By Bill Bennett
The Induction Ceremony
It is a first class, elite event from start to finish.
CBS analyst Billy Packer is the Master of Ceremonies. There are speeches from - Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski; a prerecorded video presentation by ESPN's Dick Vitale; Tom Jernstedt, NCAA Executive Vice President; Kansas City's mayor Kay Barnes and Jim Haney, the executive director of the NABC.
"This is a big night for college basketball," Haney said. "It captures more than 100 years of history and lays the groundwork for the future of it."
Brown presents his college coach, Dean Smith. During his presentation, he looks out into the audience at Coach Wooden and says, "I always felt kind of uncomfortable being introduced as the UCLA head coach, because we all know there is only one UCLA head coach and that's John Wooden (acknowledging and pointing to where Coach Wooden is sitting in the crowd)."
Texas Tech's Bobby Knight, who this season passed Smith to become college basketball's all-time winningest coach, inducts Bill Russell and describes him as the "all-time MVP."
In his speech, Russell says it was the "highest honor he ever had in basketball." He commends coaches Smith and Wooden for their work and efforts during the civil rights movement. Coach Smith participated in sit-ins in North Carolina in the 1960s and Russell says Coach Wooden was the only head coach who played more than one Black player on the West Coast.
Walton's gives a 22-minute tribute to Coach Wooden. It is serious, it is comedy, it is opinionated – it is Bill Walton at his best. Some of Bill's comments include-
"To play for John Wooden was the greatest thrill of my life. They were the most challenging, demanding things I've done in my life".
"We never started a day with Coach Wooden looking at us and saying – What do you men want to do today?"
"Coach Wooden never speaks of himself, he never draws attention to anything he's ever done."
"In four years, Wooden taught us everything we'd ever need to know. Not about basketball, about life."
"Wait a minute Coach, if basketball isn't about size and strength, how come Shaq's got all the money, Kareem's got all the records and Wilt had 20,000 girlfriends?"
Walton then introduces Coach Wooden - "It is now my deepest honor to present the most positive, the most upbeat, the most constructive person I have ever known – John Wooden, a man who never looks back and who's always about what's next."
Coach Wooden then comes to the stage and looking at Walton, jokingly says, "Now you all know what I had to put up with all those years."
He says it's nice for him to come back to Kansas City. Coach Wooden reminisces about the Bruins' first NCAA title in 1964 at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium.
He then talks about his two teams from Indiana State that had a chance to play in the NAIA Tournament, hosted by Kansas City. In 1947, Wooden refused to bring his Sycamore squad because the NAIA did not allow African-Americans in the event and Indiana State had a Black player (Clarence Walker) on its roster. In 1948, Wooden again refused to bring Indiana State to Kansas City. But before the tournament started, the NAIA allowed African-Americans to play (according the Kansas City Star sportswriter Blair Kerkhoff, 1948 was an Olympic year and the NAIA team champion had a spot in the Olympic Trials tournament. The Olympic Committee threatened to pull the invitation if African-Americans were not allowed to play in the NAIA Tournament). The NAACP, Indiana State's university president and Walker's parents also urged Coach Wooden to take his team to Kansas City. While there, the Sycamores stayed at the Muehlebach Hotel and Walker housed with a local minister.
"I'm pleased whenever I think of that NAIA Tournament," Coach Wooden says. "I think that was a big moment in our sports history. A few years later, an All-Black team (Tennessee State) won that tournament. Maybe we opened the door a little bit."
Coach Wooden goes on to say he is proud to have been selected into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and is "so grateful to those that love this wonderful game."
He ends his acceptance with a poem, entitled God's Hall of Fame:
God's Hall of Fame
This crowd on Earth, they soon forget, the heroes of the past.
They cheer like mad, until you fall and that's how long you last.
But God, He never does forget, and in his Hall of Fame, inscribed up there beyond the stars, engraved you'll find your name.
I'll tell you friends I wouldn't trade, my name however small – inscribed up there beyond the stars in that celestial hall.
For any famous name on earth or glory that they share – I'd rather be an unknown here and have my name up There
After Coach Wooden's poem recital, you could hear a pin drop as the tears flowed.
Reprinted with permission from Bruin Blue. © 2007 Bill Bennett and Bruin Blue. All rights reserved.