I Didn’t Get Here Alone

I don’t watch Hall of Fame ceremonies but I tuned in to see Jo Jo White inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year. I grew up watching Jo Jo play in Allen Field House and later with the Boston Celtics. I stopped watching HOF induction speeches a long time ago because they sounded all the same: self-congratulatory and boastful. So I was quite surprised by each of the induction speeches on this night.

Each inductee brought one or more persons from the audience up on stage as presenters and each inductee mentioned the contribution of each presenter in their career. Lisa Leslie, one of the best women to play in the WNBA, talked about each of her six presenters in making her a better player, influencing her career or teacher her about appreciating the game. She ended each of her presenter comments with, “I didn’t get here alone.”

Tom Heinsohn became one of only four individuals inducted as a player and a coach. His presenter was Dave Cowens, a HOF center for the Celtics during Heinsohn’s coaching career. Heimsohm used his entire speech talking about how he followed Red Auerbach’s coaching model, not the X and O game strategy but rather how successful Auerbach was at motivating players to play above their own ability. Dave Cowens was one of the shortest NBA centers but he often led the fastbreak and could shoot from the perimeter. No one had used a center like that before and it transformed a small but athletic center from a mediocre career to the Hall of Fame.

I’m not a John Calipari fan but I certainly respect his ability to coach. Thirty years ago, Calipari began his coaching career at KU when he was invited to join the program as a volunteer by Ted Owens and then hired by Larry Brown. Since then, Calipari has been a Coach of the Year and won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. His Kentucky team, while not winning the championship was probably the most dominant last season with ten players who could probably start for any college team. Anyway, Calipari’s speech is indicative of his power of a motivator. Not once in his 20 minute speech did he ever shine the spotlight on himself. He spoke of those who gave him a chance, believed in him, taught him, were there when he was fired from the NBA, and family who forgave all the time he was somewhere else. Humble and contrite are not words I would use to describe him but he every bit of that in his speech. “I never grabbed a rebound,” he said. “I never scored a point. I never had an assist.” At the end of Calipari’s speech he asked all of the players and coaches in the audience who had played or worked with him at his three college coaching jobs to come up on stage. The stage was overflowing with 64 people who came to honor their coach.

Dikembe Mutombo played 18 years and is proud to have been the third African to play in the NBA. A fierce shot blocker known for waving his finger after rejecting a shot, he never forgot where he came from by opening a hospital in his homeland of Congo that he said has served 140,000 people.

We often walk across the bridges that other people build. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We take advantage of the opportunities provided by our families. We learn from teachers all around us. We get our inspiration from those who believe in us. Many years ago I remember a Leadership Forum graduation speech by one of our employees who displayed had two large photo cut-outs of his kids. I won’t mention the name of the inspector who is now a traffic maintenance supervisor, I’ll respect his anonymity. I suspect his kids looked at him like a hall of fame dad, probably not now, they’re teenagers, but then they did.

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