The 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement class was as star-studded as it gets. From Allen Iverson to Yao Ming to Sheryl Swoopes to Shaquille O’Neal — Jerry Reinsdorf, Darell Garretson, Zelmo Beaty, Cumberland Posey, John McLendon, and Tom Izzo — the speeches and overall celebration of basketball made the ceremony must-see television Friday night.
Here are the top NBA takeaways from a great night:
Yao Ming’s Enshrinement
Bill Russell, Dikembe Mutombo, and Bill Walton presented Yao Ming to the stage and greatest Chinese basketball player of all time was nervous. He also joked that he felt it was a mistake to have him speak first and that it should have been Allen Iverson. The reason? He needed more “practice” than Iverson. The meaning of the three presenters for Ming were memorable.
Russell invited Yao to his house in Seattle during Yao’s rookie season and his advice has stayed with him ever since. Walton was there for Yao to offer up advice and encouragement following his first foot surgery, as both Hall of Fame centers could relate to coming back from such a hard injury for big men. And his former Houston Rockets teammate Dikembe Mutombo helped him for five seasons while also catching him with elbows in practice.
Yao’s speech was endearing and a perfect embodiment of the basketball figure he has been in the world. His humor and kindness radiated from his words as he delivered well-timed jokes and heartfelt sentiments about the people in his life who helped him get to where he is. From his parents to coaches to the first Chinese born player Wang Zhi Zhi, Yao remembered everybody who helped him. He told tales of Steve Francis welcoming him and Cuttino Mobley serving him soul food for the first time. Rudy Tomjanovich’s coaching inspired him to be the best person and competitor he could be.
He reflected on his coaches (Tomjanovich, Jeff Van Gundy, and Rick Adelman), the competition he had to go against in the NBA and how they pushed him, and the injuries that cut his career far too short. He likened playing against fellow 2016 enshrinee Shaquille O’Neal as “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” He thanked former commissioner David Stern and current NBA commissioner Adam Silver for helping him and supporting him.
What a fantastic individual to have deliver the first speech of the evening. You can watch Yao Ming’s speech here.
Allen Iverson’s Enshrinement
Immediately from the start of Allen Iverson’s speech, emotions flowed through the entire viewing experience. He thanked a higher power. He thanked his Georgetown coach John Thompson for saving his life. He talked about how Larry Brown’s coaching helped him become an MVP, an All-Star, and an All-NBA player. He was blown away by the task of having to fill Julius Erving’s shoes in Philadelphia and what it meant to carry on that torch for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson talked about his mom forcing him to go to basketball practice, his dad showing him how to be a man, his aunt and uncles for guiding him and giving him someone to look up to — these were all incredible emotional moments for him to get through. Whenever he thanked someone, the crowd got loud and cheered on his thanks. Whenever there was a lull in the moment, the crowd cheered him to thank him for this moment and every moment he provided them.
While picking out every skill of legends of the game, he mentioned that he wanted to be like Michael Jordan. He said the first time he played against Jordan, he saw his aura like the Chappelle Show sketch about Rick James, and being amazed that this human being was in front of him.
His speech was everything you expected and hoped it would be without being predictable at the same time. He thanked everybody in his family. He thanked his teammates over the years. He thanked Reebok. He thanked Biggie Smalls, Redman, Jadakiss, Tupac, Dipset and Michael Jackson for being the soundtrack to his gamedays. He thanked the NBA. He thanked Pat Croce for giving him the responsibility of leading the Sixers. He thanked Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff.
He thanked the media for the love-hate relationship that made him stronger. He thanked his fans in China. He thanked Shaq, Kobe Bryant, and all of his competition over the years. He thanked Tyronn Lue and told a great story about how they became close.
The loudest moment was thanking Philly fans when the crowd erupted. He said they never jumped off the bandwagon and always supported him.
Iverson ended the speech praising his Tawanna Iverson for being with him for 24 years, being the strength he needed, and loving him the way she does. He told her to understand that she’s a Hall of Famer.
Also, Iverson forgot his iPad with his speech on it at the podium when he was done and Ahmad Rashad is holding it for him.
Shaquille O’Neal’s Enshrinement
Shaquille O’Neal explained why he picked four presenters instead of the maximum of three because he’s not great at following rules. Alonzo Mourning for being a fierce competitor and a great friend and teammate. Isiah Thomas for teaching him how to be a leader. Bill Russell for being “the greatest big man to ever play the game.” Russell’s experiences in life made Shaq realize O’Neal shouldn’t complain about anything in life. And Julius Erving for being his idol and someone he dreamed about throughout his life.
Shaq talked about his mom having to convince the bus driver with a right cross that O’Neal was indeed just two years old despite being so big and therefor was allowed to ride for free. He mentioned that his favorite food was “everything.” He talked about the biggest male influence in his life — his father Sergeant Phil Harrison, who introduced him to the game of basketball and is up in heaven probably arguing with Wilt Chamberlain about Shaq being the most dominant big man ever.
Predictably, there was a good chunk of Shaq’s speech that had to be muted out because of some colorful language in stories about his time playing before the NBA. He told a story of Dick Vitale motivating him before a college game in which he was “supposed to lose.”
Shaq praised the people who helped him in Orlando and even took a friendly jab at Nick Anderson missing those four infamous free throws in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and thanked Rick Barry but said no thanks for the underhanded free throw tips. He made jokes about getting high with Phil Jackson in Los Angeles and said he and Jackson will be opening “medicinal sage dispensaries across the US.”
He thanked Lakers teammates. He thanked Kobe Bryant for helping to push him to three titles and then pushing him off the team to the Miami Heat. He thanked Steve Kerr for being the only general manager to ever inform him he was being traded. Stephen A. Smith was the guy who told him all the other times.
Shaq joked about trying to fit in a Buick for ads because they paid him $3 million. He discussed the importance of going back to get his bachelor’s degree, MBA, and doctorate while discussing ways to influence the youth — including his kids and their education.
He told a story about Allen Iverson being someone who was almost too tough to keep out of the paint. He told another story about Yao Ming, not knowing he could speak English, and how Yao hit him with a fadeaway shot one game. Shaq told him it was a good move and Yao replied with “thank you, my brother.” It shocked Shaq, and Yao told him that of course he speaks English but Shaq never tried talking to him.
Best jokes of the night
1. “When I heard that I would be the first speaker, I thought somebody had made a mistake. Because I think this spot belongs to Allen Iverson. You know why? Because I need more practice than him.” – Yao Ming
2. “A bar mitzvah is a time in a Jewish boy’s life when he realizes he has a better chance of owning a team than playing for one.” – Jerry Reinsdorf
3. “Dikembe Mutombo is 7-foot-1 and he can’t see over the person sitting in front of him (Yao Ming).” – Ahmad Rashad
4. Everything in Shaq’s speech that was and should’ve been bleeped out.
Source: CBS Sports / Takeaways from the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement