Hall of Fame: Class of 2023

Hall of Fame Class of 2023 provided plenty of legendary moments

Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 enjoyed their share of memorable highlights.

Dirk Nowitzki hoists the 2011 NBA championship trophy after leading Dallas past Miami’s star-studded squad.

The Class of 2023 for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will be inducted into hoops immortality this Saturday. Here are the NBA inductees, with a legendary moment for each one:

Dirk Nowitzki: Finally a ring, beating Miami’s Super Friends

Legendary highlight: With a modest ensemble, Dallas wins the 2011 NBA championship

Nowitzki’s status as a future Hall of Famer and, more so, as arguably the greatest NBA player to hail from Europe was secure by the time the 2010-11 season wrapped. At 32, the German sharpshooter had been selected to 10 All-Star teams, led Dallas to the 2006 Finals and earned the 2006-07 MVP award.

Little did anyone know how Nowitzki’s legacy would soar during the 2011 postseason. The Mavericks’ roster featured several other aging stars – 38-year-old Jason Kidd, 33-year-old Shawn Marion – along with role players. Yet they ripped through the West bracket, going 12-3 against Portland, the Lakers and Oklahoma City. Next up? The first edition of Miami’s “insta-contender,” the brainstorm hatched by superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to bring not one, not two, not blah blah blah titles to South Florida.

That trio eventually got a pair, but not that year and not against this opponent. Dallas played better as a unit, outshot Miami across the board, held the Heat nearly 10 points (92.3) below their average, refused to fold facing late deficits and even seemed to draw motivation from Miami’s arrogance. Remember James and Wade mock coughing to tease Nowitzki’s cold before Game 5?

Nowitzki averaged 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds, big bumps from his regular-season numbers, to earn revenge for the 2006 loss to Miami as well as the 2007 Finals MVP award.

Dirk Nowitzki leads Dallas to its first NBA championship.

Dwyane Wade: A star is born in Miami’s first title run

Legendary highlight: A comeback in Game 3 led to a reversal from down 2-0 in the 2006 Finals

The Wade with whom NBA fans are most familiar is the prime version, Miami’s franchise player who teamed with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form “the Heatles” for four straight Finals runs. But it was years earlier, at the end of his third NBA season, that the Marquette product soared across the league’s sky.

The No. 5 pick in 2003 had been an All-Star twice and proven himself a youthful sidekick to veteran center Shaquille O’Neal by the time the 2006 playoffs began. This time, the Heat avenged their ouster a year earlier by Detroit, but fell into a 2-0 hole against Dallas in the championship round. In Game 3, Wade’s team trailed 89-76 with 6:26 left when he scored 13 of his game-high 42 points, leading Miami’s 22-7 closing kick in the 98-96 victory.

Wade scored 36 in Game 4, a 24-point Heat blowout, then 43 in Game 5’s overtime victory. That included two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to turn a 100-99 deficit into a 101-100 edge. Wade finished off the Mavs with 36 on Dallas’ court in Game 6 to earn the Finals MVP trophy.

Dwyane Wade leads Miami back from certain doom in Game 3.

Pau Gasol: Proving the gripers right with two rings

Legendary highlight: Gasol’s move to the Lakers shifted Pau-er in the West

The other players in the Lakers-Grizzlies deal on Feb. 1, 2008 were unknowns or has-beens. The two first-round picks sent to Memphis would end up being used on Donte Greene and Greivis Vasquez. But the guy who inflamed critics by relocating to Southern California was Gasol, an elegant 7-footer from Barcelona, Spain in his prime at age 27.

“Beyond comprehension” hollered San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, the most prominent grumbler. Of course neither he nor anyone else knew then that Gasol’s younger brother Marc (whose rights went from L.A. to Memphis in the deal) would blossom into a three-time All-Star and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. Popovich called for a trade committee to oversee NBA transactions – and nominated himself to be a member.

Pop wasn’t necessarily wrong. Gasol was the Lakers’ perfect elixir. They had gone 121-125 in the three previous seasons and were 28-16 through January 2008. Post-trade, they went 29-9 and pushed through the West to face legendary rival Boston in the Finals.

In 2009, Gasol was an All-Star and a champion, an ideal complementary piece alongside Finals MVP Kobe Bryant as Los Angeles ousted Utah, Houston, Denver and Orlando. A year later, the Lakers won again as Gasol averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, outplaying Celtics counterpart Kevin Garnett in the seven-game championship series. Some folks even suggested he deserved the 2010 Finals MVP as much as Bryant.

This Week In History: Pau Gasol traded to Los Angeles.

Tony Parker: 2007 Finals MVP cements him in Spurs’ Big Three

Legendary highlight: Four years after San Antonio recruited Jason Kidd, Parker erased any regrets

Even if you do beat him, you might want to join him. Or more precisely, have him join you. That was the Spurs’ vision with future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, whose Nets team they had defeated in the 2003 Finals. No matter – Popovich and GM R.C. Buford went after Kidd hard in a lavish pitch built around a five-year, $80-million offer.

At 21, Parker had completed only two NBA seasons by then. Popovich planned to shift him to shooting guard and transition back to point guard as Kidd, 30, aged. But the pursuit angered and hurt the younger man.

The plan unraveled for various reasons and the Spurs were “settled” with Parker. The 6-foot-2 Frenchman became an All-Star in 2006 and 2007, solidified his bond with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and topped those San Antonio legends when he rose up to snag 2007 Finals MVP honors in their sweep of young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was the champs’ leading scorer in the series at 24.5 points per game, and the franchise’s primary playmaker for another 11 seasons.

“I told them I’m the right point guard for the team,” Parker said from the 2007 Finals podium, recalling that 2003 episode. “It made [Popovich] mad at the time but I think now he understands.”

Tony Parker caps MVP performance as Spurs sweep Cavs.

Gregg Popovich: Bouncing back with beautiful basketball

Legendary highlight: One year after losing in the 2013 Finals, Popovich’s Spurs set things right

It’s hard to name just one of these moments for an individual who a) has worked 27 consecutive seasons as the coach of a professional sports franchise (during which time the rest of the NBA has gone through 294 head coaches), b) led his team to five championships; and c) holds his sport’s record for most coaching victories at nearly 1,400.

But the work Popovich and his team did in the 2014 Finals sits a little higher than the rest of their many achievements, both for its context and its lasting impact.

The previous June, the Spurs had squandered a title-clinching victory in Game 6 at Miami when the Heat’s Chris Bosh grabbed a rebound and found Ray Allen in the right corner for one of the most famous 3-pointers in NBA history. It hurt even more because Popovich had Hall of Fame big man Tim Duncan out of the game, unavailable to compete for that rebound. San Antonio lost that night and again in Game 7 to lose out on that ring.

The roughest offseason of the coach’s Spurs run followed. But the team regrouped, won 62 games in the regular season and pushed through three playoff rounds for a rematch against Miami. Then they dissected the Heat with a crisp, constant and precise passing game. Popovich conceived it, installed it and turned it into a Heat spanking and one last championship with San Antonio’s great-but-aging core.

Spurs avenge Finals loss to Heat with comprehensive victory in 2014.

Becky Hammon: Barrier breaker on the bench

Legendary highlight: WNBA star joins the Spurs as an assistant coach in 2014

As a player out of Colorado State, Hammon went undrafted but crafted an illustrious 16-year career with the WNBA’s New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars. She was a six-time All-Star who averaged 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 450 games, and who was named one of the league’s Top 20 players in its 20th anniversary season.

But Hammon crossed over to make headlines throughout the sports world when she was hired as the first female full-time assistant coach in the NBA. She had impressed Popovich while spending time around the Spurs in 2013 during rehab of a knee injury, and he added her to his staff a year later. Hammon coached the Spurs’ entry in 2015 to the Las Vegas Summer League title and in December 2020 she took over on the sideline after the San Antonio coach got ejected from a game against the Lakers.

Hammon spent eight seasons with the Spurs, during which time more than a dozen women were hired to NBA coaching staffs. She left last year to take over the Las Vegas Aces and became the first rookie WNBA head coach to win a championship.

Becky Hammon blazes new trail in San Antonio.

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

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