Iverson, O’Neal and Yao lead group elected into Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) — Despite being elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday, Allen Iverson knows he still won’t be able to shake his infamous rant about practice.

“I’m in the Hall of Fame and I can go outside today and go to a restaurant or whatever and somebody will say to me: ‘Practice? We talking about practice,’” he said with a laugh, adding that even his children mock him for the 2002 news conference in which he repeated the phrase about 20 times. “Man, I am a Hall of Famer and that’s all you can think about — me saying practice.”

Along with Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, Sheryl Swoopes, Tom Izzo and Jerry Reinsdorf were elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday.

Posthumous honorees this year include 27-year NBA referee Darell Garretson; John McLendon, the first African-American coach in a professional league; Cumberland Posey, who also is in the Baseball Hall of Fame; and Zelmo Beaty, who led Prairie View to an NAIA title in 1962.

The selections were announced in Houston in advance of Monday night’s NCAA Tournament championship game between North Carolina and Villanova.

Iverson, selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, was named rookie of the year and went on to become an 11-time All-Star. John Thompson, his coach at Georgetown, was there to celebrate the latest honor with his former player.

“I’m proud of the fact of knowing him as a person and knowing the challenges he’s had to overcome,” Thompson said. “Allen is legitimate. There’s a lot of impersonators of what he is. But he is a kid who came from basically nothing and had to be thrust into a whole different way of life and been successful as he has been in his profession.”

Iverson was asked to reminisce on the impressive dunking he did in his career despite being only 6-feet tall.

“I can’t even touch the backboard now,” the 40-year-old lamented. “I ain’t lying. Like I can’t even touch the backboard. It is over.”

O’Neal, the top overall pick in the 1992 draft by the Orlando Magic, was the NBA MVP in 2000, a three-time NBA Finals MVP and 15-time All-Star. When he was introduced Monday at the media event, the jokester scolded the announcer for not mentioning his work in the 1996 movie “Kazaam,” in which he played a genie.

The man who has a plethora of nicknames was asked if he hopes to get a new one when he’s inducted into the hall in September.

“No, just Hall of Famer,” he said.

O’Neal had a simple mindset when he entered the NBA, one that he got from his love of karate movies.

“In all your karate movies, you’ve got the young karate warrior and he goes all these places and he sees all these masters and he has to take them out,” O’Neal said. “So I was gunning for everybody. I was gunning for all the superstars, I was gunning for all the big guys, because I wanted their spot and that was my motivation.”

Yao, the top overall pick in 2002 by the Houston Rockets, was an eight-time All-Star. He did not attend the event because he was in Shanghai.

Swoopes helped Texas Tech to a national title, won four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets, was a three-time WNBA MVP and won three Olympic gold medals.

She grew up in the small West Texas town of Brownfield and hopes that her election can be an inspiration to children from small towns everywhere.

“For me to be sitting here today as a Hall of Famer I hope that all those kids out there that have ever doubted that things like this can happen to you, I’m a living example and living proof that if you trust in God and you work hard and believe in yourself and you surround yourself with the right people, anything can happen,” she said.

Izzo, Michigan’s State coach, won a national title in 2000 and has taken the Spartans to the Final Four seven times.

“This is the biggest thrill of my life,” Izzo said. “I needed a lot of other guys to help me get here.”

Reinsdorf has been the owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox for more than two decades.

“An award like this has to be the most important accomplishment you can have,” he said. “The fact is I’m here because of what a lot of other people did.”