SPRINGFIELD – With the photos of past greats creating a halo above center court at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, the five inductees that make up the star-studded 2009 class were welcomed in this morning.
C. Vivian Stringer, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, David Robinson and Michael Jordan each slipped into their honorary jackets with the aid of Hall of Fame president and CEO John Doleva.
After taking a few photos, they each met the media, trading stories and reflecting on the accolades that got them here. Jordan, obviously the most most celebrated of the entrants, spoke at length about everything from what it was like to struggle early on, how much of an impact Phil Jackson had on his career (and also Tex Winter), how his father James -- who was murdered in 1993, nine years into Jordan’s career -- would relish the Hall of Fame experience as much if not more than Michael if he were here to see it.
He also touched on a few then-and-now aspects of his career, pointing out that what Larry Bird said after his 63-point outburst against the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs ("It's just God disguised as Michael Jordan.") was actually validating at that point in his career, when he still had the rap for being a scorer and not a winner and also a year after Isiah Thomas tried to freeze him out of the All-Star Game, telling players to deny Jordan the ball.
“I think that when you look at it up to that point, it was so many media guys saying, ‘Yeah, he’s good, but he’s not in the same class as Magic Johnson or Larry Bird,’” Jordan said. “After that game, I earned Larry Bird’s respect. To me it says I was on the right track in terms of becoming a better basketball player.
“He gave me the type of confidence that I needed at that level -- from a player -- that you’re on the right track keep working hard, you’re good, you’re going to be good, keep working hard. That to me was the biggest compliment I had at that particular time, after the so called freeze out a lot of competitive jealousy in terms of me. So coming from him that said I was doing the right things at least from a basketball standpoint.”
He also addressed the idea of finding the “Next Jordan,” saying that he sees flashes of himself in some of today’s stars, but that essentially he’s a one-of-a-kind.
“Don’t be in a rush to find the next Michael Jordan, because there’s not going to be another Michael Jordan,” he said. “I say that in a way that times are different, the games are different, experiences are different. The desire to have that type of player is different. We -- and when I say we I say you guys more than I say me -- are constantly trying to find that next Michael Jordan.
“First of all you didn’t find me I just happened to come along. You know, and here I am. So you didn’t have to find me and you won’t have to find that next person. It’s going to happen, and I’m pretty sure you guys are going to recognize it. If you haven’t already, then in due time you will. I think those guys have a strong chance to be better than I better than Michael Jordan. They’re going to create their own lane, and their own persona, so just give it time.”
***A few more nuggets***
*The Jazz took John Stockton with the 16th pick in the 1984 draft, and Stockton himself didn’t think he’d have the longest NBA lifespan.
“I thought they’d figure me out pretty quick,” he said. “I though the Jazz would figure out that they made a mistake. So I saved every cent. I rented a one-bedroom apartment that was already furnished and never bought a television set, went to a discount food store and bought a can of chili and made my mom’s lasagna and stacked it in the fridge. I was pretty sure I was a one year and out guy.”
Obviously, 1,504 games and 15,806 assists later, he turned out just fine.
"John certainly was a pleasant surprise when I got there," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "He was one of those guys, he stepped out in practice like he was playing a game every time he stepped on the court. There was some question, we would question at that time whether or not he would hold up, and he played for 19 years.”
Stockton earned the reputation for being unsuspectingly dirty, using his slight frame to throw sneaky screens on bigger players. But Jordan, who faced Sloan and Stockton twice in the Finals, actually came to his defense.
“I wouldn’t say that Stockton is the dirtiest point guard. I could name a few others,” Jordan said, getting a few laughs out of the crowd. “You could say dirty, I’d say he’s a tough, hard-nosed guy that plays with every inch of his body. For us to beat them twice says a lot about our team, because they were a great team.”
* Reflecting on a coaching career that started in 1972 at Cheyney State College, a historically black school in Pennsylvania, C. Vivian Stringer recalled when women’s college basketball had to fight just to have poll of the top teams. After winning 825 games, taking three schools to the Final Four and seeing players like guard Cappie Pondexter go on to play in the WNBA, Stringer said she was pleased to see how far women’s basketball had come, but said there’s still progress to be made.
“It’s like sitting in a rocking chair and being asked, ‘Well, what would make you most happy?’" Stringer said. "And I hope that those times do come when all the women's games are sold out, when we reach those heights. But to have young women that are being paid well, relatively, here in the United States and the opportunity to play in Europe. When we first started out, we were happy to even have a Top 20 poll. So we’ve come a long way, but you know I’m anxious and never satisfied. So I continue wanting to go so much faster and so much further.”
*David Robinson graduated from Navy in 1987, but didn’t make his debut until 1989, spending the two years fulfilling his commitment to the service.
“I was at a submarine base down in Georgia for those two years after I graduated from school, and I don’t think there was anyone under 6-1 on that whole base. So I spent a lot of time running by myself in that gym.”
He averaged 24.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in his first season.