Voices stir HOF class to greatness

NBA.com Global on Sep 11, 2018 08:54 AM
Voices stir HOF class to greatness
SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 7: Inductee Grant Hill speaks during the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on September 7, 2018 at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst

Everyone has a moment when they don’t believe.

History, circumstance, timing, luck: they all can conspire to sap the will of even those who are strongest mentally and physically. And dreams can be shattered in those moments of crisis. But the fortunate among us have people in our corner who give us inspiration and encouragement when we most need it. It could be when we are young and don’t know how good we can be; it could be when we’re in the middle of life or career, and have reached a crossroads.

But they are there for us when we need them. And, oftentimes, no one outside a small circle knows who they are, or what they did.

And many of the 13 people who were enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last Friday got that push, too. As they prepared to take that last and most precious step, they reflected on some of the people who weren’t always as well-known as others in their lives, but who made a difference.

Tina Thompson

Nine-time WNBA All-Star

First Draft pick in WNBA history

Three-Time All-WNBA First Team; five-time All-WNBA Second Team

Four-Time WNBA champion (Houston Comets, 1997-2000)

Two Olympic gold medals (2004, 2008)

WNBA All-Decade Team (2006) and one of Top 15 WNBA Players of All-Time (2011)

Unsung Hero: Tommy Thompson

“I would probably say, if they read articles, they would maybe know my brother,” Thompson said. “My older brother was the basketball player in my family, and we were really, really close. We competed in everything, down to penmanship. But my seeing him every day, and the dedication he had to the game and the joy he had for it, was what actually got me into basketball. He, as well as Coach David Fizdale (the Knicks’ coach’s family lived in the same apartment complex as the Thompsons). I don’t think anybody knows about David and his role in my game. My brother and David were really, really close friends, best friends at that time. We just spent a lot of long hours together, at our recreation center (in Los Angeles). The toughness. He and my older brother were kind of very, very tough on me. But they built something that I feel like wasn’t in a lot of players that I faced. It was kind of the foundation of not only the player that I was, but also the person.”

When you were on the court with them, what did they push on you to improve on in order to get to the level you were capable of?

“For my brother, it was a left hand,” she said. “I even think about that now. When I was still playing in the WNBA, it was something that he said was, if I wanted to be a good player -- I’m a right-handed player -- I would need it to be able to go both ways. And I needed to have a solid left hand. And if I did that, as well as being able to shoot, I would be able to have a long career. And it was something I took totally to heart. I went left so much in my career, I remember Jenny Boucek was yelling out to one of her players to force me right. And then I kind of went right and I scored, and I was like, ‘Jenny, I’m right handed.’ And she was like ‘well, I had to tell her something.’ And we both laughed.”

Maurice Cheeks

Four-time NBA All-Star

NBA All-Defensive first team (1982-86)

Fifth all time in career steals (2,310)

13th all time in career assists (7,392)

NBA champion (Philadelphia 76ers, 1983)

Unsung Hero: Billy Cunningham

“He allowed me to, he started me as a rookie,” Cheeks said of Cunningham, the Hall of Famer who coached the 76ers from 1977 to 1985. “So to start me as a rookie (in 1978) on the team we had was, that was pretty big. And he helped me along the way. We had Doc (Hall of Famer Julius Erving), and he told me, if I was going to stay in this league, I had to learn how to make an open shot -- which, back then, was what you had to do. He worked with me to figure out how to make an open shot. And I remember one time on a fast break, I came down on the break and I threw the ball behind my back, and it went out of bounds. And he said ‘come here.’ And he said it a different way (Laughs). And he said ‘if you ever want to play, don’t you ever (do that again).’ And that’s the reason why, I mean, I was probably more fundamental, anyway. But he sped that fundamental game up. He was truly instrumental in me getting here.”

So how did he help you find your voice as a young point guard, on a team with players like Doc and Andrew Toney and Moses Malone?

“That was not easy to do,” Cheeks said. “When I had Doc, and Andrew, and I had Moses, he just told me to run the basketball team. Figure it out. And as I kept going up the ladder, being a little bit better and better, and he got confidence in me running the team, calling this play and that play, I had to figure out the happy balance. Doc would rebound the ball himself and take on the dribble. Different guys did it different ways. But he instilled that confidence in me from day one, giving me that ball and running that team the way he allowed me to do it. To have an opportunity to make the team and then to start as a rookie, he had that confidence in me to do that.”

Charlie Scott

Two-Time ABA All-Star; Three-Time NBA All-Star

1970-71 ABA co-Rookie of the Year

1971 All-ABA First Team

NBA champion (Boston Celtics, 1976)

First African-American to play for an ACC school (North Carolina, 1966)

Unsung Heroine: Evelyn Jarrett, Scott’s junior high school teacher

“When she met me, I was living by myself,” Scott said. “My father was an alcoholic, and I was taking care of him. The only thing I wanted to do was finish high school, go into the Marines and be the biggest guy on my block. Because that’s all I ever seen in life. And she started taking me to plays, and she made me study, and she made me do school work. In fact, she made me take the test for Stuyvesant (High School, in New York). I didn’t even want to take the test for the school; she made me take it. I wanted to go to Benjamin Franklin, a basketball school. And she made me take the test for Stuyvesant.

“She made me understand the importance of things that I never really even conceived. She gave me pride and respect for myself. Before then, my father was a cab driver, my mother worked in a laundromat. I didn’t see much in my life but the same thing. Being by myself, taking care of my father while he was sick, I thought life had given me a bad break. I thought no kid should grow up like this. But she came along at the right time to want to be something, to want to do something. And that really carried me on from that point in life.”

Andrew D. Bernstein

2018 Curt Gowdy Award Winner, Print

Official Photographer, Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Los Angeles Kings, Staples Center

Unsung hero: Bill Robbins, Professor, Art Center College of Design

“He encouraged my sports photography path when everyone else discouraged me,” Bernstein said. “Also introduced me to a Sports Illustrated staffer for my first assisting job. Everyone at my commercial art school (Art Center College Of Design) looked down on photojournalism and sports photography. Bill and another teacher kept me focused, so to speak.”

Rod Thorn

Contributor

General Manager, Chicago Bulls, 1978-85

NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, 1986-2000

General Manager, New Jersey Nets, 2000-10

NBA Executive of the Year, 2002

President, Philadelphia 76ers, 2010-13

NBA President of Basketball Operations, 2013-15

Unsung hero: David Stern, NBA Commissioner

“David gave me an opportunity to work in the NBA,” Thorn said. “And I learned more in a year and a half working in the NBA that got me ready to do better things when I got back in the league. He gave me that opportunity. I was trading options on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. And I got a call from Russ Granik (the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner). Scotty Stirling had left his post with the league to go with the Knicks. And he asked me, would I be interested in interviewing with them.

“They were interviewing people and I had come to their attention … I thought about it for a day and told him, yes. So I went to New York and was interviewed. Didn’t hear anything for about a week, and then they wanted to know if I’d be interested in another discussion … working in that atmosphere really helped. When I went to the Nets, I was much more qualified to be a GM than I was the first time. When you work in the league office, you see what everybody’s doing -- the good things and the bad things. You’re there and everybody’ll talk to you when you’re in the league. It’s not like they’re hiding secrets from the league.”

Grant Hill

Seven-time All-Star

1994 NBA co-Rookie of the Year

1997 All-NBA First Team

Four-time All-NBA Second Team (1996, 1998-2000)

Unsung hero: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke coach

“And the reason I say this is, I was, I think there are players who, their talent is one thing is at one level, but their belief in their talent exceeds their talent, which elevates their talent, in a weird kind of way,” Hill said. “I think I was talented, but I didn’t believe in it. I wasn’t comfortable. And I think my four years at Duke, and my last year in particular, I got to a point where I was comfortable with the idea, and striving to be, an elite player. And Coach kind of pushed me into that.

“And my last (year) was really that pivotal moment, where it was my responsibility. And he would say things like, ‘if I call and play and you see something different, go with your instincts.’ And that’s empowering. And so he knew kind of how to get that out of me. And if I didn’t have that last year at Duke, I don’t know if I come in and have that kind of impact in the NBA. That last year best prepared me for the expectations of being the top pick. That was sort of my struggle. And that’s why Duke was so good for me, because I was not -- this is weird -- I was not comfortable with that idea. He helped with that.”

With you, was Coach K a pat-on-the-back motivator, or a kick-in-the-butt motivator?

“He did play and coach with Bob Knight. He’s got a little of that in him, now,” Hill said with a laugh. “It was both. In that same breath, my senior year, I’m the captain, I’m the best player on the team. He called me out. He called me a prima donna. He coached you hard, maybe harder then than now in some respects. I wonder if people have this sort of idea, this perception about Coach K and Duke, that it’s all peaches and cream, and everybody’s good and we sing Kumbaya and all that. Coach is from Chicago. And there’s a toughness about him. When I see him now, walking on the court, he’s ready for a street fight. And that’s his mentality, that’s how he expects you to play. Like the whole idea of taking charges. That’s putting your body on the line. There’s a little bit of the military academy (there), it’s that sort of principle. So there’s a toughness required to play for him. He demands that. He’s still demanding.”

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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