Maybe it’s because I am getting older. Maybe it’s because I am mellowing with age (my wife is chuckling as I write this one). Maybe it’s because one of the four players I was inducted with is no longer with us. Or maybe it’s just that I appreciate things more these days. For whatever reason, I was especially nostalgic this year as I returned to Springfield, Mass., for the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The sold-out event, held right on Center Court in the Hall, was meaningful and intimate. This year’s exceptional class was dubbed the “Super Six” by the media. Alessandro Gamba, the legendary Italian coach, spoke eloquently in broken English of his love for the game. Joe Dumars, as usual, exuded humility and class. Dave Gavitt, ever the visionary, implored us not to forget the importance of education for those individuals whose professional basketball dreams have been shattered.
Dominique Wilkins, with newborn baby in tow, remembered all the people who helped him along the way. Geno Auriemma gave his players, many of whom attended, credit for his unparalleled success at Connecticut. And Charles Barkley, well, he was as funny and irreverent as ever, bringing the packed house plenty of laughs.
I mingled with the greats of the game before the ceremony. Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and John Havlicek, three of the best Boston Celtics ever, chatted with each other unassumingly. With the size and flashiness of today’s players, those three could easily have gone unnoticed to the casual fan. I visited with the Harlem Globetrotters’ Marquis Haynes and Meadowlark Lemon. Both are still smiling and will always be remembered as true ambassadors for the game. I watched the ever-graceful Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attempt to dodge the hoards of fans that followed him everywhere hoping for an autograph.
I made sure to take time to say hello and thank some of my former coaches, Bill Sharman and Lou Carnesecca. Lord knows, I was not an easy player to coach. Sharman is credited for being the inventor of the game-dayshootaround and he remembered how much I disliked the now-common ritual. Getting into the elevator quite late that night he jokingly said, “I’ll see you at 11 a.m. tomorrow for [the] shootaround.”
Looking up to the ceiling, I found my picture mounted with the other Hall of Famers. There I was with my idol Elgin Baylor. And with Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell. As the lump in my throat grew and my eyes moistened, I couldn’t help but be humbled by the honor of having my name and face forever enshrined in this hallowed Hall.