Shaq's Career Mixtape

Check out Shaquille O'Neal's mixtape spanning his Hall of Fame career.

Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans: "I had the privilege of coaching Shaq for a couple years [in Phoenix] and I really do think he's the most dominant big man who's ever played the game. I understand Wilt's numbers and what he put up, I'm not belittling that in any kind of way. But athletically, what Shaq brought to the table was unbelievable. There are so many things -- [practical joker, very serious guy. Unbelievable from a charity standpoint -- he did so much that people never will know. Go in, buy bicycles, take 'em to neighborhoods, give 'em away. With no camera crew around. ... A.I., what can you say? As a competitor, you would rank him right there with Michael Jordan. The most impressive thing about him was, he played every night. Injuries didn't stop him. As far as Yao, he came over and really kind of changed the game here -- a guy that big with such a great touch. And obviously Sheryl Swoopes, when you think of what that Houston Comets team did at the start of the WNBA. It's a pretty impressive class."

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors: "One man wasn't going to stop Shaq or Yao. They were dominant in a time when it was kind of a big man's league. Everyone had to have a big body to put on them. ... No one man could stop A.I. either. You wanted to trip him. The first time I saw him, I was over coaching in Japan and he still was in college, playing in some junior-world tournament or something. I was amazed at that time by his speed and he has a toughness that you can't coach, you can't teach. I remember Gary Payton trying to stay in front of him -- it's impossible. Gary slowed him down but he didn't stop him. And you might slow him down one time but he was going to figure out a way to beat you. He would beat double-teams with speed. I think he really set the tone to let small guys know, if you have a heart and soul and a competitive spirit, you can compete at that size.

Shaq was incredible. Just to see him do the things that he did was mind-boggling. People see Shaq in person, they can't believe. You see him on the court or on TV, you go, 'OK, he's big.' But in person, whoa.

– Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks

Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets: "I was with him (O'Neal) in Cleveland on the staff there. And he mentioned in one of the stories I just read that he missed so many games that year, going into the playoffs -- Big Baby hit him and broke his thumb. If he was healthy, I think we would have been a very tough out in the playoffs. I coached in college at Providence when Allen Iverson still was at Georgetown. ... I could tell way back then that Allen Iverson was one of the fiercest competitors anybody had seen. Nobody wanted to play against that guy, he was that relentless as a player."

Dave Joerger, Sacramento Kings: "We all wanted to have the Iverson crossover. Not many could! I had the chance to work with Iverson in Memphis -- it was a short [stay]. But you saw what kind of a heart that dude had. To take the hits he took, 160 pounds dripping wet. He was very, very competitive."

Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic: "I grew up in Jersey as a Philadephia 76ers fan. Obviously Allen Iverson was a unique player in this game's history. Got to coach him one year as an assistant [in Philadelphia] with Jim O'Brien. He was such a prolific scorer but always a willing passer, and his guys loved him. He's a really good person and just an icon, so I'm really excited for him to get in. ... And I'm really happy for Shaq -- my new neighbor, so to speak. I live right up the street from where he's got a place in Windermere, Fla. And he's always been very supportive of me through the years, on the studio show and everything. So I'm real happy for him too."

He had a very unusual skill set. to be dominant in the post, to be able to shoot away from the basket, the way he did. He had incredible touch. And good vision.

– Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, on Yao Ming

David Fizdale, Memphis Grizzlies: "I would say, a lot of pain they caused me as a coach. Watching those guys play, they really changed the game for me. and I've always looked up to and admired Tom Izzo. He always cares about his kids. He always bring incredible attention and intensity to his teams. His team often overachieve. Whenever they talk about Michigan State -- 'Aw, they're not very good this year,' and then they end up in the Final Four."

Brooks: "Darrell Garretson, seeing him my rookie year, was just like seeing a legend. I followed the NBA so seeing him and Earl Strom, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm on a special court.' As a player you're in awe of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but if you love the game, you see everything as a kid. To this day, I don't get into it much with the referees -- they've got a hard job. Having a relationship with him through the years was pretty cool. And now with Ronnie [Garretson, Darrell's son], to talk with him. And Ronnie's son is trying to make it as a ref too. The family business."

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz: "Coach Izzo, when I was coaching in college, I had a tremendous amount of respect for what he did. In 2002, I was fortunate to be chosen to be his assistant coach for the Pan-American Games. So I was able to spend a couple of weeks in the summer, and looking back, there were things that he did to build the intensity level. The basketball intelligence of his teams. Not only do they play defense but they execute better than anyone on the offensive end. It's a credit to him, both what they do at Michigan State and how his players do in the NBA."

Allen Iverson Highlights

A look back at new Hall of Fame inductee, Allen Iverson's highlights.

Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks: "It was just amazing what A.I. did on a nightly basis in Philadelphia. I don't think anybody ever [dealt successfully] with his quickness. You didn't want to get the killer crossover, so you'd try to back up. I gave him a lot of room. He was so talented -- I tried to use my size but he was the best at what he could do. You'd talk about his height and his weight, but his heart and his basketball IQ were the size of Yao's or Shaq's. And something that probably goes a little bit unnoticed, just the pounding he took on a nightly basis. He wasn't afraid to get hit and he knew he was going to get hit. It would be interesting to see him in today's game, without so many hits, how would he have done."

Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls: "When I think of Yao and Shaq and Iverson, their greatest quality was their competitiveness. You look at Iverson, a guy 6-feet tall, doing what he did was an amazing feat. The way he scored the ball effortlessly, his athleticism, his ability to shoot, make big shots. He was not afraid of the moment and he was so tough to cover. I remember taking a foul on him and he kind of fell hard, and Philadelphia fans threw stuff at me the rest of the night. I actually had a jump ball with Yao one time that my kids thought was pretty cool. I didn't even jump. And then Shaq is probably the most dominating player physically. And Tom Izzo was great to me -- when I got into college coaching, I'd see him on the recruiting trail. He went out of his advice to talk to me and give me advice about the right way to do things. I'd sit with him in a gym and rarely watch the action -- I thought it was more productive for me to be a sponge and absorb his knowledge."

Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers: "For me, that was a generation of players I really was looking up to when I was getting good at basketball. When I was in high school, they were in their prime and a big part of the reason that I loved the game of basketball so much. My rookie year was with Shaq -- he made coming to work fun every day. Always had a smile on his face. The most physically dominating player I've ever seen. A prankster, but just an incredible athlete and phenomenal talent. Shaq would joke around a lot but when it came to winning and performing, he took himself very seriously. ... He and Yao and Allen Iverson, I believe, are some of the reasons basketball is so popular all over the world. You can be 5-foot-whatever Iverson is, and be so quick that nobody can stay in front of you, or you can be the biggest, strongest man on Earth. And they can play this game and succeed."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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