Hall of Fame Countdown Begins …

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Good news with the induction ceremony hours away: There were showers earlier in the week and more expected as soon as Saturday, but it’s sunshine and blue skies today in a perfectly timed break for the outdoor red-carpet arrival ceremony. And you thought Dennis Rodman wasn’t on good terms with the man upstairs.

The uniqueness of the NBA portion of the Class of 2011 is unmistakable. Artis Gilmore, Satch Sanders and Tex Winter had long waits to get in. Chris Mullin had a long personal path – as a recovering alcoholic since early in his pro career – to get in. Rodman had a long road out of obscurity in high school and college to get in. Arvydas Sabonis had long periods of frustration because of injuries. This is a group tied by perseverance.

Hall president and CEO John Doleva has a different read, and it’s a good one. He regards this as a different kind of class because it does not have any glittering presence, a contrast all the more obvious in the wake of consecutive years of overwhelming star power. The 2010 enshrinement was one of the great NBA gatherings of all time, in fact, with Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen joining the 1960 Olympic team (Jerry West, Oscar Robertson) and the 1992 Dream Team as group inductees.

Rodman is obviously a big name, but he was never more than the third-best player on a championship team. Mullin was hardly an electric player who drew crowds on the road, and his election is based on a great career at St. John’s. Sabonis is here for his international impact, not his time with the Trail Blazers. Winter rode the rock-concert life with the Jordan-Pippen Bulls and the Kobe-Shaq Lakers but would take talking Xs and Os in a quiet corner over the glam any day.

A down-home collection, Doleva calls it, noting this is a group of extreme workers, not physical marvels who would leave fans slack-jawed. That’s not a good analogy for Winter, a non-player, but while he is best known in coaching circles as an originator of the triangle offense, the common recognition is as a top assistant for Phil Jackson during nine title runs. Not the name at the top of the marquee.

A few other thoughts as the ceremony approaches:

  • It could be a very emotional night. Gilmore welled up Thursday just thinking about what it will feel like to be on stage Friday night and predicted he will be fighting back tears. Rodman will probably break down. One of Mullin’s closest friends, Mitch Richmond, said he thinks there is a good chance Mullin will have an uncharacteristically emotional moment at reaching the peak. Winter will be embraced in warmth as he makes a rare appearance in front of a large gathering while still showing the effects of a 2009 stroke.
  • It’s a particularly special night for the Bulls. Rodman and Gilmore played in Chicago and Winter coached there. Jackson will present Rodman and Winter in a ceremonial, non-speaking role. (Jackson showing at all, despite no interest in attending such events, is a testament to his level of respect and friendship for Winter in particular.) ESPN Radio’s Jim Durham, winner of the Curt Gowdy Award for excellence in the electronic media, is a Chicago native and former Bulls broadcaster. NBA communications executive Brian McIntyre, winner of the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor the Hall bestows short of enshrinement, is formerly headed marketing and media relations for the Bulls.
  • Sam Smith had great reads on Rodman and Winter for Bulls.com.
  • While there are no visible signs of damage around Symphony Hall, where the gala event will take place tonight, or a half-mile away at the museum itself. This is still a city and an area recovering from a deadly June tornado. The path of destruction passed about 200 yards from the Hall of Fame, barely missing the kind of direct hit that could have forever wiped away some of the sport’s greatest treasures. The property was used as a staging area – command center, emergency vehicles, first responders, helicopters taking off and landing in the parking lot – in the immediate aftermath.

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