NEW ORLEANS – He wasn’t getting close to All-Star weekend. David Stern was so not getting close, in fact, that he chose an opposite destination, leaving New York for the altitude and snow of Colorado, a favorite getaway, and a ski vacation with his wife while most of his former world converged on the Gulf Coast in sunshine for the indoors of basketball. He didn’t want to be the slightest presence as successor Adam Silver took the big stage for the first time as commissioner.
Giving the spotlight a two-hand shove in someone else’s, anyone else’s, direction reached all the way Friday to skipping his own meeting with history, when the Hall of Fame announced Stern had been elected and he stuck with the ski plans anyway. Silver in the audience for the unveiling of the first five names of the Class of 2014 for the basketball museum in Springfield, Mass., while Stern kept a safe distance was an appropriate twist.
This had to play out just right for the commissioner emeritus. More than just whether he would attend the announcement, Stern debated for some time whether to allow himself to be nominated this election cycle or wait a year or two for the lock of first-ballot enshrinement. He had always said the moment would only come once out of office, but then as moving day, Feb. 1, neared, he thought about delaying the Hall in favor of a comfortable chair deep in the shadows.
“He thought he might let it go by for a while,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall and a long-time Stern confidant. “He’s a humble guy in many ways and he wasn’t necessarily looking to have another thing happen real quick, because this is a big thing. I had to nudge him a little bit by telling him, ‘We could use you now, not five years from now. People forget quickly.’ He thought about it and he got back to me. He said, ‘OK.’ ”
OK, back into the limelight.
“David is a modest guy and I don’t think he thought this was coming so quickly,” Silver said. “Even though he had a storied career as commissioner, I think he thought there’d be some period of time before he went in the Hall, but they came to him and said now was the time for him to be inducted. He was moved. I spoke to him right after Jerry Colangelo had talked to him. He was moved, he was excited. I think it’s a great book end to a fantastic career as commissioner.”
Stern’s induction ceremony in Springfield in August will come as part of an ongoing Pacers party, with former coach Bob (Slick) Leonard being elected as the third Indiana selection in a row by the ABA committee, following Mel Daniels in 2012 and Roger Brown in 2013. Leonard, now a Pacers broadcaster, is the winningest coach in the history of the rebel league and won three championships.
Sarunas Marciulionis was elected via the International category for a starring role with the Soviet Union and later, after his native land gained independence, Lithuania. He also played seven seasons in the NBA as a shooting guard who would attack the basket with an aggressive, fearless style that belied an easy-going personality that made him popular among fans and teammates with the Warriors, SuperSonics, Kings and Nuggets.
Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton, from the Early African-American Pioneers committee, and Guy Rodgers, via the Veterans committee, were elected posthumously. Clifton was the first African-American to sign an NBA contract, while Rodgers was a college star at Temple who played 12 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star teams.
Alonzo Mourning headlined the list of finalists from the North American committee, which, like the Women’s field, involves a second election before inductees are announced at the Final Four ahead of the induction ceremony in August: Mourning, Kevin Johnson (a step forward by making it through the first round of voting), Spencer Haywood, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, college coaches Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams and former AAU coach Harley Redin along with Immaculata University’s AIAW national-title teams of the early 1970s.
Chris Webber, eligible for the first time, was not nominated, a missed opportunity for a candidate who would have received some support and possibly made it to the finalist stage. Robert Horry, a unique debate as someone who several times changed history in the playoffs despite posting modest numbers in his career, also was not nominated in his first year of eligibility.