The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inducted 13 new living members as part of its Class of 2021 on Sept. 11, 2021.
The induction ceremony brought many of the game’s biggest stars to the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. But the three-day event was a challenge for fans and collectors seeking an autograph or a moment with their favorite stars.
The 2021 class represents multiple NBA, WNBA and NCAA champions, MVPs and Olympic medalists.
Here’s a look at the 13 living members of the class:
• Rick Adelman accumulated 1,042 coaching wins over 23 NBA seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves. On April 6, 2013, he became the eighth coach and fifth fastest in NBA history to win 1,000 games. Adelman led his teams to the playoffs in 16 of his 23 seasons and is one of only five head coaches in NBA history to win 60-plus games in a season with two different teams (Portland and Sacramento).
• As a high school star, Chris Bosh was named Texas Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American after leading Lincoln High to a 40-0 record. Bosh was picked fourth in the 2003 NBA draft and named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. He completed his NBA career as an 11-time All-Star and averaged more than 19 points per game in 13 seasons.
• Paul Pierce sits 16th on the all-time career scoring list with 26,397 points. In 19 NBA seasons, he was a 10-time all-star and NBA Finals MVP for the Boston Celtics (2008). He played more than 1,100 games for the Celtics and finished second only to John Havlicek as the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer. Pierce was a former California Mr. Basketball, a McDonald’s All-American and a first-team All-American at Kansas.
You Also Might Like: Braves memorabilia could attract big dollars after World Series victory
• Ben Wallace was selected to the Hall for his defense. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team five times and was honored as a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006). He was a key player, along with teammates Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, on the Detroit Pistons team that captured the 2003-04 NBA title.
• Chris Webber was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball and the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP in 1991. He continued his basketball pursuits at the University of Michigan as part of the “Fab Five” team that made NCAA Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993. Webber was the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year and was named to five NBA All-Star teams.
• I will always remember Bob Dandridge as a Milwaukee Buck and a member of the 1971 NBA championship team alongside Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was 9 years old growing up in Milwaukee in 1971 and that team more than anything else led to my lifelong love of basketball. The Bucks had to first defeat the San Francisco Warriors featuring Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas and Jeff Mullins, and then beat the Lakers with Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. The Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets led by Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson and Jack Marin in four games in the finals.
That championship season 50 years ago was discussed often during the 2021 finals as Milwaukee’s 50-year championship draught was finally over. Dandridge would also win a championship in 1978 with the Washington Bullets alongside another pair of Hall of Famers — Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.
Dandridge averaged 18.5 points per game over 12 seasons, was a four-time all-star and scored the most playoffs points (450) of any player in the 1970s.
• Bill Russell was inducted as a coach, joining John Wooden, Lenny Wilkens, Bill Sharman and Tom Heinsohn as the only Hall of Famers to be inducted as both a player and a coach. In 1966, Russell became the NBA’s first black head coach and in just his second season would become the first black head coach to win an NBA Championship (1968). Russell won 341 NBA games and 34 playoff games as a head coach.
• Jay Wright led Villanova to NCAA national championships in 2016 and 2018 and coached teams to the Sweet 16 or better seven times. Wright was honored as the Naismith National Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2016. While at Villanova, he coached future NBA players Kyle Lowry, Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson.
• Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson were both named to the WNBA Top 20@20 team honoring the top 20 players in the 20-year history of the WNBA. Griffith and Jackson were both named to seven WNBA All-Star games. Griffith won two gold medals for USA basketball and Jackson won three silver medals for Australia. Griffith was an WBNA champion in 2005 with the Sacramento Monarchs and was named the WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of year in 1999. Jackson was a two-time WNBA Champion in 2004 and 2010 with the Seattle Storm and was named the Finals MVP in 2010.
• Toni Kukoc was elected by the International Committee as a five-time European Player of the Year and three-time EuroLeague MVP. Kukoc helped Yugoslavia win a FIBA World Championships gold medal (1990) and an Olympic silver medal (1988). While inducted as an international player, most in the United States remember Kukoc as a member of the Chicago Bulls championship teams from 1996 to 1998.
• Other living members honored were Val Ackerman as a contributor and Pearl Moore as a player elected from the Veterans Committee. Ackerman served as Commissioner of the Big East Conference, President of USA basketball and President of the WNBA. Moore’s 4,061 points is the highest career scoring total in men’s or women’s college basketball (Francis Marion College, 1975-79).
• Honored posthumously were Kansas State and NBA coach Cotton Fitzsimmons; Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, a basketball pioneer from 1917-1939 and a 20-year Negro League Baseball standout; and Howard Garfinkel of the Five-Star Basketball Camp who helped with advances in player recruiting.
The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame requires that each inductee pick one or more presenters who are current Hall of Famers. With a big class of 16 new members there is always great anticipation as to who the presenters will be. Typically, the presenters are the biggest names on hand for the ceremony.
This year’s ceremony did not disappoint as the presenters list was full of hoops stars. The top presenters were Michael Jordan (Kukoc), Oscar Robertson (Dandridge), Kevin Garnett (Pierce), Ray Allen and Pat Riley (Bosh), Charles Barkley (Wright and Russell), Sheryl Swoopes (Jackson), Julius Erving and Alonzo Mourning (also Russell), and Isiah Thomas (Webber).
EVENTS AND SPECIAL ATTENDEES
A little more than 30 returning Hall of Famers attended this year’s events, including Patrick Ewing, Earl Monroe, Bill Walton, Alex English, Tina Thompson, Artis Glimore, Dikembe Mutombo, Gary Payton, Spencer Haywood and Jack Sikma. Detroit Pistons NBA championship team members Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace joined teammate Ben Wallace, while Hall of Famer Roy Williams, Paul Pierce’s college coach at Kansas, attended the Friday night awards event. Jay Wright had a number of Villanova Alumni on hand, including Kyle Lowry and Jalen Brunson. Michigan coach Steve Fisher and Michigan Alumni Juwan Howard were there to support Chris Webber. Even spotted on the red carpet was 2021 No. 1 Draft pick Cade Cunningham.
The biggest names in attendance were LeBron James and Dwayne Wade from the Miami Heat championship team, who were there to support teammate Chris Bosh.
Eleven of the thirteen living members of the class participated in a Panini Autograph Session on Friday at Mohegan Sun. The cost of this year’s autograph session was $300 for one signature of each participating class member. A $500 package included a special custom Class of 2021 Spalding basketball with the names of all 16 members of the class. A $750 package also included a Nike gift and front-of-the-line access for the session. There were about 150 tickets sold for the event, including three lines with approximately eight to 10 fans in each of the $500 and $750 lines
I did not see any autographed items from the Class of 2021 being offered for sale by the Hall of Fame, but you can still purchase a Class of 2021 Enshrinement Commemorative Poster ($15) or Program ($17).
Many of the Class of 2021 members were willing signers if you had access to them. I saw Dandridge, Wright, Wallace, Kukoc, Griffith and Pearl Moore sign on several occasions throughout the weekend. It would be tough to say who was the best of those six, but if I had to narrow it down to two, I would pick Wallace and Kukoc since you saw them so many more times. Webber, Bosh and Pierce were more difficult, but late Saturday night and into Sunday afternoon fans had more success with the new inductees as the crowd sizes were minimal. I had a hard time with Pierce as I tried multiple times to get his pro debut ticket signed. It took me about five tries, and by then he thought he had signed multiple times for me. I was happy to get a 1000th coaching win ticket signed by Adelman and a 800th win ticket signed by Roy Williams.
Some of the best returnee signers were Jack Sikma, Dino Radja and Vlade Divac. But it was a tough returning group, as Ray Allen, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Garnett and Alonzo Mourning were not willing signers.
I am always confused when I get turned down by a Hall of Famer at a $1,000 event, only to have them leave the event and sign along the red carpet for on-lookers.
The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday evening enshrinement ceremony, which was moved back to Springfield just a few blocks from the Hall of Fame. I prefer the much more intimate Symphony Hall, but this year’s ceremony was in a much larger facility at the Mass Mutual Center (Springfield Pro Hockey venue). The larger venue was first selected for social distancing, but as COVID improved in May and June, seating was expanded.
Ticket prices to the ceremony ranged from $100-$1,000. Unless you had a $600 or $1,000 ticket, you did not have access to the floor where the Hall of Famers were seated. I did have a floor ticket and was successful getting signatures from Isiah Thomas and Dwayne Wade. After the ceremony, I was taking some pictures near the stage and turned to my left to see LeBron James a mere three feet from me. I snapped a couple of pictures of LeBron talking to Dwayne Wade. LeBron was on the floor for about five minutes before moving to the stage. Though he did not sign autographs, he did stop for a couple of selfies.
The top moments during the enshrinement speeches were Pierce naming one by one all the teams that passed him up in the 1998 NBA draft before the Celtics selected him at No. 10 (at least two of those picks are future Hall of Famers) and two stories by Bosh and Dandridge.
Bosh’s story focused on the first NBA jersey he received as a kid.
“This one day, under the Christmas tree, my pre-teen prayers were answered,” he said. “Folded neatly in this little box was a Laker’s jersey. Man, and you know, as I am taking it out, I was so excited. Like is it Magic? Is it Kareem? Is it Worthy? I look at both sides, and it just said Lakers. No name, no number, just Lakers. Man, but I still felt like Magic when I put it on. I even put it on and played a little bit. I was so proud, until I wore it to school.”
Dandridge told stories about his playing days.
“Former players say, ‘Well you played with a chip on your shoulder, you were an angry player. Well, when I look back on it, 90 percent of the players I guarded or were pitted against are now in the Hall of Fame. So, you don’t look forward to guarding Connie Hawkins, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, all in a period of four days since there was no such thing as time management, or whatever you call it now.”
Basketball Hall of Fame weekends are getting tougher and tougher on autograph seekers and even fans who want a photo with their favorite basketball star. Moving two days of events to the Mohegan Sun usually would not be a welcome change as the casino complex has many hidden routes not accessible to the public. But now with the MGM Grand in Springfield in play, the Mohegan Sun at least offers better, yet still limited, access for fans.
Since the MGM Grand opened in downtown Springfield and a majority of Hall of Famers now stay there, accessibility has been extremely restricted. How I long for the old days 20 to 30 years ago when you could pretty much walk up to the Hall of Famers, ask for an autograph and talk to them for a few minutes. Quite a few of them recognized me from year to year.
Now if you try to talk for a few minutes, security quickly whisks them away. The days when fans would have long interactions with some of the Hall of Famers is pretty much extinct.
Even at the Hall of Fame, in the past fans could line up along the ropes to see the Hall of Famers enter an event. This year, those ropes were pushed back another 10 feet and I think for the first time ever a double set of ropes were used. The two sets of ropes were separated by 10 to 12 feet, assuring that even if a Hall of Famer wanted to sign, there would still be a 10- to 12-foot barrier between them and the fans. Not a single Hall of Famer stopped with this new setup.
The better option was the red carpet at the Mass Mutual Center. At least you could get pictures of most of the stars along the red carpet.
This was my 31st straight induction ceremony. The Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement was always my favorite, but due to the changes mentioned above, it has moved down my list, falling below the Boxing and Football Hall of Fame events. Access is still better than the Baseball Hall of Fame and Cooperstown, and the crowd sizes at the Basketball Hall of Fame are much smaller, but the events I attended had a price tag of $1,900, and that is a lot of money for limited access.
But, God willing, I will be there again in 2022 for my 32nd straight time.