George Karl lost 19 of his first 21 games as an NBA coach. Tim Hardaway spent hours dribbling alone in an unfinished basement when it was too cold to go outside in his native Chicago. Theresa Grentz’s family lost all its belongings in a 1970 house fire, leaving her with only the yellow pajamas she was wearing at the time.
There were no signs that basketball immortality awaited any of them.
Now, they’re members of the most sought-after club in the game. Karl, Hardaway and Grentz are among 13 people who will be officially enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts on Saturday night — a group that largely was tied together by what they overcame on their way to a long list of accomplishments that include NCAA titles, NBA titles and Olympic gold medals.
“You learn from the adversity,” Grentz said Friday. “You don’t have to have everything perfect. You take what you have, make that work, make the most of what you have, not what you think you need. There we were, I had absolutely nothing, but yet tomorrow night – and I’m a nervous wreck about this – I’m going in the Hall of Fame.”
Karl was one of five people selected by the North American Committee, alongside West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, the late referee Hugh Evans and longtime NBA stars Manu Ginobili and Tim Hardaway.
Swin Cash, Marianne Stanley and Lindsay Whalen were selected by the women’s committee. Longtime coaches Del Harris and Larry Costello were picked by the contributor committee, while six-time All-Star Lou Hudson was chosen by the veterans committee. Grentz – who played for the legendary Immaculata program and guided Rutgers to the final AIAW title in 1982 – was chosen by the women’s veteran committee and FIBA Hall of Famer Radivoj Korac by the international committee.
Karl’s career as an NBA coach started in 1984 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, starting 0-9 and 2-19, but rallying that season to face Boston in the opening round of the playoffs. The Celtics won the series 3-1, and Karl remains of the belief that the Celtics got favorable whistles.
“They got all the calls,” Karl lamented.
Maybe so. But half a lifetime later, Karl got the Hall’s call.
Harris’ coaching career included him working with numerous Hall of Fame players – Rick Barry, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Yao Ming and Magic Johnson among them – along with some sure-fire future ones like Dirk Nowitzki.
“To think that still, somehow or another, I contributed to the game and not just played it or coached it, it’s more humbling to me than anything I would have ever thought about,” Harris said.
Hardaway was a finalist four other times for the Hall, never getting in. This year’s call from Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva was one he didn’t want to take, for fear that he was about to go 0-for-5.
“Shaking, sweating, lot of emotions going on,” Hardaway said of that moment. “Saw the Hall of Fame number come through my phone. Did not want to answer the phone because I didn’t want to take another rejection.”
He’ll never have to worry about that again.
Whalen, a four-time WNBA champion and now the coach at her alma mater Minnesota, said one of the first great teams she saw in person was the 2002 UConn Huskies – a team that featured Cash. And it wasn’t lost on Whalen that she is entering the Hall alongside Cash, Grentz and Stanley, who also played at Immaculata before embarking on a long coaching career.
“Myself and Theresa, Marianne, Swin, going in together, I think we represent a lot of what’s been great with women’s basketball over the years,” Whalen said. “And I think there’s young girls and women right now that are sitting there that are seeing us and that can become a realistic goal and dream for them if they work hard.”
Among the five presenters that Cash selected to be alongside her for Saturday’s ceremony is her UConn coach, Geno Auriemma.
Cash lauded Auriemma for his constant pursuit of nothing but excellence.
“You were trying to be the best and practices were always harder than a game,” said Cash, a two-time NCAA champion, three-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and now part of the front office with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. “But that prepared you mentally to understand what you wanted to achieve. And every year, the bar was a national championship. With some people, the bar is a conference championship or `Hey, we made the tournament.’ Whereas, at Connecticut, we hang banners.”
Also now members of the Hall are three selections made by the Early African-American Pioneer Committee: Wyatt “Sonny” Boswell, Inman Jackson and Albert “Runt” Pullins – all of them, among other things, having been members of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Huggins – who, like Whalen, is also coaching at his alma mater – deflected credit for his 916 career wins as a college coach, 844 of those coming at the Division I level.
“Good players,” Huggins said. “I’ve been fortunate.”