As readers of this blog know, I recently attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Springfield, MA, invited by 2015 honoree George Raveling. Two years ago I made the identical trip when another of my bosses, Jerry Tarkanian, extended an invitation for his enshrinement. The ceremonies cover a span of three days – a press conference on Thursday, a gala reception followed by the TV show on Friday (check out NBA.com to view it) and an event at the Mohegan Sun when the inductees receive their HOF rings.
The Friday affair, which begins at 4:30 pm, is held at the Mass Mutual Convention Center, a gigantic ballroom with a buffet in the center, bars in a couple corners, a dessert table in another and hors d’oevres constantly being served by strolling waiters. Not only are the new inductees present but every member of the Hall of Fame is invited back to the festivities (a majority of whom make it). Of all the events held HOF weekend, this reception is the one in which the “fan” finds it easiest to mingle with the stars from the past.
In order to allow the guests and Hall of Famers as much free flow as possible, the floor has very few tables – some which seat two people and a very limited number of bigger tables. Because I had been present in 2013 – and because standing is one activity my back finds excruciating – I told a couple friends of mine who were also going to the affair that we needed to get there early so we could find a table. They agreed to appease me and we got to the place 15 minutes before the doors opened. As we entered – the first three people to invade the room – Norm Persin (the third winningest high school coach in the state of Ohio) and one of the guys in our party spotted a table for eight which we immediately claimed. The third member of our “George Raveling group” was Mark Edwards whose claims to fame are numerous: 1) 35-year head coach at Washington U in St. Louis who’s won two Division III National Championships, 2) as of this past Thursday night, an inductee of the 2015 class of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and, not to be diminished by those massive accomplishments, 3) the other graduate assistant at Washington State during my two-year stay at Wazzou (1973-75) and 4) the subject of two of my best blogs (12/15/09 and 2/9/14). Both are well worth reading.
Quickly joining us at “our” table were Sam Jankovich (AD at WSU when Mark and I were there, who later moved on to the same job with the U of Miami before accepting the position of president of the New England Patriots) and his lady friend, Margaret, and one of our former managers at USC, now an executive with Time Warner, Dennis Johnson. I was speaking with Mark when I heard Norm, who has a voice that can certainly be heard above most crowds, bellow, “Hey, Bernard, there’s an open chair here.”
Who should sit down in the empty seat next to me but Bernard King, former Tennessee and NBA great who was enshrined two years prior in the same class as Tark. I mentioned I attended his induction, as well as the fact I was an assistant coach at his alma mater shortly after he left for the NBA. He became a little more animated when I told him I was leaving Sunday for Knoxville to meet with a few former players and coaches. My wife, Jane’s 50th high school reunion was the following Saturday and it would have been foolish (and painful) to fly back to California on Sunday, only to turn around a few days later and fly to Nashville. He mentioned he’d been back (although he admitted it took quite a while before he felt comfortable returning) and we tossed around a few names of mutual acquaintances.
Just about that time, a huge man taps Bernard on the shoulder and asks if that last seat was taken. Bernard jumps up and gives his former teammate, Moses Malone, a bear hug. After they chatted for a while, there were introductions made around the table. I asked Moses if he remembered when he visited us at WSU. Mark added, “Moses, I picked you up at the airport.” Shockingly, to Mark and me anyway, he said he didn’t recall the trip. Back then, however, schools were allowed to offer official visits to as many prospects as they wanted and kids could take as many paid visits as they desired. Moses was, literally, gone every weekend of his senior year.
After a while, he got up and went to get something to drink. I told King that I saw Moses, when he was senior in high school, at the Five-Star Camp, which had the best high school players in the country and how he dominated everybody at the camp, like they were junior high kids. “He just toyed with them,” I said.
King turned to me and said, “I was at that camp. Moses and I graduated from high school the same year.” My first thought was “open mouth, insert foot,” until he said, “You’re exactly right. He did what he wanted to all of us. But let me tell you something about him. That guy was the most unselfish teammate I ever played with. I’d tell him to post up and I’d get him the ball. He’d just say, ‘Nah, B, you just shoot it.’ Never played with anybody like that.”
By now, you can see where this story is headed. On Sunday morning I got to the airport and heard a familiar voice. It was Fran Frascilla of ESPN. Franny and I go way back – to the ’80s when we were both assistants, he at Ohio U, then Ohio State and I was at UT. He was on his cell phone and when he got off, he turned to me and said, “Hey, Jack, did you hear? Moses Malone died.”
Talk about a slap in the face. I was stunned, saying something idiotic like, “What, I had dinner with him 36 hours ago!” as if that would render what he told me as untrue. Franny and I sat next to each other on the trip to Washington, DC where he was connecting to a flight to Dallas (his home) while I went to the gate for my flight to Knoxville. We had about 45 more minutes to catch up but no matter what we talked about, the conversation kept coming back to the fact Moses Malone – who, by the way, looked great at the reception – had passed away.
When I read or hear memorable quotes, I write them down or put them in my phone, whichever is more convenient at the time. Earlier that week I had come across a passage by Virginia Satir which seemed rather poignant:
“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”