SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The Hall of Fame induction ceremony was full of quips and stories, one-liners and wild interruptions from a rambunctious crowd happy to see one of the best and diverse classes in recent memory.
Symphony Hall was the site of Gregg Popovich letting everyone know they didn’t quite listen, Tony Parker telling the world how much Tim Duncan didn’t like him and Dwyane Wade bringing his dad onto the stage with him to say, “We in the Hall of Fame, dawg.”
Here are some of the notable instances during the nearly 3½-hour ceremony that had a big-time Texas flavor but a Midwest ending.
Tony Parker’s endurance (of a different kind)
Spurs current CEO R.C. Buford was Popovich’s right-hand man when Parker was available in the 2001 NBA Draft, but Parker had a disastrous pre-draft workout that almost had some going elsewhere. After he redeemed himself, he had to endure what he called “the eye” from Duncan. When told by Popovich he was gonna start in his fifth game, Parker replied, “Does Timmy know?”
Parker was sure Duncan had no use for him, jokingly saying and then repeating, “Timmy doesn’t like French people.” Parker said it wasn’t until he had a good game against Gary Payton that Duncan actually said a few words to him.
“You’ll be alright.”
Parker showed more personality and charm on this night than in any point of his nearly two-decade run as a San Antonio Spur. He joked about offensively inept Bruce Bowen always complaining, asking for the ball before saying “Hey, Bruce,” to Bowen in the crowd.
“It’s not my fault if Pop calls all the plays for Timmy,” Parker said, as Duncan sat stone-faced, still in character.
During one timeout early in his career, Parker told Popovich they’d better run something for Duncan coming out for the next play. Popovich asked if Duncan had delivered “the look” and Parker replied, “If you want a point guard tomorrow, we’d better give the ball to Timmy.”
Suffice to say, four championships later, that strategy kept Parker employed and the Spurs loaded with trophies.
Popovich, to no one’s surprise, stole the show with equal parts humor, storytelling and emotion-evoking anecdotes. He called himself a “wiseass” who was often booted from practice at the Air Force Academy, once a week by his own estimation.
Upon hearing the roar at the Hall because of all the Texans who made the trek to see himself, Parker and Dirk Nowitzki go into basketball immortality, Popovich asked the adoring public: “What are you people doing here? Who invited you?”
After getting a surprising call for a tryout with the Denver Nuggets, Popovich was told by then-coach Larry Brown that he’d better pick up a couple ties, to prepare for a career in coaching because being on the floor wasn’t in the cards.
“It was a tough decision: Me or [Hall of Famer] David Thompson,” Popovich said.
Thompson, one of basketball history’s landmark athletes during his time, clearly wasn’t threatened by Popovich.
But it sent Popovich on a journey that had him at the feet of Brown, Roy Williams and Don Nelson — all Hall of Famers. He would’ve been at the Hall sooner but didn’t want entrance until all of his players who made him a legendary coach got in before him.
So, Friday, Naismith chairman Jerry Colangelo made sure to induct Parker at the ceremony before Popovich, in accordance with his wishes.
But he kept deferring to his players, making sure to credit them as opposed to his own genius.
“You know what I did? I was there. I watched it all. I saw it and have the pictures to prove I was there. And you can’t take that away from me,” Popovich said.
“It’s not brain science. Like when was the last time you saw a new pick-and-roll play? It’s all the same damn stuff. [Late Jazz coach] Jerry Sloan ran the same play 77 times in a row, but he had Karl [Malone] and John [Stockton].”
Notoriously hard on Parker when Parker came aboard, he said that type of coaching wouldn’t fly today.
“If I coached him now the way I did then, I would be in handcuffs,” Popovich said.
It was a joke, a very funny one, but also a nod to the way basketball culture has changed through the years.
Of course, Kobe Bryant’s influence was going to be felt all through the evening. He and Wade played the same position, and had a mini-rivalry due to Shaquille O’Neal switching addresses from Los Angeles to Miami right when Wade entered the league. Bryant battled those Parker and Popovich Spurs for over a decade for supremacy in the Western Conference, along with Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. But his relationship with Pau Gasol brought Bryant back to the mountaintop for two championships and Gasol’s warm feelings toward Bryant created an emotional scene during Gasol’s speech.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, was in attendance and sitting with Gasol’s wife and children.
He expressed how much he misses Bryant to this day, and remarked on his very first conversation with Bryant upon being traded from Memphis to the Lakers in 2008.
Bryant texted him when Gasol landed, wanting to meet with him well after midnight with an afternoon game on the way. Gasol suggested the meeting wait till the morning, but Bryant was determined to give an official welcome.
Bryant showed up at Gasol’s room, said, “Welcome to the Lakers. Let’s go win a championship.”
The crowd laughed, imagining Bryant’s maniacal competitiveness.
“He cut right to the chase.”
Three Finals appearances and two titles later, the chase was well worth it.
Wade bringing his dad to the stage
Wade carries his father’s name, and for a while, Sr. was Jr.’s favorite player until he discovered a chap named Michael Jordan and the famous “Come Fly with Me” video that both he and Becky Hammon wore out (along with a bunch of other kids of that time).
He remarked watching his dad and uncles play playground games all day, with hard fouls and hard jokes in the aftermath. Wade said he was a clumsy kid, with bad hands and feet too big for his body.
But after his body and coordination caught up to him, he still remembered the lessons taught by his dad, being pressed to be an all-around player and not just a scorer, leading to Wade becoming the greatest shot-blocking guard in league history.
So after calling out individual members of his family to tribute them in the moment, he finished by calling for his dad to stand once again, to join him on the stage with his “bad knees” to claim: “We in the Hall of Fame, dawg.”
That closed the show.