SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They made for an eclectic group: two players who came from long distances to make their true legacy impacts, Alonzo Mourning and Sarunas Marciulionis; two non-players who never went anywhere, David Stern and Bob Leonard; and one player, Mitch Richmond, who uniquely rode a bad team into the Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2014 was officially enshrined Friday night inside Symphony Hall, and the newest living Hall members with NBA ties framed so much about the league and the game.
Mourning was the toughness. That would have been the case anyway, Zo and tenacity having become close acquaintances long before, but he retired, played again, and played well. After a kidney transplant. Briefly choking up early in his acceptance speech, Zo, also someone who goes way back with strong emotions, changed nothing.
Marciulionis was the globalization. Once named one of the 50 greatest players in FIBA history for leading roles with the national teams of the Soviet Union and his native Lithuania, he reached the Hall through the International Committee. But he reached a new level by refusing to back down from his dream of the NBA and became one of the symbols of expansion. What he fought through showed he could do the toughness thing, too.
Leonard and Richmond were the local ties, the grassroots feel of the league even as it grew into a conglomerate, Leonard home-spun Indiana as coach of the ABA and NBA Pacers and then a team broadcaster to this day, Richmond one of the reasons the link between the small-market Kings and the fans remained strong from one losing season to the next. Far from the bright lights, with Indy literally trying to save its pro basketball life and Sacramento screaming itself hoarse every home game with little payback in the standings, they were reason for optimism in hard times.
It’s like Leonard said in concluding his acceptance speech: “The only thing left to say is I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the state of Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. And they’ve been very supportive. It’s a love affair that has gone on for years, since I was [a player] at Indiana University. And I wish that it could last forever. But I know better than that. So as I look around this room, the Lord has had His hand on my shoulder. Here’s what I hope for all of you: That the Lord puts His hand on your shoulder and He blesses you all the years of your life. Thank you.”
Stern was pretty much everything, of course. Like Leonard, he was a constant, in Stern’s case as commissioner through the days drenched in money falling from the sky to the tumultuous moments that also define his rule from 1984 until 2014. And the swagger. There had to be a grand display because Stern could be so good at brash.
So display of power it shall be. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and other all-time greats appeared in the video introduction. Then five tall, bar-stool chairs were lined up on stage. Bill Russell sat in one, a few feet off Stern’s left shoulder. Magic Johnson sat next to Russell. Russ Granik, Stern’s former No. 2, sat next to Johnson. Larry Bird sat next to Granik. Bob Lanier sat next to Bird.
Some people get big names. Stern gets Mt. Olympus.
“You’ve got to love the game,” he told the crowd. “Everything we do is always about the game. Always about the game. When [wife] Dianne and I were in China, we had a guide that told us she was a big fan of the Red Oxen. Of course, she was corrected. She meant Bulls. When we were in Lithuania, the head of the Communist party of Kaunas, Sarunas’ hometown, wanted to argue with me. It was 1988. Didn’t I think the NBA salary cap was un-American because there was no room for Portland to sign [Arvydas] Sabonis. We were all over. When I was in Paris, I was sitting with the prime minister of France at a game. He said because it was the Bulls, could he go into the locker room? I thought, here it comes. Michael Jordan. He said, ‘I’d like to meet Dennis Rodman.’ It’s always about the game.”
There is a different feel to every induction class, and the 2014 group that also included the Immaculata women’s teams of the 1970s, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams, the late Nat Clifton and the late Guy Rodgers was every angle, and sometimes every unusual angle, to the point of being comprehensive. They touched a lot of what makes the game special. They framed the league.