SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – Fans waved a German flag and chanted Dirk Nowitzki’s name as the former Dallas Mavericks big man walked the red carpet into Symphony Hall for Saturday night’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Tony Parker’s fans cheered as he took the stage and opened the event. “There are many French in the city. I’m sorry,” said the San Antonio Spurs point guard.
Spain was also well represented, with Pau Gasol shouting “mi familia” to his national team before joining what is perhaps the largest international class of recruits in Springfield Shrine’s history.
“I want to make a special mention of the first Europeans who came here across the ocean and took the risk,” said Gasol, who fell in love with the sport when his hometown of Barcelona hosted the 1992 Olympics. “I was 12. It changed my life. The Dream Team showed us how to play basketball.”
The 2023 vintage brought a decidedly international flair to the basketball hall.
Nowitzki was the first European-born player to win the NBA MVP award in 2007. Parker’s NBA Finals MVP award this year was the first for a European. In 2002, Gasol was the NBA’s first international rookie of the year.
The Spurs were also well represented, led by longtime coach and five-time NBA champion Gregg Popovich and Parker, the point guard for four of those title-winning teams. Becky Hammon, who became the first woman to join the Spurs as a full-time assistant coach after a career in the WNBA, was also honored. Gasol played his last two good seasons with Spurs.
“Coach Pop — it starts with him,” Parker said.
Other honorary members include Dwyane Wade—a key player on three NBA championship teams in Miami—and former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, who led the Wolfpack to the 1983 NCAA title and later served as a broadcaster and cancer research advocate. Valvano was inducted posthumously.
Rounding out the class was the US women’s basketball team, which won the silver medal in 1976; former Purdue coach Gene Keady, seven-time Big Ten Coach of the Year; former Texas A&M women’s coach Gary Blair, who led two teams to the Final Four; longtime Amherst coach and two-time Division III national champion David Hixon; and Gene Bess – who won 1,300 games as a junior collegiate coach at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
The inductees received their Hall of Fame rings and jackets Friday at a press conference that Hammon missed because the Aces had a game in Las Vegas that night. In her speech, she broke down when she thanked Popovich.
“I know you weren’t trying to be brave when you hired me,” she said. “You changed the course of my life and that of many other girls and young women.”
Hammon was undrafted by the WNBA and was a six-time All-Star before joining Popovich in San Antonio. Last season, she coached the Aces to a WNBA championship.
“I hear ‘no’ or have a door closed as often as I’m walking down a chimney or bursting through a window to find a way,” Hammon said. “I wouldn’t change the difficult parts because the difficult parts were necessary to develop courage for whatever comes next.”
Popovich belittled his basketball talents and image as a foul media contrast. He told the players who introduced him to sit down and say “Pscht”. “Don’t speak, just sit there,” Popovich said, taking the microphone.
Turning to Parker, he said, “All I asked for Tony was that he be perfect. Now if I trained him the way I did, I would be handcuffed.”
Parker smiled and nodded.
As a player at the Air Force Academy, Popovich said he was frequently thrown out of practice, he said, adding with a grin, “I know you all know now that I’m a completely mature person.”
When the music tried to outplay him early on, Popovich sent host Ahmad Rashad back from the stage. He thanked Tom James, who as Spurs’ communications vice-president is tasked with keeping Popovich out of trouble. And then the coach went off and did it all over again, goading the league for failing the city of Seattle.
“C’mon, man, Seattle,” he said to former SuperSonics guard Gary Payton, who was in the crowd.
But Popovich choked as he thanked his family, saying, as if it were news to those who consider him a sideline ogre, “I have a family. People think I only do basketball. Basketball does not love him back. We use it like a bar of soap. … I don’t remember saying ‘I love you, Pop’ there.”
Gasol thanked the late Kobe Bryant, his teammate on two NBA championship teams for the Los Angeles Lakers, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gigi in 2020.
“I wouldn’t be here without you, brother,” Gasol said. “I wish more than anything that you and Gigi were here with us today. I miss you and love you.”
Like Gasol, Parker was won over by the 1992 Summer Olympics when the Hall of Famer-studded Americans defeated the France international by 50 points. But when it came to taking part in the European Championship, Gasol and Spain often stood in the way.
“Sometimes I wish Pau Gasol hadn’t been born,” Parker joked.
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