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Hoops HOF Class Succeeded by Overcoming Adversity

by Todd A. Smith

 

Hall of Fame 2009

 

            Every year at the Final Four, the Basketball Hall of Fame inducts new members into their illustrious club.  In any avenue of life, reaching the pinnacle of one’s profession is a dream come true, but for the Hall of Fame class of 2009, the honor is even more rewarding as many of the inductees faced the challenge of overcoming adversity to make it to the top of their profession, which should serve as inspiration for those everywhere trying to realize their dreams.

            When one thinks of Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player to ever live, many probably do not think of overcoming adversity.  For someone blessed with so much athletic ability and charisma, it is hard to imagine Jordan ever struggling on the basketball court, but he did. 

As a skinny 5-11 high school sophomore, Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team.  Believing that he was much better than many on varsity, Jordan dedicated himself to proving his coach wrong, growing to 6-3 by his junior year and becoming a high school All-American as a senior.

Although his high school principal wanted him to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy to ensure employment after graduating college, Jordan chose instead to hone his basketball skills under Coach Dean Smith at University of North Carolina.  “There’s no way you guys would have got a chance to see Michael Jordan play without Dean Smith,” Jordan said.

As a freshman for North Carolina, Jordan scored 16 points, including the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA championship game.  From there his career took off, winning NCAA player of the year awards in 1983 and 1984 and revolutionizing the NBA from 1984 to his second retirement in 2003.

Nevertheless, even the six-time NBA champion had to continue overcoming adversity, from criticism of his gambling habit to the death of his beloved father James Jordan in 1993.  After the tragic death of his father, which probably caused him to lose motivation to the play basketball, Jordan returned to the game after a brief retirement to win three of his six championship rings from 1996-1998.

Legendary women’s coach C. Vivian Stringer is also in the class of 2009.  Being one of the first African American female basketball coaches, Stringer is definitely no stranger to overcoming adversity.  Stringer has led Cheney State, Iowa and Rutgers to the Final Four.

Early in life, she received inspiration from her parents Thelma and Buddy Stoner who made her believe that she could achieve anything she desired, even if there were very few role models to emulate.  She began looking up to athletes such as Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Wilma Rudolph and Muhammad Ali who were also faced with overcoming adversity, simply because of the color of their skin.  “Those were the people that I saw on television who, in the face of adversity, kept their heads about them,” Stringer said.  “They overcame the odds.”

Now because of her struggle, many young women are looking up to Stringer because of the obstacles she had to overcome in her life.  Her daughter Nina has had to battle a life-altering illness since infancy.  She lost her husband Bill, who died suddenly and she recently revealed that she is a breast cancer survivor, as chronicled in her book, Standing Tall: A Memoir of Triumph and Tragedy.

Overcoming adversity is also not typically attributed to the basketball journey of David Robinson.  However, Robinson was forced to forego two years of his professional basketball career to fulfill his obligations as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Robinson also personified the term scholar-athlete during his tenure at Navy.  Despite playing only one year of high school basketball, Robinson scored a 1,320 on his SAT and earned a scholarship to Navy, growing seven inches while on the Annapolis campus and in the process becoming one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game of basketball.

The five inductees to the Hall of Fame, which also include former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, have all proven that greatness is something all can achieve when one is dedicated to hard work, perseverance and overcoming adversity.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men's Magazine.

This article was published on Thursday 09 April, 2009.
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