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Memories and the thrills of the retired superstars were celebrated at enshrinement festivities which saw speeches from several of the iconic talents being honored for their work at many levels.
Joining the elite NBA trio were four-time Women’s NBA champion Sheryl Swoopes, 27-year NBA referee Darrell Garretson, Michigan State University coach Tom Izzo, racial barrier-breaking coach John McLendon, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf as a contributor, and pioneer era stars Zelmo Beaty and Cumberland Posey.
“I imagined this for a long time,’’ said Yao, the Chinese giant who became the tallest player in Hall of Fame history at 7-foot-6 (2.29m).
Yao, who averaged 19.2 points and nine rebounds for the Houston Rockets, became a global ambassador for the sport during his eight NBA seasons. He continued promoting the game after he was forced into retirement in 2011 for repeated foot injuries.
“I will always remember my times spent with the Houston Rockets as some of the best times of my life,’’ Yao said.
O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion, looked around at the retired legends gathered to pay him tribute and said, “It’s a great honor to be part of this great fraternity.’’
He cited Julius Erving, the iconic “Dr. J’’, and admitted, “I always dreamed of being as good as Dr. J.’’
“Shaq’’ also thanks NBA fans, saying, “You guys were a part of everyone. Thank you for being such a big part of the league.’’
O’Neal noted he spent three years thinking Yao could not speak English, then was dazzled by a move from the Asian superstar and said, ‘Hey Yao, nice move.’’’
“He said. ‘Thanks, my brother.’ Three years I never spoke to Yao because I thought there was a language barrier there.’’
Iverson, a guard who sparked the Philadelphia 76ers into the NBA Finals in 2001 where they lost to O’Neal’s Lakers, called “Shaq’’ “one of the most dominant players ever.’’