Sam Smith’s Hall of Fame speech (09.06.2012)
-- The life and times of Sam Smith
-- Phil Jackson and Sam Smith's relationship dates back to coach's early CBA days
-- David Axelrod recalls Smith’s first years at the Tribune
-- 2012 Hall of Fame: Bulls congratulate Sam Smith (Curt Gowdy Media Award) and Chet Walker (HOF inductee)
Thank you. I’d like to thank everyone and let you know just how grateful and appreciative I am for this special honor.
I understand there isn’t a presenter for this award like tomorrow night. Though it doesn’t matter, really, since I heard Clint Eastwood isn’t doing these things anymore. So I’ll continue.
There’s an old saying about writers: They are the people who come up with the good line two hours after the party is over. So if I say anything clever later, I really meant to say it here.
I appreciate my friend Herb Kohl, the Bucks owner and U.S. Senator, being here. I asked Herb one time what was his secret in getting elected to the Senate four times. “Short speeches,” he said. So I‘ll try to oblige as I know these events are as much as anything wonderful reunions to talk about told times.
I’ve been to many of these enshrinement weeks and I have to admit they are some of the favorite events I attend. I love to see the absolute joy in the eyes of the inductees. They are kids again, back on the playgrounds or in school dreaming about one day having a career in the NBA, a dream that seemed more fantasy, really unreachable.
They’d give anything for just the chance to be there one day. And then they get there and have a career in sports, a lifetime fantasy camp, really. And now they are honoring them for having that career. What could be better than that?
I feel the same way.
I grew up in New York City and it seemed every sporting event I watched on TV Curt Gowdy was the broadcaster. What an honor it is to receive an award named for him. I grew up reading the newspaper stories of Leonard Lewin in the Mirror and Post and Leonard Koppett in the Herald Tribune, which I delivered. I played the games, too. But it always struck me also how amazing it was these guys got to go to all the games, work with the players and offer their views.
And in Brooklyn we had plenty of views to offer.
And then to have a career writing about sports and see their names on the list of the previous Gowdy award winners is a dream I never dared dream.
As I made a political reference, there was something President Obama said a few weeks back which became something of a pejorative at last week’s Republican convention. By the way, I’m told the networks are not cutting away from the President’s speech tonight for this. But I will continue, anyway.
The President in talking about the partnerships and teamwork of life said you don’t build things on your own. He’s right. We don’t. No success is truly individual, and being in basketball we know that as much as anyone. It is a beautiful game made more special because of the shared sacrifice required. I witnessed this as much as anyone reporting on Michael Jordan’s entire career. He was the best there was and could not do it alone. LeBron James is very good, and he could not, either.
We succeed because of our own hard work and talent, but also because of the efforts, contributions, commitment and sacrifices of others. I’m tremendously proud of this honor. But I also know it never would have been imaginable without the help of so many others.
First, I want to thank my family, who are the most important people in my life. My wife of 36 years, Kathleen. I love you. Those of us in this business know better than anyone. You can’t have a successful career without someone hat home working harder than you taking care of your family. Thank you for that.
My daughter, Hannah-Li. She joined our family from China when she was almost four. She had a tough time there and fitting into a strange country without not ever hearing an English sound before then was not easy. But she has woken up with a smile every day of her life and attacks life with playful passion. I am so proud of her.
And my son, Connor. There’s a saying that your greatest legacy is your children. I believe that and so my legacy is safe. I only wish I was as intelligent and committed as he is. I’m so proud of the man he has become.
One of the most difficult parts in these presentations is not so much who you remember but who you forget. We all apologize in advance. I’d like to congratulate the Class of 2012 inductees and the award winners tonight, like fellow Gowdy award recipient Bill Shoenley, Pat Williams and Grant Hill.
I am grateful to so many people who have helped me have this wonderful career and professional life. I feel especially fortunate because I have so many talented colleagues in the field. To be selected from among them is a gift. So many, like Peter Vecsey, Bob Ryan, Mark Heisler and Peter May have gone out of their way over the years with advice opinions. And given that you know them you know they have plenty of opinions. I also don’t want to forget great colleagues who have passed on, like Lacy Banks, Phil Jasner, Corky Meinecke, Mike Kahn and Jeff Denberg. They were great journalists and friends.
I’m grateful to the Chicago Tribune for having given me the opportunity to write about this great game for almost 30 years. And now in the revolutionary changes in the newspaper business, I’m thankful and especially appreciative to the Chicago Bulls, especially Jerry Reinsdorf and Steve Schanwald.
It’s been an innovative organization and it’s a credit to them to be willing to accommodate and accept journalism on a team web site. It’s a tribute to the organization for its regard for its fans much as the NBA does with its NBA.com web site and a wonderful spot for myself and so many of my former newspaper colleagues.
I love that I’ve been part of the most colorblind and progressive business in the world. Even more than the stage at a political convention. Thanks to David Stern for providing that environment and to league and team pros like Brian McIntyre, Tim Frank, Tim Hallam, Julie Fie, Cheri Hanson, Arthur Triche, David Benner. And I’ll never forget Matt Dobek.
It’s also been a treat and an honor to learn about the game from the many of the best people to ever play and be involved in the game. Much of my basketball education comes from years traveling with Phil Jackson, Johnny Bach, Tex Winter, Doug Collins and Ron Adams. And long talks with guys like Gregg Popovich, Joe Dumars, Bill Walton, Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Larry Bird, Elton Brand, Jerry Sloan, Bill Cartwright, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Mike D’Antoni, Pat Riley and so many others too numerous to count. And, of course, Michael Jordan. Even Dennis Rodman. Anyone would have paid for that opportunity. Instead I got paid for it. Really, you can’t make that up.
I know that sounded like some big time name dropping. But what you all know is more than any other sports league, perhaps any business, the NBA is a family. One time I went to interview Isiah Thomas. We ended up at his house, Lynn made tacos and we talked basketball and family for hours. I went with my son to stay a night with Bill Walton. We were there a week. Anyone who knows Bill knows the spirit of commune remains in him. No one ever is turned away and so many are helped. During one of our lockouts—can I say that, David?—I went to see Phil Jackson in Montana. For three days he took me hiking all around Flathead Lake and he seemed to know the history of every rock formation he was so proud of his home. I took Joe Dumars to a Cubs game. How’s that for personal sacrifice.
And I have to tell you about Larry Bird. This is back maybe in the mid-80s and I don’t know Larry. I’d been a political writer in Washington and had begun in sports in the early 1980s. Much more honest. Even general managers at trade deadline. I’d called the Celtics about setting up an interview with Larry for an in-depth feature, which you know Larry loves. Anyway, I show up at practice when the team was in Chicago. They get done and Larry’s getting on the bus. I explain who I am and what I want and Larry says he doesn’t know anything about it. He says come early to the game as he’ll be shooting about three hours before. I say I need time without other reporter’s around. So Larry’s looking at me. I say, “I’ll give you a ride back to the team hotel.” Larry says, “OK,” and we go to my car. Being pre book days I was fairly poor and driving a Toyota compact. Larry doesn’t say anything and shoe horns himself in. I turn on a tape recorder and am full court pressuring him with questions. The Celtics were staying near O’Hare, and anyone who knows that area knows there are no cloverleaf highway exchanges. And I wasn’t very familiar with Chicago airport hotels. Larry’s looking around and says, “You’re lost, right?” I, of course, am mortified. Larry says Red will never forgive him if he misses the game because of this. Finally, I find the hotel. Larry looks at me and says, “Got enough? Want to come in?” I can’t get away fast enough I’m so embarrassed.
OK, it’s years later and I’m playing golf with Larry. We finish and get to his favorite hole and he pulls out two beers for us. We’re talking and I say, “Larry, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for years. Why did you get in that car with me?”
Larry looks up with that little grin of his and says, “You know the old story: Just a Hoosier looking for a ride.”
This has been one great ride for me and I want to thank everyone.
-- Sam Smith, 2012 Curt Gowdy Media Award recipient
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield, Mass. (09.06.2012)