|Friday, September 27
Updated: September 28, 7:22 PM ET
Magic, Petrovic, Globetrotters get their day
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- This was a prize that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird could share.
"You allowed me for 12 or 13 years to be a little boy, to play the game I love, to try to be the best player could be, to try to win games and to also turn the fans on,'' Johnson told commissioner David Stern between standing ovations. "Hopefully, they had as good a time as I had.''
The Hall christens a new $36 million home this weekend, starting with the enshrinement of the Class of 2002: Johnson, Petrovic, the Globetrotters, Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown, North Carolina State women's coach Kay Yow and Arizona coach Lute Olson.
Jim O'Connell, college basketball writer for The Associated Press, and CBS announcer Jim Nantz will be honored with the Hall's Curt Gowdy Award, presented to members of the print and electronic media for outstanding contributions to the sport.
Harvey Pollack, a longtime Philadelphia public-relations man who first counted rebounds, steals and blocked shots, was given the Bunn Award for his contributions to the game.
All of the inductees had to pick a current Hall of Famer to present him, and Johnson chose Bird -- a nod to recognize the impact they had on each others' careers, making each other better and driving the NBA to unprecedented heights. The two have become friends since their playing days, when they competed for the 1979 NCAA title and three NBA championships in the 1980s.
"I was going to speak from my heart,'' Bird said. "But, man, he broke my heart so many times, do I have anything left?''
Although Johnson was the headliner, several of the inductees singled out the Globetrotters for teaching them the love of the game. With past stars including Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon on the stage, six current Globetrotters came out to perform their famous dribble and passing tricks to the strains of "Sweet Georgia Brown.''
Petrovic, the NBA star and two-time Olympic silver medalist, died in a car accident in 1993. Olson accepted by videotape from Italy, where he is attending his son's wedding.
Johnson admitted he worried he also wouldn't be able to attend. He first retired after testing positive for the AIDS virus in 1991, a time when it was thought the diagnosis was a virtual death sentence.
"I'm doing very well, like I have been for the last 11 years,'' he said Friday morning. "It's still laying asleep in my body. So the medicine is doing its job. I'm doing my job. And God is doing his.''
Johnson did his job at every level, winning championships in high school, college, the Olympics and NBA -- five, in fact. And he did it from every part of the court, a 6-foot-9 point guard who redefined the position and played the others, too, when the Lakers needed.
He said he became convinced he could excel in the NBA after Game 6 of the 1980 finals against Philadelphia, when the rookie filled in at center and had 42 points and 15 rebounds. He won the first of three NBA Finals MVP awards.
But it was the rivalry with Bird and the Boston Celtics that helped define Johnson and, both said, made them the players that they were. Johnson led Michigan State to the 1979 NCAA title by beating Bird's Indiana State, and the two met three more times in the NBA Finals in the 1980s.
They were together again Friday, joking about their legendary competitive streaks like they never did when they went head-to-head in one of the most intense -- and lucrative -- rivalries in NBA history.
"I'd like to call out to Celtics fans across the country: It's time to lay down your weapons,'' Bird joked. "The battle is finally over, and it's time to move on.''
Johnson won a gold medal at Barcelona, returned for the 1992 All-Star game and had a 16-game stint as Lakers coach in 1994. He returned for 32 games as a player in the 1995-96 season before retiring for good and becoming a successful businessman.
In all, he had 17,707 points, 6,559 rebounds and 1,724 steals as a pro, and he was the NBA leader in assists (10,141) until John Stockton broke his record in 1995.
A total of 524 different Globetrotters have played 20,000 games in 117 countries since the team was founded in 1927, entertaining generations with their unique basketball burlesque. Although several of the team's players have been inducted, several inductees agreed that the team's honor was overdue.
"I can't do justice to the history and impact that the Harlem Globetrotters have had around the world,'' owner Mannie Jackson said. "The Globetrotters are a team that has advanced the perception of basketball, and believe it or not, the perception of democracy around the world. This is a huge step for the Hall of Fame.''
Brown brought his family onstage -- each in a cap from a different stop in a career in which has won more than 1,200 games and posted a winning record in 26 of his 30 seasons. He has coached six NBA teams, two in the ABA and two more in college, winning an NCAA title at Kansas in 1988, and led the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001 after being named coach of the year.
Olson has stayed at Arizona, spending his last 18 years there while compiling a 767-255 record in 29 years. He has made five trips to the Final Four, and the Wildcats won the NCAA title in 1997.
Petrovic won two Olympic silver medals and averaged 15.4 points in four NBA seasons before he died at age 28 in a car wreck in Germany.
Yow was the fifth women's coach to reach the 600-win milestone, the last 25 years at North Carolina State. The real "Coach Kay,'' if you ask generations of Wolfpack women, she sniffled through a speech telling how she played basketball in her yard, even though there wasn't much of a future in women's basketball at the time.
"Basketball was one of the loves of my life,'' Yow said. "After all, I gave up tap dancing and piano playing to pursue this game, much to the dismay of my mother.''