Sneakers squeak down the corridors of the Hall of Fame like they did down court in what only seems like yesterday. Draped over the tongue is the turn up of some pants not as baggy as usual, but still no Stockton. The dress shoes will be changed into in a minute. But he’ll be damned if he doesn’t get to walk on air one more time. It sure feels like it. No question.
Towering over him with careful strides is a giant of a man that moves with agility, but grace. At first it looks like the weight of the world has been placed on the shoulders of his suit jacket. But when you look into his eyes you see he could take it…and make it. He has to duck down as he unassumingly enters the room that’s held for him. Everyone else takes a bow.
BOOM! Then there’s a rumble through the auditorium. It sounds like a quake. Ushers are holding the door frames. Does somebody have a richter? Peoples glasses of water are vibrating like ‘Jurassic Park’ for the greatest Goliath since the T-Rex comes bounding towards the stage. That’s a big “son of a b####”! And just wait until you hear him roar…
…Caaaaaaan yoooooou diiiiig iiiiiiit?!
That ladies and gentelmen is your big-three that headlined the Class of 2016 for Basketball’s Hall of Fame. An a academy of acclaim that also featured inductees coach Tom Izzo, the man who helped architect Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls twice three-peating dynasty; Jerry Reinsdorf and one of the original and best legends of WNBA hoops; Sheryl Swoopes.
But the big-three that held the room really were larger than life in more ways than one. And these contemporary peers and great friends were all great rivals too in battle as their hilarious and heartfelt speeches traded war stories and touched on peace making gestures of humour and humility too.
The 7 foot 6 inch Yao Ming took the biggest standing stage as he wasn’t only inducted for the player he could have been but the man he was and will always be. Breaking down barriers in this border of Basketball, literally the biggest man from China to ever play basketball, not only opened the door for his country, but the whole continent of Asia too. Had injuries not derailed his classic career he could have been one of the best players the NBA has ever seen. Regardless like his honoary inductees, Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Dikembe Mutombo he will go down as one of the leagues greatest big men of all-time anyway.
Standing a whole foot and six inches shorter you couldn’t tell, because Allen Iverson’s heart is huge and he walks as tall as them all. Just like the amount of times as a player he drove back into the paint, again and again. No matter how many times he got knocked down, or who stood in his way as Shaq attests. Draped in the love of his family and friends (including his son; Allen Iverson II whose look and mannerisms are only a goatee and a throwback away from getting up as his pops for the next fancy dress party he goes to in college) and drenched in the tears that champagne never made, Bubba Chuck finally won. Like Rocky for Philly he’ll always be the champ. I mean who else enters the Hall to chants of MVP?
And then it got really B.I.G. Notoriously so. Shaquille O’Neal took to a stage that looked like a spinning top in his huge hands as the great, great man spun his Hall of Fame speech into the greatest comedy roast you’ve seen since the late, great Richard Pryor turned the table on his own one. A.I. may have been the first inductee to reference Chappelle Show as his epic, emotional speech also had its lighter moments as he stepped over Cav champ coach Tyronne Lue again and Yao may have had jokes too. But not like Shaq who got everyone back. Everyone could get it. From the sage of Phil Jackson, to of course Kobe in one of the funniest moments of the night that had twice-time teammate Gary Payton in stiches even the glove couldn’t keep still. Even Dick Vitale got his. As Shaq looked into the camera and then at his contemporaries with warm, accepting affection after each joke you knew it was all in good nature. For arguablly the greatest, most candid Hall speech since former frontcourt partner Dennis Rodman’s one of brutal, but brilliant honesty.
Honestly it sounds like a cliche but this was one of the best classes in years. You could just tell from the half hour speeches that felt like a quarter of that. That for once showed these guys couldn’t beat the buzzer as the red lights of 0.00 that told them to “Wrap It Up” may aswell have been shut down themselves. And what a diverse class too of all types of people that just shows the range of this game and how far it and we as fans have all come.
We can’t wait for the reunion.