The single word to describe the 2016 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Induction? Bittersweet.
It’s a bittersweet feeling to see the athletes I grew up idolizing, the players who inspired me to pick up a basketball, throw in the towel on their professional playing careers. Steve Nash, Brandon Roy, Jason Richardson, Amare Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, and Ray Allen, just to name a few.
After an impressive NBA career, these players are left with nothing else to prove. Instead, they wait to hear if they will be immortalized as a member of an exclusive club. This is a select group of players that had done enough over their careers to leave an outstanding lasting effect on the sport of basketball. Legends of the game, to say. These are athletes who were above and beyond in their era. These are athletes who forced rule changes due to their utter dominance. These are athletes who broke records. These are athletes who revolutionized the sport. These are members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 2016, three former NBA players were enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. First was Yao Ming, a dominating 7’6″ center who played for the Houston Rockets, bringing back a love for the game of basketball to his home country of China. Second was the ever-controversial, yet incredibly talented Allen Iverson, a former Georgetown Hoya and Philadelphia 76er. Lastly, former LSU Tigers, Orlando Magic, and Los Angeles Lakers center, Shaquille O’Neal was recognized as one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball.
These were three players that I had grown up idolizing as NBA athletes. Being a basketball enthusiast, nothing makes me feel older than realizing that I watched these 30-something year old men play their first and last games in the NBA. In fact, the very first basketball game I had ever seen live was the Portland Trail Blazers vs Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in Portland at the Rose Garden Arena.
From the 300 section seats, I watched Allen Iverson twist ankles like pretzels at the age of 5. He was the perfect player to get me into the game. One word that everyone can agree on in regards to Iverson? Exciting. He brought an electrifying style of basketball to the NBA hardwoods, showing off crossovers so lethal that the NBA had to craft a rule that prohibits palming the ball.
I mean, have you ever seen one of those AND-1 street ball games? Ball-Up? Maybe just some other bizarre street ball game where dudes are throwing down crossovers that flat
out embarrass opponents? That was Allen Iverson, but against the world’s best basketball players. Essentially, Allen Iverson was an everyday version of a Harlem Globetrotter who could truly ball with the best of them night in, night out.
His whole career was practically one long highlight reel; a one man “Showtime” if you will. Speaking of which, his off-the-court antics were rather worth following as well. He practically forced the hand of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern to implement a league-wide Dress Code thanks to the “hood culture” attire that Iverson would wear before and after games. Gone are the days of golds chains, baggy t-shirts, and baseball caps atop du-rags, but I guess whatever Russell Westbrook wears is okay? Hmm…
And then there’s the infamous ‘Practice?!’ press conference. That’s a piece of sports history that will never, ever fade away.
I’m glad my father brought me to that Blazers vs 76ers game so many years ago, because there was no better introduction to the game than seeing AI do his thing on the court. I certainly owe a part of my love for the game to The Answer, Allen Iverson.
Then there’s the 7’6″, 311 pound Shanghai, China native Yao Ming. The child of two former professional basketball players, many have assumed that Yao was just given the physical gift to automatically qualify him into basketball stardom. If you watched him during his heyday, however, you’d see that his game would be effective at nearly any height. Yao, who practiced 10 hours a day at the age of 13, tried out and was accepted to join the Shanghai Sharks junior team of the Chinese Basketball Association. After four years on the junior team, Yao joined the Shanghai Sharks senior team, where his dominance in the CBA grew year after year. This lead up to his final season with his hometown Shanghai team in which he averaged 32.4 points and 19 rebounds while shooting an average of .721 from the field.
After joining the Houston Rockets, Yao became one of my favorites to watch on the court. He was a physical and technical anomaly; a 7-foot-6-inch center who could shoot. As a Western Conference rival, I had seen plenty of Rockets vs Blazers games in my time. Watching Yao tower above Portland’s big men, like 6-foot-10-inch Theo Ratliff, was unbelievable.
When Yao Ming was announced as a 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame nominee, I heard some people complaining about the selection, stating that he didn’t do enough in the NBA to be named a deserving Basketball Hall of Fame member. Many would cite his injury history as the main point against the selection. My response has always stayed the same – Yao Ming revolutionized the game for both the National Basketball Association as a multi-talented center, and for the entire continent of Asia, which had developed a booming interest in basketball and the NBA alike. Yao has done just as much, if not more, for the global expansion of basketball than anyone else ever has. He’s a true global ambassador that played an impressive role both on and off the court for the NBA.
Lastly, there’s Shaquille O’Neal, who played a different role for me as a young, growing basketball fan. He taught me the meaning of rivalry. While I don’t recall his Orlando Magic career as a child, I certainly remember his Los Angeles Lakers years. The first year that I remember? 2000. In fact, it was the 2000 Western Conference Finals between the LA
Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers. You know, the series that went to game 7? The series that ended with a controversial 27 free throw attempts for LA in the fourth quarter? The game that has been recognized as one of the best comebacks in NBA history? The game
that has since been ousted as a rig job?
Yeah, that one.
If you can’t tell, the negative emotions from this series still linger 16 years later. But that’s not to discredit the incredible career of The Big Aristotle. No big man, or human being for that matter, compared to Shaq during his era of dominance. He was a 7-foot-1-inch, 344 pound mass of superiority in the paint. So much so, that the backboard support and stanchion design had to be changed to withstand the punishments that the Big Diesel would deal to the pre-Shaq NBA hoops, which O’Neal took down twice during his rookie year. In addition to that, Shaq was also the reason for one of the NBA’s newest implemented rules, although not one to be necessarily proud of. Teams can no longer ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ in the last two minutes of the game without consequences. For those who might not know, the ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ was a play where a very poor free throw shooter, like Shaquille O’Neal, was intentionally fouled without possession of the ball and forced to go to the charity stripe to shoot free throws. This one small blip on his career is well, nothing more than that; a small blip. As a whole, Shaquille O’Neal will always be remembered as one of the most physical, dominating big men to ever play the game of basketball.
With these three revolutionary NBA athletes glorified and officially enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame, it makes me wonder which idol of my younger years will make it next. Give it a couple more years and I’ll tell you about the story of how the first sports jersey I had ever owned was of future Hall Of Fame inductee, Tim Duncan.