The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame committee met in early January to discuss what was expected to be the most illustrious class since Michael Jordan, John Stockton, David Robinson, and C. Vivian Stringer were inducted as the class of 2009.
But the class of 2020 has been dampened significantly with the death of Kobe Bryant just a few weeks after that conference call. Then, as the Hall of Fame committee was moving toward an Aug. 29 ceremony, COVID-19 caused the pandemic that has postponed or canceled hundreds of events worldwide.
The ceremony is still scheduled for Aug. 29 in Springfield, but there are two other potential dates, and the Hall has also decided on several changes to make the ceremony safe and comfortable — when it occurs.
CEO John Doleva told the Globe the Hall will decide this coming week whether to retain the Aug. 28-30 window, which will begin at Mohegan Sun and then return to Springfield for the induction. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Tamika Catchings are among those in the class of 2020.
Doleva said the Hall will move the ceremony from Symphony Hall (capacity 2,611), which has housed the event since 2009, to the MassMutual Center (capacity, 8,319), allowing patrons more room for social distancing. Doleva added alternate dates would be over the Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 9-11, or in the spring of 2021.
The Hall is not considering a combined ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
“I do want to make it very clear we will have a separate event for the class of 2020 because of the notoriety of that class and, frankly, every class deserves its own recognition," Doleva said. “There is a potential next calendar year that we could have two enshrinements.”
With Governor Charlie Baker’s six-step reopening plan for the state, the Hall of Fame will wait until it’s clear that an August ceremony could actually be feasible before making a decision.
“There could be an arena show in August, but there’s just so many variables we have to look at,” Doleva said. “We want to have all that information by month’s end and decide what our action plan is going to be.”
The Hall has decided to move its jacket unveiling and awards celebration to Mohegan Sun on Aug. 28, and then conduct the ceremony in Springfield the next evening. The awards had previously been held in Springfield with a post-induction event at Mohegan Sun.
The Hall is also considering a community day Aug. 30 where Hall of Famers could conduct clinics and be present at the remodeled museum. But that, like everything else, is subject to change.
“It’s a wonderful three-day event for us, but it’s in a little in flux because of the coronavirus,” Doleva said. “We’re not sure if that third day could still be done.”
Never has the Hall dealt with a situation where a first-ballot inductee died before the induction ceremony.
“It’s unusual, but it’s not impossible, we’re still dealing with it,” Doleva said. “When you have a class of nine and seven of them are still with us, they really have a bond. We want to make sure we keep that together. The nature of the 2020 class speaks to the need to have a separate enshrinement. It’s untimely and it’s difficult but we’re dealing with it. We have a plan.”
One major change for this ceremony is the reallowance of family members to speak live at the ceremony in the inductees’ honor. It’s uncertain whether Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, will speak at the ceremony, but the Hall will have a representative for Bryant speak on his behalf.
In past years, the Hall changed its policy of allowing family members of posthumous inductees to speak live at the ceremony. Instead, they accepted the award with a taped video presentation. That will change this year.
Doleva said it has not been determined who will speak for Bryant during the ceremony. International committee inductee Patrick Baumann, who died in 2018, will also have a family member speak in his honor. Eddie Sutton, another 2020 inductee, passed away at the age of 84 on Saturday night, and a family member will likely accept his induction in his honor.
“People are going to want to hear about Kobe personally, not just a vignette,” Doleva said. “Whether that’s his wife or his teammates or a combination thereof.”
Doleva said he has received indication that Bryant’s family wants to participate in the ceremony.
“I had the opportunity to speak very briefly with Mrs. Bryant and she was very appreciative and very emotional,” Doleva said. “She has certainly indicated to be very involved, she and her family and others, in his enshrinement ceremony when it happens.”
Celtics rookie gets home-schooled
Celtics rookie forward Grant Williams is back in his native Charlotte during the pandemic, but he’s staying at the home of teammate Kemba Walker, who retained his home in the area after spending eight seasons with the Hornets.
Williams has spent the past few weeks working out with Walker and awaiting word on when or if the season is going to resume. Williams sounds optimistic about a return, with full faith that the NBA is going to make the right decisions for safety.
“They’ve done a great job of communicating with us throughout the entire period because it could have been a lot worse, especially with all the things going on right now,” he said. “It was definitely grim at one point because I was like, ‘Wow, this could have been fun, especially with the group that we have.' We enjoy each other. We enjoy being around each other and we were having some much fun throughout the year, so it was definitely difficult at the time.”
Williams, who emerged as a key defender and rebounder with the second unit, struggled with his offensive game. He said he has worked on his ballhanding at Walker’s home gym, trying to become more valuable.
“It’s just more so about conditioning, staying in shape,” Williams said. “You can improve your game, especially in times like these. So part of the reason why I came down home and went to Charlotte was because the regulations were a little bit lighter, there were less cases and the weather enabled me to be outside.
“I feel a lot of us will be fine when we get back, no matter how soon it will be, we’re going to do our best to be at our peak shape.”
Williams is a talkative, personable player and his relationship with Walker developed because of the Charlotte ties. When Williams considered going back to Charlotte during the pandemic, he planned to stay with his grandparents until he received an invitation from Walker.
“It’s been amazing, relaxing, being able to get to know each other better, as well as work out together,” Williams said. “It was a great decision. He’s great because he’s comfortable and to himself. He relaxes a lot. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve met throughout this process.”
Williams said the players have expressed trust in commissioner Adam Silver and the league to make the right decisions about a return. The league is expected to allow teams to begin practicing in mid-June with a target return date of mid-July, potentially in Orlando.
“I feel like we’re all professionals and we definitely trust each other and the league and they’re going to do their best to protect us,” Williams said. “They wouldn’t have asked us to come back unless they had every precaution they needed and they will keep everything clean and make sure we’re well put and able to do things that we can. They’re going to help mitigate the risk as much as possible. I know I can trust the Celtics and what they’re going to provide when we go, and the same with the league. They are going to have every single thing locked down.”
The NBA is determining whether to resume in Orlando or Las Vegas. But the Disney World site in Florida not only has thousands of hotel rooms, but athletic facilities where teams can practice and train.
“When you have multiple locations, you bring in more risk because you are balancing everything in different spectrums,” Williams said. “Having Disney, having everyone there, there’s enough space for everybody. There’s hotel rooms and there’s the gym space that we could need. And it’s also nice weather. You can do your thing and be comfortable around each other.”
Despite leaving school after his junior season, Williams earned enough credits to graduate from the University of Tennessee. His classmates took their final classes online and had graduation ceremonies canceled. Williams said he has tried to console them.
“It’s definitely difficult seeing all of my friends and having to go through what they’re going through,” he said. “I actually communicate with them a lot."
Like many NBA players, especially those born in the 1990s, Williams has been enamored with “The Last Dance” documentary that detailed the final season of Michael Jordan with the Bulls. The documentary also showed Jordan’s early career, the franchise’s rise to prominence, and his relationship with his teammates.
“I thought it was really, really fun to actually see film and see the type of lifestyle that not only Michael Jordan lived but the Bulls did at the time, before social media, before all the things we had at the time now,” Williams said. “They were rock stars. They were talents.
“Definitely was something that enlightened me on not only the ’90s itself, but Michael Jordan as a person. He definitely said people might hate him a lot because of the documentary, but I saw a competitive guy who always wanted to win and the guy you respect.”
When Kidd was just a newbie
Danny Ainge could talk for hours about his basketball career, and there are many nuggets in his experiences that may have escaped the notice of the casual fan. For example, Ainge coached Jason Kidd for three years as he neared his prime. Nearly 25 years later, Ainge has nothing but compliments for the Hall of Fame point guard.
“I loved coaching Jason, just the ultimate competitor, players all loved playing with him,” Ainge said. “You could look into his eyes at the most crucial parts of the game and it’s like you’re looking in the eyes of an assassin. He’s was a great, great competitor and a very special talent. Jason and I had a great relationship. I really enjoyed coaching him.”
Before Ainge resigned 20 games into the 1999-2000 season, the Suns had acquired Anfernee Hardaway from the Magic, and his pairing with Kidd was tabbed “Backcourt 2000.” Hardaway, however, dealt with various knee issues in Phoenix and Backcourt 2000 never truly came to fruition.
“Penny wasn’t the same when he got to Phoenix,” Ainge said. “There were questions of if he was going to be the best player in the league within a few years, he was such a gifted player. But he wasn’t the same player.”
Ainge said he eventually grew tired of coaching, but he did enjoy his time with the Suns. Being a younger coach, he said he built a strong relationship with his players and could relate to them.
“I obviously felt like I was more prepared and better in my second year and my third year,” he said. “But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being around the players. I got along with them. I wasn’t afraid to tell them what was on my mind and what I needed them to do to get better. I enjoyed coaching in games more than I enjoyed coaching in practices. I was the same as the players.”
After his coaching stint, Ainge took a job to return to Turner Broadcasting as a commentator. He was living the good life, raising his children and working one night a week. That was until Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca, who had recently purchased the team, approached him with an offer to become general manager.
“They told me that Red [Auerbach] had recommended that they hire me. I was flattered and I told them thank you,” Ainge said. “My three older kids had graduated from high school. I have my three youngest at home, so life is a little bit different. I told them I was not interested in the job and I gave them names of people in the league and some former Celtic players they should interview.
“I didn’t jump at it. It wasn’t anything I was looking to really do. As time went on, they had come a second time and a third time while I was broadcasting. I sensed my wife was warming up to the idea. Eventually, I said yes.”
Watching “The Last Dance” and all of these throwback games has thrown most of us into a time warp. For Ainge, he acknowledges the games and times get confusing, especially during his Boston years.
“My years with the Celtics, it seems like I get more confused because we went to the Finals four straight years," he said. "Because I went to the Finals once with Phoenix and once with Portland, it’s pretty easy to remember. When I look at those games and watch Michael Jordan’s documentary, I remember what I was thinking.”
Ainge lost in those NBA Finals with the Blazers and Suns, each to Jordan’s Bulls.
“I played 18 years of professional sports and when you play in that many games, there’s disappointments for all of us,” Ainge said. “That’s just part of it. That’s what makes winning so special and so fun. You see how it hard it was to win and you enjoy watching your guys win.”
The NBA insists that the G-League season has not been canceled, but rather suspended like the NBA season. However, it would seem unlikely the G-League season would resume this summer, especially considering the playoffs were scheduled to end in May . . . The Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame had organized its first overseas game between Michigan and Kentucky, set for Dec. 6 at The O2 Arena in London. Coronavirus concerns encouraged the Hall to move the game to 2022. Several college games scheduled for Springfield this fall and winter are still scheduled, including the Hoop Hall Classic Elite tournament in January . . . Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman broke ties with Klutch Sports, the company led by Rich Paul and that represents LeBron James, after it was revealed that James’s production company, Uninterrupted, is working on a documentary regarding the Astros’ sign-stealing controversy during the 2017 season. Klutch Sports had delved into representing baseball players a few months ago with Bregman as one of its main clients. Klutch Sports acquired Tidal Sports, which represented Bregman, in April and he was represented by Brodie Scoffield . . . While we are waiting for an announcement on a possible resumption of the NBA season, we are also waiting on any word about the beginning of the WNBA season. The regular season was supposed to begin May 15, but it has been postponed. And like the NBA, the WNBA has to figure out whether to play games in one central location, how to conduct a full schedule, and whether to play games without fans. The league had planned to take a hiatus because of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but now gets that full month back to perhaps include more games. The league wants to prevent spilling into October and November and colliding with the NFL schedule and Major League Baseball playoffs, but it may have no choice.