Vlade Divac leads Class of 2019 into Basketball Hall of Fame
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Jack Sikma used his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech to make a plea for the NBA to return to Seattle, where he led the SuperSonics to the 1979 NBA title.
It was the only title for the franchise that moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
“There’s a hole in Seattle that needs to be filled,” Sikma said to a crowd that included NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and many other league executives. “Speaking for all Sonics fans, it’s our greatest hope that the NBA will soon find a pathway to bring basketball back to Seattle.
Sikma was joined in the Class of 2019 on Friday night by Vlade Divac, Sidney Moncrief, Paul Westphal, Bobby Jones, Al Attles and Teresa Weatherspoon. Chuck Cooper and Carl Braun were inducted posthumously, and Bill Fitch was unable to attend for health reasons.
Also honored at Springfield’s Symphony Hall were the 1957-59 teams from Tennessee A&I, a historically black school that won three straight NAIA titles a decade before Texas Western fielded the first all-black starting five in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hutcherson Flying Queens from Wayland Baptist — the first school to offer women’s basketball scholarships — were also inducted. Sponsored by a local aircraft company, they won a record 131 consecutive games in the 1950s.
Sikma had a large contingent to support him, and they broke into laughter when the video screens showed a picture of him with a blonde bowl cut shortly after he was drafted in 1977. A seven-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Sonics, he also played five years with the Milwaukee Bucks and remains the only center in league history to lead the league in free throw percentage for a season (.922 in 1987-88).
Divac, who won an Olympic silver medal with Yugoslavia and another with Serbia after the country broke apart in a civil war, was one of the NBA’s first European stars. Among those he thanked were his former Yugoslav teammate Toni Kukoc, who is Croatian.
“The people of the Balkans are like a dysfunctional family. We may fight and argue, but in the end we are family,” said Divac, who played eight years with the Los Angeles Lakers and six with the Sacramento Kings. “To me basketball was always about love.”
Weatherspoon was presented by Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, who were on the Houston Comets when Weatherspoon hit “The Shot” — a half-court buzzer-beater to give the New York Liberty a victory in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
“I know you guys are still salty about that shot, but you got to see it again tonight,” said Weatherspoon, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1988 and also played in Italy and Russia.
“The game has meant so many things to me,” she said. “It’s been my sanctuary; it’s been my safe haven. The game has allowed me to see things I never thought I’d see, meet people I never thought I’d meet.”
Cooper, who died in 1984, was a Celtics forward who was the first African-American player drafted by the NBA. He made his debut in 1950 at the same time as Earl Lloyd and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton.
“The NBA’s color barrier was broken, and the game of basketball was forever changed,” his son, Chuck Cooper III said.
Cooper’s presenters — 10 Hall of Famers that included Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving — were so illustrious that host Ahmad Rashad stopped the ceremony to take a selfie with them.
Tennessee A&I, which was then known as Tennessee State, was represented by Dick Barnett, who listed some of the civil rights battles going on in the era when the Tigers played in the NAIA tournament because the NCAA and NIT weren’t open to them: Emmitt Till, Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, Brown vs. Board of Education.
“As the TSU Tigers won their third title, I could see that the death knell of segregation was sounding,” he said on a video, going on to quote from the song “Dixie” as the entire hall fell silent.
“Old times there are not forgotten,” he said. “Look away. Look away. Look away. Dixie Land.”