SPRINGFIELD — It’s going to be a while before the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has a Celtics flavor again.
With Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett inducted in the past few years, Celtics fans may have to wait a few years for another Boston player to reach the Hall. But the second Saturday in September in Springfield remains special, evidenced by the Class of 2022.
San Antonio Spurs and Argentinian team standout Manu Ginóbili highlighted the first-year entries, along with WNBA and college stars Swin Cash and Lindsay Whalen. But the unspoken theme of this year’s class was “It’s about time.”
On this warm evening in Western Massachusetts, it was about those who waited years to be inducted. Former Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway; longtime NBA coaches Del Harris and George Karl; University of Cincinnati and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins; veteran NBA official Hugh Evans; and all-time Atlanta Hawks great Lou Hudson.
Hardaway joined Golden State teammates Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond on his 14th year of eligibility as his game appeared to have been more appreciated because of his brilliant ballhandling abilities.
In a generation wizards such as Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, and Ja Morant dazzle with their ballhandling — and are quite honestly allowed to carry the ball — Hardaway set the standard with his crossover that froze defenders.
Hardaway is one of the players who may have been considered bubble Hall of Fame candidates, but were inducted in the past few years. Players such as Richmond, Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace, Vlade Divac, and Maurice Cheeks have donned the burnt orange jacket over the past few years, appreciated for not necessarily racking up championships or setting records, but for their contributions to a game that is thriving.
It’s not that the Naismith Hall of Fame has lowered its standards, it’s that the generation following Michael Jordan but prior to LeBron James is getting its due. It’s likely that some unfortunate homophobic comments by Hardaway, which he has apologized for and worked with the gay community since, postponed his induction, but it was well deserved.
Hardaway was a five-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA, and played the second half of his career on declining knees, finishing his career averaging 17.7 points, 8.2 assists, and 1.6 steals over 13 seasons.
Hardaway had been denied four previous times for induction but finally received the good news on a call from Hall of Fame president John Doleva, who told him, “I have some better news today than I usually have for you.”
“It was a very emotional day,” Hardaway said. “Shaking, sweating, a lot of emotions going on. Saw the ‘Hall of Fame’ number come through my phone and did not want to answer the phone because I didn’t want to take another rejection. And I said, ‘I gotta answer it.’ He told me and I told my wife and my kids and my parents.”
Ginóbili was not only inducted for helping the Spurs win four titles but also being a standout on the Argentinian national team that stunned Team USA and then won gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Ginóbili didn’t put up Hall of Fame numbers with the Spurs — 13.3 points per game — but he was an integral member because of his clutch play, hustle, and fire.
And he, along with longtime NBA forward Luis Scola and rugged forward Andrés Nocioni, teamed to beat the Americans, 89-81, in the semifinals in a game that changed the face of USA Basketball.
After that game, NBA executive Jerry Colangelo was named USA Basketball chairman and international play was taken more seriously, with Mike Krzyzewski taking over and the players having to participate in training camp to make the team instead of it being an assumption for All-Star-caliber players.
Ginóbili helped open the NBA’s doors to South American players as Argentina turned into an international power.
“It’s unreal that I’m here at this moment,” Ginóbili said. “I guess not everybody expects to be in the Hall of Fame when they grow up, but being from a small city in Argentina, a country that is known for their soccer teams, making it all the way to the NBA. It was for me at that point and unreachable dream and then things started to happen year by year. And through my growth and development and by one thing or another I get drafted by sheer luck by one of the best franchises in sports and then we start winning.”
“At 45, a few years after retirement, here I am, a very unlikely outcome but super grateful for every single person and team along the way.”
Saturday’s event was star-studded. Celtics coach Ime Udoka, a former teammate of Ginóbili’s, as well as a Spurs assistant coach, was one of many people with Spurs ties on hand to support the new inductee. David Robinson, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker were in attendance, with Parker likely being a first-year entrant next year.
Parker could be joined by Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwyane Wade, who will also be on the ballot in 2023.
The night kicked off in appropriate fashion, with a tribute to Celtics great Bill Russell. Hall-of-Famers Jerry West and Alonzo Mourning offered their thoughts on the impact of Russell, who passed away in July. Russell was a 2021 Naismith inductee as a coach after being a 1975 inductee as a player.
Russell was also acknowledged during a montage of Hall-of-Famers and players who passed away during the past year.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.