In one of the largest returning classes to date, more than 55 Basketball Hall of Famers converged on the Basketball Hall of Fame for the 49th enshrinement celebration that took place September 4-6 in Springfield, Mass., and Uncasville, Conn.
The hall enshrined seven new members during the weekend festivities. Those enshrined were Adrian Dantley, Bill Davidson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Riley, Cathy Rush and Dick Vitale.
The class of 2008 was a diverse group with many accomplishments in both the college and professional level. Many of the inductees’ careers were interwoven throughout the years, from the famed battles between Ewing and Olajuwon in the NCAA and NBA Finals, to Bill Davidson giving Dick Vitale his first professional coaching job.
The returning Hall of Famers that joined the new inductees included Top 50 players Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, James Worthy, Dave Bing, Rick Barry, Moses Malone, Dolph Schayes, Nate Archibald, Isiah Thomas and Clyde Drexler.
Other notable Hall of Famers in attendance were Bobby Knight, Dominique Wilkens, Walt Bellamy, KC Jones and a number of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Dantley, a past six-time finalist, started his career playing under Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten at DeMatha Catholic High School. He later played college ball under Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, where he was honored as a first team All-America in 1975 and 1976. He later starred on the 1976 gold medal Olympic team, and then went on to have a 15-year NBA career.
In the NBA, Dantley was named Rookie of the Year in 1977, reached the All-Star game six times and led the league in scoring percentage in 1981 and 1984. His 23,177 career points still ranks 23rd all-time.
Davidson was elected to the Hall of Fame as a contributor. Davidson has been an owner of the Detroit Pistons since 1974 and the WNBA Detroit Shock since 1998. Those teams have captured three NBA titles and two WNBA titles.
Ewing came to the state of Massachusetts from Kingston, Jamaica, at the age of 12 and toured the Hall of Fame on school field trips as a youth. Just a few years later in 1981, he was named Parade Magazine’s National High School Player of the Year and was recruited to play at Georgetown University under Hall of Fame coach John Thompson.
At Georgetown, he was a three-time first team All-America, led his team to three NCAA Final Four appearances and a National Championship in 1984 over Houston.
Ewing went on to a 17-year NBA career with the New York Knicks, where he scored 24,815 points, was a member of 11 All-Star teams, won the 1986 NBA Rookie of the Year award and in 1996, was honored as one of the Top 50 players to ever step on the court. He was also a two-time Olympic gold medal-winner, which included being a member of the 1992 Dream Team.
Olajuwon teamed with Clyde Drexler to form “Phi Slama Jamma” at the University of Houston, leading the team to three consecutive Final Four appearances.
As an 18-year veteran of the Houston Rockets, he scored 26,946 points, was a six-time All-Star, named the 1994 NBA MVP after the Rockets beat Ewing’s New York Knicks to avenge the 1984 NCAA title loss and was also honored in the NBA Top 50 list. He still owns the NBA record for blocked shots with 3,830.
Riley grew up in upstate New York and went on to play for the Kentucky Wildcats, where he played for the legendary coach Adolf Rupp and was part of the 1966 National Championship game against Texas Western and Don Haskins.
Riley, inducted as a coach, currently ranks third on the all-time wins list (1,210) in NBA history behind Lenny Wilkens (1,332) and Don Nelson (1,280). He is the only coach in NBA history to win Coach of the Year honors with three different teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Knicks and Miami Heat). He has coached his teams to five NBA championships.
When asked what game Riley would most like to take back, he said he would have like to have back the 1994 NBA Finals loss to the Houston Rockets. Some expected that it might be the 1966 game against Texas Western, but he said he, “realized the significance of that game in the history of basketball and would not want to take that one back.”
Rush, also inducted as a coach, led the small 500-student catholic school of Immaculata University to three consecutive AIAW national women’s championships from 1972 -74, and five trips overall to the NAIAW Championship Game in six years.
During a six-year run from 1972-77, Rush coached Immaculata to a record of 149-15. In 1975, Immaculata was the first women’s basketball game to appear on national television.
Rush was also enshrined into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000. Coming in the spring of 2009, the motion picture Our Lady of Victory will be released, showcasing Rush’s career.
Vitale was honored for his 20-plus years as a contributor, voice and face of NCCA college basketball. He has been with ESPN since its inception in 1979 (and called ESPN’s first-ever NCCA basketball game in December 1979), and seems to never slow down as he fires up college crowds across the country.
Love him or hate him, after you spend a half-hour listening to him, you can only be in awe of his story-telling ability and his knack for holding the attention of a large audience.
Other HOF awards
During the course of the weekend, Bob Wolff was also inducted as a broadcaster to the Hall of Fame, becoming only the second broadcaster – joining Curt Gowdy – to be inducted into both the baseball and basketball hall of fame.
Sonny Hill and David Robinson were also honored with the Manny Jackson Human Spirit Award. Unfortunately, Robinson could not attend.
The Hall also re-honored Magic Johnson, David Thompson, Dick McGwire, Joan Crawford and Bob Houbregs with a “Spire Award,” which is represented by a small replica of the monument located outside the new Hall of Fame building which opened in 2002. These five Hall of Famers participated in a roundtable talk that was one of the better moments of the weekend.
I have now attended a portion of every enshrinement weekend since 1991, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Hall of Famer Bob Houbregs from the class of 1987 for the first time in those 18 years. Houbregs was a great signer, and that was nice to see, as I had a number of items that I had been carrying for years and years.
One of the big questions of the weekend was how tough it would be to get Ewing to sign. I had always heard he was a tough signer. My past two experiences with him were not favorable.
Ewing’s habits did not change much during his Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend. I could only confirm that he signed seven autographs over the course of the three days.
I thought the Thursday night private Reunion Dinner would be the best chance for an autograph, and when the program ended, I was the first to approach Ewing and ask if he could sign a mini basketball for me. He couldn’t. I did witness him sign one 8x10 photo earlier in the evening.
At another private event on Friday morning, I heard that he had signed three autographs. When I did catch him with no other collectors around a bit later in the day, he told me “He was all autographed out.” At the enshrinement ceremony on Friday night, he only was seen signing one 2008 program for fellow Hall of Famer Rick Barry.
During my last chance at the Mohegan Sun Casino on Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be the second person to secure an autograph, and I believe that he cut off any more requests after me.
The mini basketball was special to me since I am trying to collect a single-signed mini ball of all the NBA Top 50 players. When I added Ewing and Olajuwon to my collection, that left me with only seven more to go to reach 49. The 50th one, Pete Maravich, I knew from the start would never be possible.
Getting the 2008 class to sign
For the past nine years, and since 1998 when Larry Bird was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was able to complete at least a signed basketball or a program of the incoming class.
That was a very difficult task to complete this year. Not only was Ewing difficult, but Davidson, who is 85 years old, only attended the enshrinement on Friday night. He was unable to attend all the other events during the weekend due to his health.
Davidson required a wheelchair on Friday night, and that made it difficult for any autograph seeker. He did sign one program after the enshrinement, again for Barry. So be aware of any completely signed programs from the class of 2008, unless it comes directly from the Hall of Fame.
The new class did sign some programs and balls for the hall, but I do not know if Davidson was even able to accommodate the Hall of Fame.
I did speak with Barry about the fact that he might have the only known completely signed program from the weekend, and he said the program was for his 14-year-old son who he said had quite an extensive collection.
Big ticket disappointment
The Hall of Fame events took a change in direction this year. In the past few years, it hosted the Induction Celebration and Ring Ceremony on Saturday morning. Tickets to that event were priced from $35-$75, and included an autograph session attended by the new class and a handful of current Hall of Famers.
This year, this event was moved about 70 miles away in Connecticut to the Mohegan Sun Casino. The price of admission was now $250 per ticket, and gone were the autograph sessions. That price increase is a shame for the average fan or family, since the Friday night enshrinement is $450 per ticket and now there is really no event for families. This is much different than the free Cooperstown ceremonies or the modestly priced ceremonies and events of the football or boxing hall of fames.
But to the credit of the Mohegan Sun, they put on a top-notch event from start to finish. For the first time during the entire weekend, the Hall of Famers were announced to the crowd one at a time, and they entered the room in red-carpet style, accompanied by a brief biography of their accomplishments. Unfortunately, by Saturday evening, the number of Hall of Famers still attending had dropped from to about 30.
I was surprised at the size of the crowd for this event, with its $250 price tag. There were about 1,000-1,200 people in attendance. After talking to a few people, I quickly realized that many in attendance were getting tickets as “comps” from the casino. The Mohegan Sun signed a long-term deal with the Hall of Fame to host this Saturday event. The Mohegan Sun is already closely linked to basketball roots by being the host stadium for the WNBA Connecticut Suns, and inside, you will find restaurants sponsored by Michael Jordan and Geno Auriemma.
During the Saturday Induction Celebration, the crowd was able to bid on four live auctions.
An all-inclusive package for two to the 2009 NBA All star game in Phoenix sold for $6,500, and an all-inclusive package for two to the 2009 Hall of Fame induction weekend sold for $6,000. An evening with Dick Vitale and an evening with Pat Riley were also up for auction.
The Hall of Fame and the City of Springfield did add a new event during the lunch hour on Friday. Springfield’s Mayor Domenic Sarno and buses of local students officially welcomed the Class of 2008 on the steps of City Hall. This event was open to the public and featured remarks from this year’s class.
So who were the best and worse signers of the weekend? The best were Barry, Walt Bellamy, Gail Goodrich, Vitale, Cliff Hagan and Dantley. The toughest were Davidson, Ewing, Bobby Knight, John Havlicek and Jerry West.
The biggest surprise of the weekend was Magic Johnson signing a few times for fans. The biggest disappointment was Knight. In the past, Coach Knight was a pretty good signer, and I really had hoped to have my game ticket to his last NCAA coaching win, No. 902, autographed and numbered. If he signed on Friday night, it was very few.
Rob Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports