Ahmad Rashad, host of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Show held Friday at stately Symphony Hall, enthusiastically welcomed the first of 11 inductees in the Class of 2017 to the stage: none other than Kansas coach Bill Self.
“Welcoming Bill Self to the Hall of Fame is my main man, Larry Brown … Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Self,” Rashad said to a thunderous standing ovation for Self, KU’s 15th-year coach, who strolled to the podium with his mentor Brown, who sat behind Self, and to his left.
“Wow!” Self exclaimed into the microphone — the only word improvised in his crisp 9-minute, 58-second talk to a crowd that included about 60 of Self’s former players from KU, Illinois, Tulsa, Oral Roberts and Oklahoma State. (Self, 54, coached at Oklahoma State as an assistant.)
Self was serious most of the time, crediting his mom, dad, two children, sister, players, assistant coaches, administrative types, fans and “the Lord.” But he also turned to his trademark sense of humor for a few laughs in the speech that had the spectators back on their feet cheering at its conclusion.
“I am incredibly proud to be the fifth head coach in KU history to join the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Self said. “James Naismith, Phog Allen, Larry Brown, Roy Williams and me. What is wrong with that picture right there?” he cracked to a roar of laughter.
He pointed out that his sister, Shelly “always had my back” during his playing career at Oklahoma State. “One time she literally punched a guy in a local bar for talking trash on my game,” he said.
Another light moment came when he mentioned longtime buddy, R.C. Buford, the general manager of the San Antonio Spurs who attended the ceremony.
“When I was recruited by Oklahoma State,” Self said, “they wanted me so bad they did not even assign a scholarship player to show me around. R.C. Buford was a walk-on. He hosted me, and I fell in love with the place.”
Self turned serious in thanking presenter Brown, who gave Self his first job as a graduate assistant at KU, immediately after his graduation from Oklahoma State.
“(My) one year with coach Brown we go 35-4 (in 1985-86). We had a guy named Danny Manning that wasn’t bad. I thought, ‘This is a good gig. I can do this for a living,’’’ Self said.
Self then spoke directly to Brown, looking back at the presenter’s chair, saying, “I haven’t forgot about you, coach, my presenter. I had a chance at age 22 to study one of the most innovative minds our sport has ever known. I tried so hard to emulate you, coach, in how I coach. Thank you for everything. Thank you for giving me my first opportunity.”
Self in the early part of his speech told the story of how he found out he’d be a member of the Hall’s Class of 2017.
“When I received a call from the president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, John Doleva, that I was going to be inducted, I was literally driving to work getting ready to pull into the parking garage at Allen Fieldhouse. I knew I’d lose reception if I went into the garage, so I kept going straight and I turned right at the stop sign onto Naismith Drive at the time John informed me I was going to be part of the 2017 class,” Self said.
“Getting the call driving down Naismith Drive, the street in which I office, seemed so surreal to me.”
Self discussed the KU portion of his 24-year coaching career.
“We’ve been so blessed to have coached the first pick in the draft lottery, All-Americans, national player of the year, guys who went on to play in the NBA and professionally overseas,” he said. “Teachers, doctors, lawyers, ministers, etc. I’m so happy each of you are here and ones who couldn’t make it, trust me you are not forgotten. We want all our players to learn from us. We all want to be a positive example for them. We always work never to fail them. I can tell you no way our players learned as much from me as I’ve taken from them.”
Self then asked all his assistants and ex-players to stand and be recognized. The group — which included players Andrew Wiggins, Sherron Collins, Wayne Simien, Jeff Hawkins, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Travis Releford, Nick Bahe, Russell Robinson, Christian Moody, Cheick Diallo, Christian Garrett, Kevin Young, Niko Roberts, Evan Manning, Jeremy Case, Michael Lee, Stephen Vinson and others — received a loud ovation.
“These are my guys,” Self said. “I really believe our job as coaches is not have our players settle, not to ever let them be less than they can be on and off the court. I’m so proud to be part of this profession. I know the longer you coach the more you realize you don’t know. I enjoy the daily challenge of trying to put this puzzle together. The Lord blessed me and my family beyond measure. There is no way an average player from Oklahoma would be standing before you tonight if his hand print wasn’t all over my life.
“I will never take this honor for granted, and I will be more humbled now than ever occupying an office on Naismith Drive.”
Self did call for one of his mentors, Eddie Sutton, to be considered for induction in the Hall during the speech.
“It was so special watching him galvanize a community at Oklahoma State. I, like so many, feel Coach Sutton should be in this Hall and someday will be,” Self said.