SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- With 12 Hall of Fame inductees, there was bound to be a lot of talk Sunday afternoon during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. Each inductee certainly had a different tone, but, eventually, a similar message was found in all the talk.
Richie Guerin was soft-spoken and punctual in his speech. This was in stark contrast to his playing days in the 1950s and '60s in which he'd leave opponents literally battered and bruised. NBA veteran Joe Rucklick, in a videotaped message, glowingly remarked, "I have the utmost respect for [Guerin]." He quickly added "especially if he's waiting outside the door."
Bernard King was matter-of-fact and polite in his delivery. That was also a stark contrast to his on-court demeanor. In an age in which small forwards flourished, King stood proudly at the top, intimidating opponents with feathery turnaround jumpers and a menacing scowl.
Gary Payton was the inductee whose Hall of Fame speech most resembled his Hall of Fame play. "I am the greatest trash-talker of all time," he brazenly declared as the audience erupted with laughter. No doubt about that, since Payton's introductory video featured ample evidence of his boastful vocabulary.
"The Glove" defended his recent remarks on guarding John Stockton and Michael Jordan. With a smile -- but with a dead-serious tone -- he sternly stated, "It's my opinion." Payton praised how Stockton brought he same level of intensity, intelligence and determination every night. One final boast came when he remembered his time with the Sonics and Shawn Kemp. "We was the original Lob City," the loquacious 6-foot-4 guard said. As any quick YouTube search will demonstrate, it's hard to quibble with his statement. The dunks and alley-oops they perfected were telepathic joys. A pass from half court by Payton would find its way seamlessly into the waiting arms of Kemp, who quickly flushed the ball through the hoop.
Payton wasn't all trash-talking bravado, though. Payton "really really liked [his] chances" of being inducted to the Hall of Fame, but he was never entirely sure. And he knew also that his induction stood on the backs and shoulders of others. He named teammates and coaches from all levels -- high school, college and pro. He warmly saluted his parents and thanked his siblings.
And he also expressed vulnerability.
He acknowledged his trash-talking as a way of coping. It was the only way he knew how to deal with the basketball jitters. At times, the talk got a little harsh, but Payton insisted he "didn't mean any harm -- at least not violent" when he talked his verbal barbs.
Near the end of the ceremony, though, Brazilian great Oscar Schmidt stole the show with a speech that left the audience spellbound. Oscar held the crowd in the palm of his hands with stories that evoked belly laughs, introspection and even tears. He himself went from proud boasting that might make even Payton blush all the way to deep, silent reflection.
The basketball veteran of 30 years remarkably bared his entire soul to well-known family and complete strangers.
We may marvel at a stunning game -- and how can you not get excited for a vintage Bernard King game from 1984? The inductees Sunday afternoon rarely did so, however. Great performances, no matter how great, consume 48 minutes -- maybe 53, if you get overtime. The time spent with people, however, consumes a season and a career -- maybe a lifetime, if you get lucky.
All of Sunday's inductees delivered that message, in their own specific tones, true to their Hall of Fame greatness.