Hall of Fame Welcomes Jason Kidd and Rod Thorn
Class of 2018 introduced and presented with jackets, though Kidd is unable to attend
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Rod Thorn's first step into the big-time basketball world came when he arrived on the campus of West Virginia University as an acclaimed freshman after an eye-catching high school career. Freshmen weren't eligible for varsity ball at the time, and the Mountaineers were led by another in-state star, the legendary Jerry West.
"I was supposed to be the next Jerry West," said Thorn, "and that wasn't going to happen."
But the friendship remained. And nearly 60 years later, the two are connected again as West will present Thorn for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday evening.
Thorn was introduced with the rest of the Class of 2018 on Thursday afternoon at the Hall of Fame, where each inductee received their "Naismith Orange" jackets. But a fellow inductee with whom Thorn is also inextricably linked, Jason Kidd, was not on hand.
Dealing with an illness, Kidd was unable to travel, although it's hoped he will be able to make it in time for Friday's ceremony.
In company like this, ties that bind are inevitable. Kidd and fellow inductee Grant Hill were drafted back-to-back with the second and third picks in the 1994 NBA Draft, and shared the Rookie of the Year Award a year later.
"I apologized to Jason, because I'm like, you can't escape me man. I'm always here or around the corner," said Hill. "There has been a connection, and a friendship, back when guys on different teams weren't friends back in the '90s. There was always a mutual respect. I loved the way he approached the game, how he played. We came in together, Rookie of the Year, we retired within days of each other. And lo and behold here we are going in to the Hall of Fame.
"We never played together. I missed the Olympics in 2000, I got hurt. All-Stars we were always against each other early in my career. To say now that we're classmates, we're teammates, it's pretty special."
Steve Nash, like Kidd one of the elite point guards of their generation, was his teammate for two seasons in Phoenix.
"Unbelievable player. Incredible athlete. Great vision. Amazing competitor," said Nash. "One of the best point guards we've ever had in this league. We go back to our college days. Having a chance to play with him and enter the Hall of Fame with him is fitting in some respects. Such an honor for me to be able to share this with him."
Thorn, of course, is the man who brought Kidd to the Nets in the summer of 2001, leading to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 that altered the legacy of the player and the franchise.
"Very smart team led by Jason," said Thorn. "Great athleticism with Kenyon (Martin) and Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles in particular, and Jason. Great fast break team. We had guys that could finish. Jason could get the ball to them and great fast break team. Very good defensively because we could move. We had good movement. And there was great chemistry."
It led to six straight playoff appearances and four division titles in five years. Putting that team together -- the Nets had finished under .400 the three years before Thorn's dramatic summer of 2001 rebuild -- was a crowning achievement for Thorn, who also spent more than a decade in the league office, drafted Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls, and way back, got his post-playing career started on the bench as an assistant coach with the 1974 ABA champion New York Nets, led by Julius Erving.
"He was incredible," said Thorn. "Every night this guy would do unbelievably athletic things. He led the team in virtually every category, with the exception of 3-point shooting, I think he led the team in everything. He would guard whoever the best forward was. Every night play 40 minutes or plus. Great, great player."
Erving will be on hand Friday night as a presenter for both his former Philadelphia teammate, Maurice Cheeks, and Charlie Scott as an impressive class is inducted. There's also Ray Allen, Katie Smith and Tina Thompson, among others.
"Very humbling to be here. Very proud," said Thorn. "On the other hand, to be here it's just, at my age, you don't really think about it because the first time I was ever nominated was this year, and there were like 65 names on the list. So to tell you the truth, I didn't even think about it. Very, very happy. All of the people that have been responsible for me being here, I've had so many great breaks over the course of time, and it culminates here. So not a bad place to culminate."
So he wasn't the next Jerry West. He ended with a pretty fine basketball life of his own.
"It's been a great basketball life," said Thorn. "I've been very, very fortunate."