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Shining in Springfield

September 24, 2002 Columns No Comments

Shining in Springfield

by Jed Tai

The Basketball Hall of Fame is ready to induct its Class of 2002.

In fact, the enshrining ceremony of this year’s members on September 27th will lead into the grand opening and christening of the Hall of Fame’s brand new $103 million dollar facility the following day.

There are six inductees this year – two players, three coaches, and one team – and all of them have college basketball ties in some way, shape, or form.

If there was a featured inductee, it would be Earvin “Magic” Johnson, arguably the best point guard in NBA history. Basketball fans will always regard him as the ultimate winner – one of the few men in history who have won championships at the high school, college, pro, and international levels. And as brilliant and flashy his play was, his personality was just as glowing. While everyone no doubt remembers Magic the most as a Laker, his short tenure as a Spartan was memorable as well. In two short years, he helped put Michigan State on the college basketball map, leading the Spartans to their first-ever national title in 1979. MSU and Magic’s duel with Indiana State and Larry Bird is still the highest rated college basketball game of all-time. It also built a legendary rivalry that would continue on for an additional decade. In fact, Larry Bird – foe and friend – will be inducting Magic into the Hall. Johnson remains close to the MSU program, and was spotted in the crowd rooting on the Spartans during their Final Four runs from 1999 to 2001. Even though he only played two seasons at Michigan State, Magic made an indelible mark on the college game. And his days in East Lansing were simply a preview of the hoops legend that he would become in Los Angeles.

The three coaches elected to the Hall are long-time winners on the collegiate level. In fact, their entrance to the Hall of Fame may be viewed by many as overdue. It’s certainly the case with Arizona head coach Lute Olson. Inexplicably passed over the past two years, the voters finally got it right and voted him in this year. A master builder of programs, Olson has been a success everywhere he has coached, from Long Beach State to Iowa to his current gig at Arizona. He’s one of only a handful of coaches who has taken two schools to the Final Four (Iowa in 1980, Arizona multiple times), and his crowning achievement of leading Arizona to the 1997 title was even more amazing in that the Wildcats were the first team to beat three #1 seeds on their way to the championship. He fought through tough times with the death of his wife Bobbi and almost captured his second title in 2001. He continues to excel as the coach of the Wildcats, and will have another powerhouse team in the winter, as Arizona will likely be the consensus pre-season No. 1 team in 2002-03.

Current Philadelphia 76ers head coach Larry Brown is the other coach inducted from the men’s game, and like Olson, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for him to be nominated for the Hall of Fame and voted in. Like Lute, Larry also has an NCAA title on his resume (Kansas in 1988) and is another guy who’s been a winner wherever he’s been, whether it be the NCAA, ABA, or NBA. Granted, it’s been at a lot of different places, but the fact that he wins games under sometimes the direst of circumstances shows how brilliant a coach he is. In 2001, Brown had a chance to become the first ever coach to win titles at the college and pro levels before the Laker dynasty got in the way. Brown’s association with the college game goes beyond his head coaching days at UCLA and Kansas – he was also a standout player at North Carolina in the 1960’s. In fact, his heady play at point guard during his Tar Heel days helped earn him a spot on the 1964 Olympic Team, on which he helped the U.S. earn a gold medal. But coaching would be Brown’s passion, and he certainly was well taught as he couldn’t have learned the game any better than from two coaching hall-of-fame legends in Frank McGuire and Dean Smith. Brown continues to labor on tirelessly as 76ers head coach in search of that elusive NBA title, which would certainly be a capper on his already fabulous career.

The third coach inducted this year is from the women’s game, Kay Yow of North Carolina State. Yow was inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, so it’s only natural that she enters the regular Basketball Hall of Fame soon after. One of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA history (with 625 wins to her credit entering this season), she has crafted NC State into a perennial power and guided the Wolfpack to their only Final Four appearance in 1998. Yow has also made her mark guiding the United States in international competition. Her teams have a sterling 21-1 record in international play, and she is the only coach to ever lead a team to a gold medal in the World Championships (1986) and in the Olympics (1988). Yow hasn’t just won games, she has molded individual talent as well. Nine of former Wolfpack players currently play in the WNBA. Yow enters her 28th season at the helm of NC State in 2002-03.

The other player besides Magic to enter the Hall of Fame this year is Drazen Petrovic, who despite a great, yet short career in the NBA – was voted in based on his legendary status in international basketball. An unstoppable scorer, Petrovic dominated the leagues in his native Croatia (then called Yugoslavia) and when he finally decided to come over to the NBA, he became an all-league player in the United States as well. But while Petrovic never played collegiately in America, he does have college basketball ties. As a youngster, he considered coming over to play college hoops and was hotly recruited by several schools. In fact, he was signed, sealed, and almost delivered to Notre Dame as a 19-year old in 1984. But after a year of military service, Petrovic reluctantly turned down Digger Phelps and the Irish, succumbed to pressure and stayed in his homeland where he would attend college (and law school) while playing in the pro leagues. If he hadn’t been tragically killed in a car accident in 1993, he could very well be still playing today and lighting up the scoreboard somewhere on the globe, if not the NBA.

The final inductee in this year’s class is not a player but a team. And if there’s a team that would deserve induction it would have to be the Harlem Globetrotters. The Clown Princes of Basketball have been entertaining millions of basketball fans with their combination of basketball skill, tricks, and humor. But the Globetrotters are more than simply a show – they have fielded teams for competitive play as well. The roots of the Globetrotters were as a professional team (Wilt Chamberlain was once a member) and even after they became a separate entity, they fielded teams. Between 1950 and 1962, the Globetrotters played games against collegiate all-star teams in what was called the World Series of Basketball. And after a 35-year layoff, they started playing competitive contests again – not only against all-star teams, but also against regular college teams in pre-season exhibition play. In fact, a 72-68 loss to defending champion Michigan State broke one of the Globetrotters’ famous winning streaks. The Trotters are true ambassadors of the sport of basketball and now they will be rightfully enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Congratulations to all of this year’s inductees!


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