The best Shaq, Yao, and AI quotes from a Memorable Ceremony
As far as basketball personalities go, the players being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2016 are a class for the ages. While Tim Duncan could hold his own with Shaq on the basketball court, he was no match for the Big Diesel’s bombastic public persona. On the other end of the size spectrum you have Allen Iverson, whose unfiltered and bold attitude earned him an almost unprecedented level of admiration in the eyes of fans—and sometimes the scorn of the media. And to cap it all off, you have Yao Ming, the soft-spoken but captivating international icon who served as the perfect ambassador for Chinese basketball players.
Each of these men gave us plenty of memorable media moments during their careers (hell, media is Shaq’s post-playing career). Here are some of the quotes that stood out from their induction speeches as they took their place in the pantheon of basketball greatness.
On his coach at Georgetown, John Thompson: “I wanna thank Coach Thompson…for saving my life. For giving me the opportunity. I was recruited by every school in the country for football and basketball, and an incident happened in high school and all that was taken away. No other teams, no other schools were recruiting me any more. My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance, and he did.”
On fellow Philadelphia icon Julius Erving: “Man, Dr. J. Those shoes, some big shoes, literally. I got to Philadelphia and those were some big shoes to fill with a size 10 foot. He was always supportive of me through my career, always gave me words of wisdom. Just a great man, a handsome old school dude too.”
On starting out with basketball: “I remember coming home from school one day and my beautiful mom said ‘you’re going to basketball practice.’ And I’m like, ‘I ain’t going to no basketball practice, I’m a football player, basketball is soft.’ [….] I cried and I screamed and I kicked and I clawed and I had to be dragged to practice. I got to practice and I saw all the guys that played on my football team there. So, from that point, I played basketball, so I have my mom to thank for that.”
On his musical tastes: “I wanna thank Biggie Smalls, Redman, Jadakiss, Tupac, and Michael Jackson for being my theme music throughout my career.”
On his sponsor, Reebok: “I have to thank Reebok. Man, man gotta thank Reebok. A lifetime contract, wheeeew.”
On the media: “To the media, a love-hate relationship that made me stronger.”
On fellow inductee Shaq: “Shaq, I love you so much as a person. Obviously the most dominant big man we’ve ever seen. Ever.”
On the haters: “And I wanna thank the guys that are not my friends anymore. I’m glad that you blew your cover, for me to recognize that you wasn’t any good to my family or me. And I appreciate y’all for that, so if I make any more new friends, I know the signs.”
On family and food: “Because of the love and generation of family, mom and I always had a place to lay our heads. And a place where I was able to have my favourite food, which happens to be everything.”
On ‘leadership’: “My first exposure to leadership was when I was given babysitting duties, when my mom and dad were at work and I had to corral my brothers and sisters. In a way this is where I led my first corporation. My sister Lateefah was my VP of dishes, my sister Ayesha was the CEO of bedmaking, and my brother Jamal was my director of leaves. They would always report to me as I would be in deep thought, eating baloney sandwiches and Frosted Flakes, and watching General Hospital. Luke and Laura forever by the way.”
On his youth coaches: “They would find unique and wonderful ways to express their love. For example, ‘Coach I need some shoes.’ ‘I can’t afford no size 18 shoes you big ol’ son of a bitch.’ ‘Coach, what time is the game?’ ‘I don’t know but you big ol’ son of a bitch better get 40 points and 22 rebounds.’ And when we won the state title in 1989 with an impressive 36-0 record, they both called me over and said ‘You big ol’ son of a bitch we love you.’”
On Orlando Magic teammate Nick Anderson (and free throws): “I’d like to thank Nick Anderson for missing those four free throws in a row in my first NBA Finals. I’m just playing, Nick. But when I was writing this speech, I was like, you know what, it’d be pretty funny if a terrible free throw shooter criticized a bad one.”
On frenemy Kobe Bryant: “Kobe Bryant, a guy who would push me and help me win three titles in a row, but would also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”
On General Managers: “I’d like to thank Steve Kerr, he was the first General Manager to actually call me and say I was being traded. All the other times I found out because of loud-ass Stephen A. Smith on ESPN.”
On attending his daughter’s volleyball games: “When I go to Mimi’s volleyball games, the parents hate me cause I be telling, ‘Spike it in they face, baby. I want all this bloody right here, spike it in they face.’”
On fellow inductee Yao Ming: “Yao Ming was the first to block my shot three times in a row. And people like to say he’s 7’7, but he’s really like my favourite convenience store 7-Eleven. And he tricked me. Three years I never spoke to Yao because I thought there was a language barrier there, and then one game he hit me with a Hakeem Olajuwon bang-bang fadeaway, and I was like ‘Hey Yao, nice move.’ And he said, ‘Thanks my brother.’ And I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you speak English?’ He’s like, ‘Shaq, you never talk to me, of course I speak English.’”
On his speech: “When I heard I would be the first speaker here tonight, I thought somebody had made a mistake. Don’t laugh. I thought this spot belonged to the great Allen Iverson. You know why? Because I need more practice than him.”
On one of his presenters and teammates, Dikembe Mutombo: “Dikembe I put you last because you look like the oldest of the three. We played together for five years, and with all the great memories on and off the court, nothing can break the bond between us—even all those elbows you gave me in practice.”
On his parents and free throw shooting: “The gift I had from you was not only height. It was much more. You taught me how to think, how to make decisions. And of course, my soft touch on the free throw line. Which is why I’m happy to say I’m entering the hall with a career 83% free throw percentage—just a little better than Shaq.”
On Chinese basketball predecessors: “I am not the first Chinese man to play in the NBA. That honor belongs Wang Zhi Zhi. He was a pioneer for all future Chinese players who dream of coming to the NBA. He cleared the road for us and made so many sacrifices. I learned so much from him. Although he cannot be here today, I want to thank him.”
On early Rockets teammates: When I arrived in Houston on my first day, Steve Francis gave me a strong high five and a big hug to welcome me. Steve has been the perfect big brother to me ever since that day. Cuttino Mobley invited me to his home for something called “soul food.” I thought he meant salty food. Thank you to Steve, Cuttino and everyone on my early Rockets teams for making me feel so welcome.