Reluctant but resolute Popovich leads international-rich 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame class
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — For years, Gregg Popovich has eschewed the idea of him being worthy of inclusion in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
He felt others were more deserving and worthy of the sport’s highest honor.
On Friday, the man whose career has sprouted basketball tenacles that now span the globe was listed among a collection of basketball royalty that underscored his undeniable impact on the game.
He can no longer run from the inevitable.
Popovich, a five-time NBA champion, Olympic gold medal-winning coach and the league’s all-time leader in coaching wins, will join fellow NBA champions Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker, along with longtime coaching mentee Becky Hammon, as headliners of the 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame class.
“He wanted to make sure his guys went in first,” Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo said of Popovich. “He felt it would be inappropriate to jump the line in his mind. … I’m glad he decided this (year) would be it.”
Parker said being inducted alongside his coach is apropos.
“I just can’t get rid of him,” joked Parker, who played under Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs.
The class received its hall of fame rings and jackets Friday and will officially be enshrined on Saturday night in a ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Popovich will be presented by Parker, along with former Spurs stars and hall members David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. He puts that group’s legacy above anything he’s achieved in his coaching career.
“My grandkids go to school with Tim Duncan’s children so it’s pretty special in that regard,” Popovich said. “It’s beyond basketball. That’s what sustains us when we move through life.”
Others to be inducted include the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team; former Purdue coach Gene Keady, a seven-time Big Ten coach of the year; former Texas A&M women’s coach Gary Blair, who took two teams to the Final Four; longtime coach at Division III Amherst and two-time national champion David Hixon; and Gene Bess — who won 1,300 games as a junior college coach at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
Former coach Jim Valvano, who led North Carolina State to an improbable 1983 NCAA championship, will be posthumously inducted as a contributor. His selection also accounts for his work as a broadcaster and advocate for cancer research as the creator of the V Foundation.
While other hall classes have had an equal or greater collection of star power, the interconnection of this year’s group is immense.
Parker won his four NBA titles playing under Popovich. Gasol won his two titles alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles but played his final two years in the league with Popovich in San Antonio.
And after Hammon shined as a six-time WNBA All-Star, she became the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach under Popovich. She’s since followed in her mentor’s footsteps, coaching the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces to a championship last season.
Her commitment was on display Friday as she skipped the news conference to coach the Aces. She is slated to give her speech Saturday night in Springfield.
Wade battled with Popovich’s teams and played under him on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. But he’s better remembered for how he became the centerpiece of building championship culture with the Miami Heat franchise, capturing three rings along the way.
He also built a legacy of using his platform to speak out on a variety of issues from social justice to the transgender community. Wade said he and his Miami Heat teammates speaking out in 2012 following Trayvon Martin’s shooting changed him.
“I felt it was time to step outside the basketball talk and step into the community talk,” Wade said. “I know I have (a microphone) and everyone does not.”
Another thread that runs through this year’s class is how the successes of Nowitzki, Gasol and Parker influenced the influx of international players into the NBA over the past two decades.
Parker called Nowitzki – the first European-born player to win the NBA MVP award in 2007 – “the G.O.A.T” of international players.
“If I came in and helped inspire and motivate some guys along the way, that makes me incredibly proud,” Nowitzki said.
Parker said watching the French national team as a kid when it was beaten by 50 points in the 1992 Summer Olympics by U.S. Dream Team helped him fall in love with the sport.
“We were like the first wave when NBA franchises decided, ‘Hey, we can just (get) international players to be our franchise guys,’” Parker said. “We are the result of the Dream Team.”
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