Saturday, September 12, 2009
Sloan and Stockton Enter Hall of Fame
Outside Utah, the sports world worshiped at the altar of Michael Jordan as His Airness was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. As he was in his playing days, Jordan was the headliner. They moved the ceremonies to the Springfield Massachusetts Symphony Hall just to accommodate the enormous crowd.
There were actually five inductees in last night's enshrinement ceremonies, however. Vivian Springer, legendary women's basketball pioneer and lifelong coach, was perhaps the most articulate and humble of the five. Her life story is an inspiration. She told of her numerous challenges with humility and grace. She became an icon of overcoming and triumph in the face of unrelenting adversity and hardship. Without a single scrap of notes in front of her, she filled her remarks with gratitude for God, her family, her assistants, and all her "basketball daughters." She will receive less ink than anyone there last night among the inductees, but her story stands out this morning in my mind as the most impressive and least well-known.
David Robinson is a devoutly Christian gentleman above all else. His faith is anchored deep within his soul, and he, along with Avery Johnson on that San Antonio Spurs team represents all that is best in role models in the sports world when it comes to Christian values and the living of them. He had some great battles with Malone and Stockton. Malone was so intimidating it's hard to remember now just how much he "owned" Robinson because in recent years the Spurs have dominated the rivalry with the Jazz. He said at the press conference that whenever Stockton and Malone came to town and stepped on the floor, "You just knew they were going to knock your blocks off." He's such a class act.
Michael Jordan, of course, was the last to speak, and was full of himself as always. He spoke of all the people (a long list as it turned out) -- his naysayers mostly -- who threw "another log" onto his raging fire of competitive spirit. He even invoked the memory of a conversation with Bryon Russell that spurred him to come back out of retirement when Russell told him he was sorry he hadn't had the chance to guard him and that he was sure he could shut him down if they had played against each other. Russell got his chance twice in the Finals and failed twice, Jordan was quick to boast.
I naively thought Jordan might finally confess that he pushed off Russell to get open for that last shot, but no such confession was forthcoming last night. Jordan was still settling old scores, as if to say, "I won't ever let any of you forget how great I am and you're not." Jordan was simply the greatest to ever play the game, and it will forever be thus -- at least in Jordan's mind. There is a heavy price to be paid for being number one in anything, and only Jordan can decide if it has been worth it in the end.
It was Dizzy Dean who once said, "It ain't braggin' if you done it." Of course, there is no one who earned bigger braggin' rights in the NBA than Michael Jordan, and his braggadocios nature was on full display last night.
It was Jesus Christ who said, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:45). Nowhere was that truism more evident than in last night's speeches.
Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were peas from the same pod. Each recounted their memories from a printed speech they had prepared in advance. Each filled his remarks with self-deprecating humor and heartfelt expressions of gratitude for all those people around them who had made them better than they were. Each openly confessed their shock and amazement at even being there.
Stockton said he saved every penny of his salary that first year in the NBA because he never thought he'd stick. He admitted that he had never -- not once -- in thirty years of competitive basketball ever been the best player on his team.
It's no secret that Sloan loves the game. He said the loyalty of those around him, including Larry Miller, was the only reason he had lasted as long as he had. In the parade of memories, Sloan mentioned the one season when he lost 56 games and Miller stuck with him. That, he said, was the ONLY reason he had been able to stick it out. Since his appointment as head coach in Utah there have been 232 coaching changes in the NBA, and he gave all the credit to others -- Miller, long-time assistant Phil Johnson, the players, trainers and then he even listed virtually everyone in the front office by name. He also had a long list of players he rattled off -- all of them, he said, were the reasons for his longevity in the coaching profession.
Sloan and Stockton were the class acts last night if you live in Utah, and Robinson and Springer would be close seconds. His Airness, Michael Jordan, was certainly the headliner. That fact will never be in dispute, because he will no doubt be regarded forever as the greatest to ever play the game.
However, if you ever needed a lesson in contrasts between humility and ego, look no further than last night's ceremonies.