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Kukoc, Jackson, Russell headline Naismith Hall of Fame inductees as Bosh reminisces on Kobe’s inspiration
SPRINGFIELD (USA) - If there's anything that rivals the impact of legendary performances of players that enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, it's the speeches they give at their inductions.
Every year, hoops icons deliver some gems that create a buzz around the world.
That was the case for Chris Bosh, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist from Team USA who, along with international basketball greats Toni Kukoc, Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith, were enshrined at Springfield in Massachusetts over the weekend.
The long-time NBA star told a story about hard work and dedication in which Kobe Bryant was the main character.
"He was such an inspiration for my generation and I'm sure all of us in this room," Bosh said.
The setting for the story was the USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas in 2008. It was a challenging time for the Americans, who had not finished atop the podium of a major event since the Sydney Games in 2000.
The camp got underway not long after the Boston Celtics' 4-2 triumph over the Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
"I wanted to establish myself as a young leader on the team by waking up bright and early, day one," Bosh said. "So the goal was to be the first one at breakfast. So I set my alarm, I make sure I'm up by sunrise, I get out of bed, I put on my gear and head downstairs but when I get there, Kobe is already there, icepacks on his knees, drenched in sweat ..."
Bryant, one of the most dynamic players in the game and his peers looked up to, didn't reach the pinnacle of the sport by accident, as Bosh's story proved.
"This guy wasn't only awake before me, he had already worked out," Bosh said. "He had just played in the NBA Finals days earlier. Meanwhile, I'd been off for months and I was still exhausted.
"LEGENDS AREN'T DEFINED BY THEIR SUCCESSES. THEY'RE DEFINED BY HOW THEY BOUNCE BACK FROM THEIR FAILURES."
"That dedication he had only days after falling short of an NBA Championship, that taught me something I've never forgotten.
"Legends aren’t defined by their successes. They’re defined by how they bounce back from their failures."
Bosh and Bryant then played important roles for the USA as the country just weeks later captured the Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing.
Bosh was introduced by Ray Allen and Pat Riley, the title-winning coach of the Los Angeles Lakers (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988) and Miami Heat (2006), also caused a stir when he returned a championship ring that Riley had loaned to him when he recruited him to South Florida.
Riley was the Heat president and had the final say in all basketball matters when he attempted to have Bosh join the team as a free agent in 2010.
Bosh (far right) and Bryant (second from left) celebrated their gold medal triumph at the 2008 Olympics
"He took out this velvet bag full of championship rings and he dumped them all across the table," Bosh said. "He picked one up, and he looked me dead in my eyes and he said, 'You give it back to me when we win one together.'
"We did win a ring together, two of them (2012 and 2013), but I never gave back the one he loaned me because, for whatever reason, I wanted to wait for the right moment. I figured this would be a good moment."
Bosh had a strong connection to USA Basketball. He was in the team that finished third at the 2002 FIBA Americas U18 Championship Bronze, and also in the United States team that was third at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006.
Toni Kukoc followed in the footsteps of Croatian greats Drazen Petrovic and Dino Radja when he was inducted at Springfield.
"I would like to thank Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for kicking my butt during the Olympics in Barcelona, and then motivating me to work even harder to become an important part of the Chicago Bulls." - Toni Kukoc pic.twitter.com/dPihZfdudB— NBA (@NBA) September 12, 2021
Kukoc scooped numerous awards during his career, including MVP honors as a youth national team player for Yugoslavia, and a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics and third place at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 1994 while with Croatia.
He drew plenty of laughs at his induction when he recalled Croatia's two games against the United States at the Barcelona Olympics.
"I would like to thank Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for kicking my butt during the Olympics in Barcelona, and then motivating me to work even harder to become an important part of the Chicago Bulls," the FIBA Hall of Famer from the class of 2017 said.
Jackson, a World Cup winner in 2006, became just the second Australian and the first player to be inducted. On the Olympic stage, Jackson claimed silver medals at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, and bronze at the London 2012 Olympics.
Griffith was a leading player for the USA teams that won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
Griffith was a linchpin in USA teams that won gold medals at2000 and 2004 Olympics
Another notable honoree is Val Ackerman, a sports executive and former player. Ackerman was a member of the FIBA Central Board from 2006 to 2014 and also a member of the FIBA Competitions Commission from 2010 to 2014. She was the first female to serve as President of USA Basketball from 2004 to 2008 and was also President of the WNBA from 1996 to 2005.
Other players in this year's Hall of Fame class were Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace and Chris Webber, while coaches included Rick Adelman, Bill Russell (the first Black NBA head coach) and Jay Wright, the long-time Villanova coach who served as an assistant for the USA's Olympic gold medal-winning side this year in Tokyo. Wright has coached Villanova to two NCAA titles in his two decades at the helm. Russell had been inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame following his incredible playing career in 1975 as well as joining the 2007 class of the FIBA Hall of Fame.
There were also five other directly elected honorees: Cotton Fitzsimmons and Howard Garfinkel from the Contributor Committee, Clarence "Fats" Jenkins from the Early African American Pioneers Committee, Bob Dandridge from the Veterans Committee and Pearl Moore from the Women's Veterans Committee.