By TIM REYNOLDS (AP Basketball Writer)
Tony Parker and Pau Gasol played for him. Becky Hammon coached alongside him. Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade waged battles against him.
He is Gregg Popovich.
And he, finally, is a Hall of Famer.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame made it official Saturday, with three of the NBA’s all-time international greats — Nowitzki, Parker and Gasol — joining Wade, Hammon and Popovich as the headliners of the 2023 class that will be enshrined on Aug. 11 and 12 at ceremonies in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“This is basketball heaven,” Wade said on the ESPN telecast of the announcement in Houston.
Also getting the Hall’s call: the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team; former Purdue coach Gene Keady, a seven-time Big Ten coach of the year; former Texas A&M women’s coach Gary Blair, who took two teams to the Final Four; longtime coach at Division III Amherst and two-time national champion David Hixon; and Gene Bess — who won 1,300 games as a junior college coach at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
The late Jim Valvano, who as a coach who led N.C. State to the 1983 NCAA title, was selected as a contributor — also taking into account his work as a broadcaster and an outspoken advocate for cancer research and the V Foundation.
Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo told the new members or their families about the happy news earlier this week. Most of them joined Colangelo and other Hall of Famers on Friday for a welcome dinner of sorts, then on Saturday took their first public bows as basketball royalty.
“This class not only represents all levels of basketball — it represents truly, in every regard, what the game is all about and where it is,” Colangelo told The Associated Press. “I mean, think about the candidates. There’s the countries that are represented, Germany and Spain and France. It shows how far the game has come and where it is today. I think maybe it’s the most unique class, I’d say, of all time, and that covers a lot of territory. It stands by itself as in its uniqueness.”
The four NBA players — Nowitzki, Parker, Gasol and Wade — combined for 95,092 points, 39 All-Star appearances and 10 NBA championships. Hammon was a six-time WNBA All-Star and is coach of the reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.
And all Popovich has done is win five NBA titles, more games than anyone else in league history and an Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games that were played in 2021.
“He’s amazing,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich and coached under him with USA Basketball at the 2019 World Cup and then the Tokyo Olympics. “The Hall of Fame was just a formality. Everybody knew he would be there. It was just a matter of when.”
The longstanding belief was that Popovich wanted certain people in the Hall before he would allow himself to be under consideration. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili had to go in first, and Popovich also lobbied for Houston two-time champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Parker going in with Popovich seems fitting, and Popovich has long raved about Hammon’s ability.
“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich said. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”
It’s the latest accolade for Gasol, Spain’s longtime star whose two NBA championships came with the Los Angeles Lakers alongside his dear friend Kobe Bryant. Nowitzki, the German great who changed the game with his combination of big-man size and guard skills, spent the entirety of his 21-year career in Dallas and is sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Parker won four rings with Popovich in San Antonio.
“When Jerry called, I tried to stay all cool on the phone … but this is super cool,” Nowitzki said. “And I called my family, my immediate family … and my mom, right away, said, ‘I’m the mother of a Hall of Famer.’ That’s when it really set in.”
Wade won three titles with Miami. At the arena where the Heat play, they’ve retired the numbers of five former players — Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Chris Bosh and Wade. And now all five of them are linked by Hall of Fame membership as well.
Like Parker, Nowitzki and Gasol — and Popovich, for that matter — Wade got in on his first ballot.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back — because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”
The class will get its jackets and Hall of Fame rings on Aug. 11 in Uncasville, Connecticut, then the ceremony and their speeches will come on Aug. 12 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“It’s incredible,” Popovich said on the telecast. “It’s obviously an honor … I sit here amongst people who I’ve always been in awe of myself. So to be in this situation is kind of an out-of-body experience to be honest with you. All I can do is thank all the people who have helped me to be in this position.”
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