Legends of the NBA take center stage
It was a special day for Houston Rockets basketball as seven legends were honored at The 14th Annual NBA Legends Brunch on Sunday. Over 1,500 retired players, their families and fans attended the event, which is hosted by the National Basketball Retired Players Association – a non-profit association comprised of former NBA, ABA and Harlem Globetrotters players. The event also benefited Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Special guest, actor and comedian Bill Bellamy, and sports broadcaster and host Ernie Johnson opened the ceremony followed by NBA Commissioner David Stern who gave the brunch welcome and introduced the first honoree of the day. Before each award recipient came on stage, a video of their career highlights was shown.
Legend of the Year: Hakeem Olajuwon. Known as a man of few words, his speech was the longest of the day – over 17 minutes long – and was touching as he paid tribute to all those who helped shape his Hall of Fame career. He opened by saying how humbled he was to be around so many legendary players. Everyone would say the same about this Hall of Famer.
Rockets guard Jeremy Lin introduced Yao Ming – Ambassador of the Year. His Yao Ming Foundation and partnership with NBA China has done so much to connect his homeland and the U.S. The 7'6 Shanghai native played eight years before his career was cut short by foot and leg injuries.
Yao introduced Dikembe Mutombo – Humanitarian of the Year. Mutombo spent the last five of his 18 NBA seasons in Houston and is known for his charitable work, particularly through his Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in his native Republic of the Congo. He talked about the hospital he opened in Congo in memory of his mother. He closed out by declaring his friend Olajuwon as the “key of our continent,” and told him, “You’ve become The Dream for winning championships, but you’re a dream for so many African players.”
Sam Cassell (via Ernie Johnson because Cassell lost his voice) introduced Robert Horry -- Hometown Hero Award. Known as “Big Shot Bob,” he was a member of the 1994 and 1995 Houston Rockets championship teams. He then went on to win five more rings with the Lakers and the Spurs. Horry couldn’t even get the first sentence out without becoming emotional but then went on to deliver a touching and funny speech, including a story about Olajuwon, mentioning his daughter who passed away at the age 17 last June, and plugging his wife’s book about
Horry introduced Rudy Tomjanovich – Houston Rockets Lifetime Achievement Award: Known as Rudy T, he was a five-time All-Star as a Rockets player and coached the 1994 and 1995 championship teams. Of course he gushed about his former players being honored with him and how he can keep up with former players by watching them on TV – Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on TNT and Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler with the Rockets.
Otis Birdsong (UH and NBA legend and new NBRPA Chairman) introduced Calvin Murphy -- Pioneer Award. After the Hall of Famer’s video played, he joked, “Boy, I was good.” The always energetic and flamboyant Murphy, who toned it down with a nice black ensemble, talked about his past as an accomplished baton twirler helped him get to where he is today.
Magic Johnson introduced Clyde Drexler – Lifetime Achievement Award. Magic said he was honored to introduce his good friend, Drexler, and Drexler returned the admiration by opening his speech paying tribute to Johnson and by saying he is “still in awe.” As always, Drexler delivered an articulate and entertaining speech.
And all honorees thanked longtime Rockets owner Leslie Alexander as well as Stern for his vision and helping the game grow.
Also during the ceremony, host Johnson announced a special appearance by 2000 Sixth Man award winner Rodney Rogers. The 41-year-old was paralyzed in an all-terrain vehicle accident in December 2012 and required the use of a wheelchair and ventilator.
Former players always look forward to this premier event of NBA All-Star Weekend.