Analysis: This Basketball Hall of Fame class could be an all-time great

By TIM REYNOLDS

Associated Press

Published: 03-28-2023 3:53 PM

The Springfield Symphony Hall lists a capacity of 2,611. This is going to be a problem when the basketball world heads to western Massachusetts on Aug. 12.

Act surprised on Saturday when the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announces its class of enshrinees for 2023. Among the finalists: Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich. It’s widely assumed that they’ll enter the Hall this summer, in what will be a most star-studded event.

“We might need a stadium for that one,” Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn said.

He’s not wrong. More than 2,611 people will want to go to this. Probably more than 261,111 people will want to go to this.

It was never a question that the biggest names — the Nowitzki, Gasol, Wade, Parker group — would get into the Hall.

The question was about Popovich. Not if. But when.

The NBA’s all-time winningest coach, a five-time champion and the coach of the team that won Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games quietly rejected overtures from the Hall in the past. He wanted to see his best San Antonio players — Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili among them — go into the Hall first. He also wanted to see some coaches he respected most, like Rudy Tomjanovich, finally get the call first. Besides, it’s not like people will look at Popovich with more reverence or respect after he gets his orange jacket from the Hall and officially gets to be introduced as a Hall of Famer.

“It will mean more to us as former coaches, former players, than to him I think,” Vaughn said. “And that’s not a slight at all. I think what he will enjoy is seeing his former players there, and people who he has touched in a tremendous way, families he’s impacted for a long time because of his knowledge and his ability to share his knowledge and his ability to care for people.”

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More than 300 people have either played for or coached under Popovich in his time with the Spurs and USA Basketball. Nowitzki had more than 200 teammates. Gasol is beloved by teammates on two continents. The Miami Heat will probably send their entire staff up to see Wade give his speech. Add up the numbers, and we’re getting toward that magic 2,611 number really quickly. And that doesn’t even include, you know, the enshrinees’ families and friends, along with the other living Hall of Famers.

“I know this much,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’ll be on a plane from wherever we are, and I’ll be there.”

Spoelstra will be coaching with USA Basketball this summer under head coach Steve Kerr at the Basketball World Cup, which takes them to the Philippines in August and September following warm-up games in Las Vegas, Spain and Abu Dhabi. They’ll be in Las Vegas until a few days before the Hall enshrinement, then the American contingent will head to Spain for games against Spain and Slovenia. Can’t imagine they’ll be very well-attended, not with Gasol going into the Hall that same weekend, with Slovenia’s Luka Doncic probably going to pick being with Nowitzki over a pair of exhibitions, with Popovich set to be enshrined.

The Hall will give the enshrinees a number of tickets. It won’t be enough for any of them. Popovich’s guest list will be impossible to pare down, especially his innermost circle of confidants, who remain there even after they leave the Spurs.

Case in point: Utah coach Will Hardy. He left the Spurs to be an assistant in Boston under another former Spurs player and coach, Ime Udoka. But when Popovich was coaching the Olympic team, he picked some of the best and brightest to be alongside him, Kerr, Spoelstra, Mike Krzyzewski and others for the process of getting ready. Hardy made that list.

“I’ve talked about imposter syndrome some this year — maybe never higher than those moments when you’re sitting in a room and it’s Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, Jerry Colangelo, Jay Wright, Lloyd Pierce, Ime Udoka, Coach K is in the room,” Hardy said. “And you’re going, ‘How am I sitting at this table right now?’ In a lot of ways it makes no sense. I felt like I was in the greatest basketball grad school class of all time. You almost can’t write fast enough in terms of taking notes and listening.”

So many of the pairings will be fitting. The Popovich-Parker duo and Wade faced off twice in the NBA Finals. Popovich-Parker and Nowitzki had Texas-sized battles for years. Nowitzki and Wade played in the finals against one another twice, each winning a title on the other’s home floor. Gasol played against them all for years.

They’re all beloved. Wade has teammates already planning their trips to Springfield. Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley doesn’t have his entire summer plan picked out yet, but he’s going to Springfield for Nowitzki — who he coached in Dallas.

“The most wonderful thing about him is that being around him in public and going to events, I’ve never seen him turn people down or say no,” Mosley said of Nowitzki. “Whether he’s tired or doesn’t want to do it, he’s always going to go the extra mile to make sure those around him feel his appreciation for how much they’ve given to him. He might be one of the most humble Hall of Famers I’ve ever been around in that regard.”

Mosley will have a seat for the big night. So will Hardy. So will Vaughn. How close they’ll be to the stage is anyone’s guess, but with this Hall class, there won’t be a bad seat in the house.

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