SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Once reluctant to accept that he deserved a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Tracy McGrady stood on stage at Springfield’s Symphony Hall on Friday night and firmly declared that he belongs alongside the game’s greatest players.
“Yes, I deserve to be here,” said McGrady, the headliner of this year’s 11-person class, near the end of a powerful nine-minute induction speech that balanced a sense of vindication with an appreciation for all those who delivered him to this point.
Upon arriving at the podium after an introduction video that offered an emphatic reminder of McGrady’s on-court excellence, he exulted by repeatedly screaming, “Yes!”
McGrady, a seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ, told the story of being out with his wife, CleRenda, in February when this year’s finalists were announced. She implored him to look into a mirror and say he deserved to be a Hall of Famer, but McGrady was reluctant.
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“My wife knew something about me in that elevator that I had yet to admit and say out loud,” McGrady said. “There was a reason she wanted me to look myself in that mirror and say I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. And there was also a reason why I couldn’t do it.
“I had a zillion thoughts in my mind why I didn’t deserve to be here. I started thinking of all these NBA greats, who had accomplished so many great things. Then I began to compare myself to them. It was way too easy to focus on what you don’t have and what you didn’t accomplish. But I’m grateful for those people that saw in me and believed in me, maybe when I always didn’t believe in myself.”
McGrady became emotional while recalling the story of attending an Adidas basketball camp in 1996 as an unknown high schooler. He was given jersey No. 175, reflecting his recruiting status, and then dominated a camp headlined by Lamar Odom.
“The last guy to enter this camp and you give me that jersey: 175,” said McGrady, who then turned away from the crowd while quickly collecting himself. “Nobody had a clue who Tracy McGrady was. [Adidas executive Sonny Vaccaro] gave me that platform and I played against the best players in the world at that time. I left that camp the No. 1 player in the nation, 175 to No. 1.”
Rebecca Lobo delivered maybe the most captivating speech of the night, balancing heartfelt appreciation for those who aided her basketball career while mixing in a steady dose of much-needed punchlines.
Having already joked about having “Eddie Van Halen” hair during her days at nearby Southwick-Tolland High School, Lobo told a story about the day she found out she was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. She said she told her husband, journalist Steve Rushin, that he would be “sleeping next to a Naismith Hall of Famer.” Lobo said he replied, “Great! Larry Bird?”
The joke worked especially well with Bird sitting nearby in the crowd.
Lobo closed with a heartfelt moment with UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who presented her. Lobo was a key part of UConn’s first national championship in 1995.
“You have completely changed my life,” Lobo told Auriemma. “I am here, completely, because of you.”
Longtime Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who hired Phil Jackson and assembled the supporting casts that helped Michael Jordan win six NBA titles, was inducted into the Hall of Fame six months after his death. Krause’s induction comes one year after Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf was inducted. Krause’s widow, Thelma, said in a recorded message that Krause would have worked for free, and then joked that this information would have probably been helpful to Reinsdorf in contract negotiations.
With former Kansas Jayhawks, including Andrew Wiggins, in the crowd, coach Bill Self was the first inductee of the night.
Marveling at being the fifth coach in Kansas history to enter the Hall, Self deadpanned: “James Naismith, Phog Allen, Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and me. What is wrong with that picture right there?”
There was a celebration of Indiana basketball during George McGinnis’ turn at the podium. A six-time All-Star who won back-to-back ABA titles with the Pacers in 1972 and 1973, McGinnis made sure to reference childhood idol (and fellow Indiana native) Oscar Robertson while noting, “We all wanted to be like Big O.”
Also entering the Hall of Fame on Friday night were Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, former Harlem Globetrotters Mannie Jackson and Zack Clayton, EuroLeague star Nikos “Nick” Galis, Texas high school basketball coach Robert Hughes, and “Father of the Final Four” Tom Jernstedt.