WHO: Pau Gasol, Becky Hammon, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich.
WHAT: The 2023 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: When we learned earlier this year that four high-profile Texas basketball stars would be entering the basketball Hall of Fame, August 12 became a day for hoop watchers to circle on their calendars. We’d get to see two recently retired greats—the iconic Mavs big man Nowitzki and Parker, the third member of the Spurs’ holy trinity—get enshrined among the all-time greats. Additionally, in an uncommon move, two currently active coaches—Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon, who ascended to that position after eight years as a top assistant with the Spurs—entered the hall.
Hammon wasn’t inducted as a coach—rather, as a six-time WNBA All-Star for the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars, she entered the hall as a player. Reflecting on her career, Hammon summed up what made her great. She was talking about her time as a player, but she could just as easily have been talking about her groundbreaking career coaching in the NBA (during which she won a WNBA championship in her first year with the Aces). “I don’t look like a basketball player,” the five-foot-six Hammon said. “In fact, most times, traveling with my team, I got mistaken for the water girl. I’m average height. I’m average speed—on a good day. And I’m . . . the girl-next-door type of girl. But what the good Lord didn’t give me in physical tools, he gave me a double portion of in heart, grit, will, and a strong mind.”
She also offered a brief, emotional tribute to Popovich, who sat in the crowd during her speech. “I know you weren’t trying to be courageous when you hired me,” she told him, holding back tears, “but you did do something nobody else in professional sports has ever done.”
Pop’s own speech was a little less cantankerous—but only a little—than one might expect from the famously combative coach, but the longest-tenured coach in American professional sports still delivered. He talked about his family, emphasizing that he loved them a great deal more than basketball (“I don’t really like it that much,” he said). He was playful with a San Antonio contingent in the crowd that whooped as he talked about his relationship with the city (“What are you people doing here? Who invited you?” he joked). But mostly, he was humble, attributing the historic success the Spurs have achieved on his watch not to his coaching skill but to the players he led. “You know what I did?” Popovich said. “I was there. I watched it all. I saw it, and I have pictures to prove that I was there while they won championships.”
Parker was onstage during the speech, along with three other Hall of Famers Pop coached: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and David Robinson. But Parker was the only one among them whose induction occurred that same night. The French point guard was introduced by Duncan and Ginobili, and during his speech, Parker shouted out Popovich and Hammon (as well as his fellow inductee and Spurs teammate for a brief spell, Pau Gasol), but the highlight moment came when Parker talked about his relationship with his presenters. He talked about the early “Big Three” years with Duncan and Ginobili. He joked about the Argentine press blaming him for not passing to Ginobili enough during their first two seasons together, then cleverly passed the blame on to Popovich, who called the plays. He ribbed Duncan, claiming that the legendary big man didn’t speak to him his entire rookie year. “People think I’m crazy when I say that, but it’s true,” Parker said. “Timmy don’t like French people.” For someone whose playing career was largely spent—like most Spurs under Popovich—playing well and staying humble, the speech was a glimpse of Parker’s charm (and surprising comedic timing).
Finally, there was Nowitzki. The Dallas icon was characteristically affable throughout his remarks. He thanked his presenters, former teammates Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, making a few jokes at their expense: “I would have really loved to play together with those two guys in their primes, but unfortunately I had to deal with what they gave me.” He thanked Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, telling a story about dunking on the billionaire after being challenged to some one-on-one; like seemingly everyone in the class, he thanked Popovich, acknowledging the tribute video the Spurs presented for his final game against the team in San Antonio. He thanked his mentor, the German coach Holger Geschwindner, discussing some of the unorthodox training techniques that are part of Geschwindner’s “Institute of Applied Nonsense.” “Coach Holger, you always thought outside the box,” Nowitzki said. “I had to walk through the gym in handstands. I had to play the saxophone. I had to play the saxophone while doing the handstand. I mean, what else can I say?”
Nowitzki concluded his speech by tying together the theme of all the role models he had name-checked throughout. “Never be satisfied,” he urged listeners. “Always see yourself as someone who wants to learn, and not see yourself as someone who knows everything already. I’ve had so many great lessons taught to me by incredible teachers, and you will find them too. So remember, when you’re green, you grow. When you’re ripe, you rot.”