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Iverson, Shaq headline emotional Hall of Fame ceremony

KYLE HIGHTOWER | 9/19/2016, 10:10 a.m.
When Shaquille O’Neal was 10 years old, his father made a prediction. Friday night, it was realized when O’Neal became ...
The 2016 class of inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame, from the left: Ann Beaty, accepting on behalf of her late husband Zelmo Beaty; Ron Garretson, accepting on behalf of his father the late Darell Garretson, Tom Izzo; Maurice Banks, accepting on behalf of his late grandfather John McLendon; Shaquille O'Neal; Nancy Boxill, accepting on behalf of her late grandfather Cumberland Posey; Jerry Reinsdorf; Sheryl Swoopes and Yao Ming, pose with past inductee Jerry Colangelo for a group photo at the end of a news conference at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Sept. 8, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Jessica Hill

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – When Shaquille O’Neal was 10 years old, his father made a prediction. Friday night, it was realized when O’Neal became a Hall of Famer.

Shaq and Allen Iverson headlined the 10-member Class of 2016 enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. One of the most star-packed classes in recent memory, it also featured international star Yao Ming, WNBA great Sheryl Swoopes, coach Tom Izzo, and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, an architect in the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls championship teams of the 1990s.

“If I know my father, he’s up there arguing with Wilt [Chamberlain] that his son is the best big man in the game,” Shaq said.

Posthumous honorees were: 27-year NBA referee Darell Garretson; John McLendon, the first African American coach in a professional league; Zelmo Beaty, the former NBA and ABA star who led Prairie View to an NAIA title in 1962; and Cumberland Posey, who is also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Shaq was an instant box office draw during his career because of his mammoth frame and rim-shaking dunks. But he also exhibited a personality that was as playful as it was engaging. He showed off all of it on Friday.

He had the final speech of the night, a humorous dissertation that spanned his long journey in the sport.

His speech had serious moments like thanking his parents, Phil Harrison and Lucille O’Neal, for giving him the discipline and drive that drove his NBA dream.

But he also tossed in light moments. He thanked former Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant for helping him win three NBA titles, “but also for getting me pushed off the team and traded to Miami.”

Before host Ahmad Rashad could even introduce Iverson, the first mention of his name started a roar of cheers throughout the assembled audience.

Dressed in all black, former MVP known as “A.I.,” blew kisses as tears began to form in his eyes.

“Thank God for loving me and blessing me,” Iverson said, “to be the man that I am and having no regrets for the man that I am. A man that my family loves, my teammates love and my fans love.”

Fighting tears throughout, Iverson thanked former Georgetown coach John Thompson “for saving my life.”

“[After] the incident happened in high school and all that was taken away... no other schools would recruit me anymore,” Iverson recalled. “My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance. And he did.”

He said he later left Georgetown only as “an OK basketball player.”

“But once I started to listen to Larry Brown and take constructive criticism, I learned how much of a great, great coach that he really is. ... That’s when I became an MVP.”

Iverson saved his final thank you for wife Tawanna.

“You’re just the best to me,” he said. “I want you to walk around and be proud of yourself that you are a Hall of Famer.”

Two of the themes on the night were family and journeys. That was the essence of Swoopes’ speech, who was thankful of her path from tiny Brownsfield, Texas, and that her cancer-stricken mother, Louise, was able to see it.