There are few events that can compare with The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend, and this year’s celebration showed exactly why. For two days – spread out between the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut and the birthplace of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts – basketball’s immortals walked among us. They laughed, cried, shared stories from their playing and coaching days, signed autographs and showed the world why they are Hall of Famers.
Beginning on Friday night at the luxurious Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino, Legends from the NBA, WNBA, ABA and every other professional basketball entity you can imagine arrived en masse in time to attend the Hall of Fame’s first public event - an exclusive autograph session with the Class of 2023. Where else in the world can one room hold Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Becky Hammon, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich, and the members of the 1976 Team USA Women’s Basketball team just to name a few? Fans from around the globe gathered and waited their turn to celebrate their heroes and take home a little piece of memorabilia that would give them a lifetime of memories. Following the autograph sessions, participants readied themselves for the official introductory press conference where global media waited to interview and speak with each of the members of the 2023 HOF Class.
That same evening, the Tip-Off Celebration and Awards Gala was held in the Mohegan Sun Convention Center and the honored guests were awarded the Class of 2023 rings, presented by Baron Championship Rings, the Class of 2023 Hall of Fame jackets, and highlighted by the presentation of the Hall’s annual John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the Mannie Jackson: Basketball’s Human Spirit Awards, and the Curt Gowdy Media Awards. If that wasn’t enough for the first day, the celebration continued long into the night with the annual National Basketball Retired Players Association’s “Players Party” at the ultra-chic Vista Lounge located in the center of the Mohegan Sun Casino. At the “Players Party,” Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman, Spencer Haywood, Artis Gilmore rubbed elbows with Legends like Avery Johnson, business partners from Panini – who served as the event’s host and ESPN’s brightest talent in Malika Andrews, Andraya Carter who were there to celebrate their esteemed colleague, Marc Spears, being named recipient of the HOF’s Curt Gowdy Media Award.
Saturday morning, members, fans, business partners, dignitaries and the honorees took the short ride through Connecticut’s and Western Massachusetts’ idyllic countryside and green hills en route to the city of Springfield to prepare for a magnificent reception at the Marriott Springfield Downtown and the weekend’s main event – The 2023 Enshrinement Ceremony at the famed Symphony Hall. The red carpet stretched for blocks, as only a space of this size could accommodate the legendary talent that was set to walk on it prior to the night’s celebration. Pau Gasol, flanked by his family and close friends greeted everyone he could and took in the entire spectacle and explained how the international presence at this event echoed what a global game basketball has become. Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade smiled as broadly as when they won NBA Championships. Becky Hammon beamed with pride as she led her children down the path that led to the stairs at Symphony Hall and Tony Parker seemed to be carrying an entire French nation on his shoulders.
But this evening wasn’t just about the newest members about to be enshrined, it belonged to ALL Hall of Fame members. One-by-one members from classes dating back decades strutted the red carpet – blowing kisses, shaking hands, and stopping to speak with the enormous media contingent on hand to document this night. Alex English, Spencer Haywood and Chris Bosh proudly showed off their HOF orange jackets. The inimitable Calvin Murphy, as nattily dressed as ever, explained the joy he feels to have a gathering of this kind with every generation of basketball talent– past and present, and Allen Iverson discussed the immense honor for him to be able to induct his friend and protégé Dwyane Wade.
As the ceremony tipped off, one-by-one the honored gave their speeches, told their stories, and thanked the people that supported them along this journey. There was, however, one sense of commonality in all of the speeches - a sense of appreciation. Appreciation at being able to play this game. Appreciation at the hard work and humility it took to get to this level. Appreciation of the recognition about to be bestowed upon them and most of all an appreciation and respect for the game itself.
The night’s last honoree, Dwyane Wade, may have summed it up best when he called his father up to join him on stage. “We in the Hall of Fame, dawg”, he said. Yes, Dwyane, we are, and we can’t wait to do it all over again with next year’s class.