After watching the 2009 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, I had an even greater feeling of respect for John Stockton, David Robinson, Jerry Sloan, and Michael Jordan. Each speech was entertaining, heartfelt, and sincere as you got to see the huge heart and big smile of David Robinson on display. You got to see the hidden comedian in John Stockton, as he had the crowd laughing every 30 seconds. Jerry Sloan reluctantly gave his speech, and although slow and monotone, you got an inside look at what kind of life Sloan had and why he is the tough, no nonsense guy that he is. The usual tough and emotionless (unless hes yelling at a ref or player) Sloan paused and fought back tears when he began to speak about his former teammate and long-time friend Norm Van Lier, who passed away earlier this year.
Then there was Vivian Stringer, who the only thing I knew about before tonight was that she is the head coach of Rutgers University Woman’s Basketball team. I’m not exactly a woman’s basketball fan and the only reason I knew she was Rutgers coach is because of that idiot Don Imus and his “nappy headed hos” comment he made about Stringer’s 2007 Final Four team.
What I learned from Stringer’s speech is that she is an incredibly strong and influential woman who overcame a lot to get where she is today. Stringer was an essential part in getting equality for women in athletics long before Title IX was enacted and brought three separate teams to the Final Four. She battled personal tragedies when her daughter was paralyzed and unable to speak from a Meningitis infection as a young child. Tragedy struck again with the sudden and untimely death of her husband when he was only 47-years-old, but she persevered to mentor and influence generations of young women and strove for their equality on and off the court.
Then, of course, there was Michael. “His Airness” was in tears before he could even begin his speech, as he went on to speak about his competitive fire and all the people that fueled that fire. My favorite story was when a young Bryan Russell told a then retired Michael Jordan in 1994 that he could have guarded Michael and that he could shut him down. When Michael returned he wreaked havoc on Russell for the rest of his career, including a few game winning shots over Russell in a few different NBA Finals.
It seemed as if Mike had plenty of fuel left to play, and half-jokingly talked about playing as a 50-year-old. He could probably still average 15 a game at 50. Hell, if he read this he would say he’d average 20 easily. That was the great thing about Michael, the extreme competitiveness but also that extreme confidence. The belief in himself that he had what it takes, no matter what. Michael Jordan is the best to ever play the game of basketball but is also probably the most competitive and driven player the NBA has ever seen. This Hall of Fame class is the best ever.