Tim Hardaway took the stage and told a story of his early days in the NBA, when Golden State teammates Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin would often ask him the same question.
“They would ask me, ‘Tim, how great do you want to be?’” Hardaway said.
They have their answer. So does everyone else. He’s a basketball immortal.
Hardaway, Manu Ginobili, Swin Cash, Bob Huggins, Del Harris, Lindsay Whalen, Marianne Stanley, Theresa Shank Grentz and George Karl all delivered their enshrinement addresses as new members of the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“A kid from the east side of Chicago made it all the way to Springfield, Massachusetts,” Hardaway said. “Incredible.”
Such was the theme throughout the night: how an honor that none of the new Hall members imagined has now come their way, each of them thanking those who helped them reached the pinnacle.
Ginobili was presented by Tim Duncan, already a Hall of Famer himself, and next year the third member of San Antonio’s legendary Big 3 of players — Tony Parker — will be eligible for selection.
“The Spurs were one big, strong, supportive family for me,” Ginobili said.
Someday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will be in the Hall as well; the NBA’s all-time wins leader doesn’t want to be considered until his career is over. Ginobili reserved special tribute for him.
“Pop, what can I say? You’ve been so, so important for me and my family, on and off the court, that’ll I never be able to thank you enough,” Ginobili said, his voice cracking.
Cash — an NCAA, WNBA and Olympic champion — also paid tribute to her coach at UConn, Hall of Famer Geno Auriemma and her Huskies teammates, including the group that went 39-0 for her senior season in 2001-02.
“If anyone’s debating the greatest basketball team ever, ask about us,” said Cash, who now works in the front office of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Duncan and Ginobili weren’t the only teammates in the building. Stanley and Shank Grentz were teammates at Immaculata in the 1970s, before going on to coaching careers — and now, the Hall, together.
“It’s the privilege of a lifetime,” Stanley said.
Added Shank Grentz, who, like all inductees, learned of her selection in April: “I am still overwhelmed.”
Whalen, whose legendary playing career has been followed by her returning to alma mater Minnesota and coaching there, might have had a Hall of Fame first by thanking a fast-food company.
“Thank you, Burger King,” Whalen said.
To explain: When Whalen — a converted hockey player — was going to her first basketball camp, she was anxious, crying, not wanting to go into the gym. But her parents had paid for camp and weren’t going to let her back out, so negotiations quickly took place. The agreement was eventually struck; if Whalen would go to camp, she’d get a Whopper Jr., with cheese, for the ride home.
“I ended up having a great time,” Whalen said.
Her parents not wanting her to play hockey was her twist of fate. For Harris, his was a professor encouraging him to take a year to coach a junior-high basketball team before joining the seminary.
Harris was going to be a pastor; ironically, basketball’s founder, Dr. James Naismith, also was a pastor. Instead, Harris followed in another set of Naismith’s footsteps, as a coach.
“After that year, I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” said Harris, who coached at just about every imaginable level — high school, college, the NBA, international teams and at the FIBA level.
His path to the Hall came from modest beginnings, just like Huggins — who now coaches at his alma mater, West Virginia and has won more than 900 games in his collegiate career — and Karl, who got emotional when he paid tribute to his college coach at North Carolina, Dean Smith, and got laughs when talking about the challenge of coaching a Hall of Famer like Gary Payton.
“This is really incredible for a guy from Penn Hills, Pennsylvania,” Karl said. “This is a ‘wow’ moment for me.”
Huggins even did a little coaching as he paid tribute during his speech to Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
“You’re allowed to clap, I think,” Huggins said. “I’m not real sure of the rules, but what the hell, let’s just make them as we go.”
Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin formed the trio known as “Run TMC,” which remains popular today. Mullin entered the Hall in 2011, Richmond three years later. And they were on the stage Saturday night, seated just to Hardaway’s left, when his wait finally ended.
“Legendary, baby,” Hardaway said. “We was legendary.”
Also honored were seven more new Hall members, all deceased: one of NBA’s first Black referees in Hugh Evans, six-time All-Star Lou Hudson, former coach Larry Costello, international great Radivoj Korac and a trio of former Harlem Globetrotters in Wyatt “Sonny” Boswell, Inman Jackson and Albert “Runt” Pullins.
And special tribute was paid to two-time Hall of Fame inductee Bill Russell, who made it in as a player, then as a coach. Russell died earlier this year, and the ceremony Saturday began with Hall of Famers Jerry West and Alonzo Mourning paying respect to the 11-time champion.
“Bill was the ultimate competitor on the court and a remarkable human being off of it,” West said. “And in his own way, he made all the lives he touched a little better. That’s why he’ll be missed, especially by those who were fortunate enough to know him.”
Added Mourning, who spoke of Russell’s work as a champion of social justice: “Rest in power, my friend.”