INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As Kentucky coach John Calipari started to leave the Naismith Hall of Fame interview room Monday, he took one last question.
“Coach, what do you think of the four-year rule?” Spencer Haywood shouted.
“You screwed it up for us,” Calipari answered.
Now the man who paved the way for underclassmen to enter the NBA draft and the coach who has thrived with today’s top one-and-done players will be forever linked: Calipari and Haywood are among this year’s 11-person class, with induction ceremonies at the hall to be held Sept. 10-12 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
There is enough star power to appeal to all generations.
Younger fans might embrace the selections of former WNBA star Lisa Leslie of four-time NBA defensive player of the year Dikembe Mutombo. Leslie won two league titles, three league MVP awards and four Olympic gold medals. Mutombo led the NBA in blocks for five consecutive seasons, famously wagging his finger to celebrate along the way.
More experienced fans will appreciate the election of Louie Dampier, an Indianapolis native who made seven All-Star teams in the ABA after starring at Kentucky.
Also selected were Jo Jo White, the former Kansas star who won two titles with the Celtics, and former Boston coach Tom Heinsohn, who becomes the fourth member of the hall to be inducted twice. Heinsohn was selected as a player in 1986 and is now going in as a coach, thanks to the veterans committee.
Longtime referee Dick Bavetta and former college coach and television commentator George Raveling also were elected along with Australian coach and player Lindsay Gaze. And John Isaacs, a star pro player before the NBA was formed, will be inducted posthumously as the representative of the early African-American pioneers committee.
Then there is Haywood, whose NBA career included 14,592 points, 7,038 rebounds and a league title in 1980 with the Lakers. But his legacy goes far beyond that.
A standout at the University of Detroit, Haywood decided to turn pro after his sophomore year but NBA rules at that point required players to wait four years after high school. He headed to Denver in the ABA, where he was the MVP, and then joined the Seattle SuperSonics despite the NBA’s rule. The subsequent court fight went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the league in a decision that cleared the way for underclassmen — and one-and-dones — to play in the NBA.
“There is a real sense of pride in it because of all my sacrifice,” Haywood said, explaining how he once was offered a contract not to play if he would just wait another year to comply with the NBA’s rules. “Most times, guys look at me and say ‘What did he do?'”
Calipari didn’t need a refresher course about how Haywood — or Kentucky — helped him reach the Hall of Fame.
He led Massachusetts and Memphis to Final Fours before landing with the Wildcats. There, thanks to a plethora of NBA prospects who have left school early, Calipari has taken Kentucky to four Final Fours in the past five years, won the 2012 national championship, and had Kentucky within two games of becoming the first men’s team in major college basketball to complete a perfect season. That quest ended Saturday with Kentucky’s loss to Wisconsin.
Without his young stars, or his ties to Big Blue Nation, Calipari might not have made it.
“I always wanted to have a job like the other guys,” Calipari said. “I had nothing against Massachusetts or Memphis, but you were always kind of at the little table and it left me wondering what would happen if I got one of those jobs. … I’ll say it again, if I don’t get hired by Kentucky, I don’t know (if I make it), maybe.”
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