SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Gary Payton grew up on the West Coast and became a dominant defender. Bernard King got his start on the East Coast and developed into a great scorer.
Those different routes led to the same destination — the Basketball Hall of Fame.
And both began their journeys on city playgrounds.
On Sunday, they were inducted into the sport’s shrine along with Rick Pitino and nine others in a ceremony that caps three days in which they or their family members received Hall of Fame rings and jackets and applause from a room full of admirers.
Two other former college coaches were inducted as part of the second straight 12-member class, the largest in the Hall’s history — Jerry Tarkanian, 83, who led UNLV to the 1990 NCAA championship, and Guy Lewis, 91, who took Houston to five Final Fours. Tarkanian, who had heart surgery less than two months ago, came on stage with a walker. Lewis was in a wheelchair. Both smiled as they received standing ovations.
Also inducted Sunday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame were North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell; five-time WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley; former Knicks guard Richie Guerin; former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik; and Oscar Schmidt, who played in five Olympics for Brazil.
E.B. Henderson, who learned basketball at Harvard in 1904 then introduced it to African-American students in Washington, D.C., and four-time ABA All-Star Roger Brown of the Indiana Pacers were enshrined posthumously.
Payton remembers a simpler time as a kid in Oakland when he had to climb the pole himself to hang a net from the rim.
“I went outside and took my basketball and dribbled down the block,” he said Saturday. “Then we got to that big old gate and the chains were locked. We had to jump over the gate or we made a hole in the gate or we pulled the gate up and went under there and just started playing on that concrete.”
Payton laments the passing of that era into one where teens have games planned for them in their home towns or at organized tournaments around the country.
“They don’t play that hard anymore,” he said. “We played on the playground and that’s where I got my toughness and all the (trash) talking from because I had to play against the neighborhood rowdies. They wanted always to say, `little Payton was this, little Payton was that.’ And I had to prove myself.
“I got in a lot of fights.”
In the NBA, Payton backed up his barking with persistent, annoying defense that earned him the nickname of “The Glove.” He spent nearly 13 of his 17 pro seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics. He was an All-Star nine times, a member of the All-Defensive first team nine times and averaged 16.3 points.
King was raised in Brooklyn and was past his prime, slowed by a serious knee injury, by the time Payton was drafted in 1990. But he averaged 22.5 points in his 15-year career with five teams that ended in 1993.
As a small forward, he wouldn’t have been guarded much by Payton, a point guard. But if Payton would have defended him, King knows how it would have turned out.
“Certainly, out on the open floor, yeah, he would have locked me down,” King said, “but on the low block I would have gotten what I wanted, but it’s just a delight to be going in with him.”
King grew up surrounded by outdoor basketball courts.
“For a kid, it’s a tremendous outlet,” he said, “particularly in the area where I grew up.”
He returned recently to his old Fort Greene neighborhood to find most of those courts gone.
“They left one court at least,” he said. “On the back side of (his old) building is the basketball court I used to play on and there’s a plaque on the building identifying it as King’s court, which is really nice.
“Basketball was king in New York and I was part of that playground legacy, but, more importantly, I had great coaching.”
One of those coaches was Pitino. He was an assistant with the New York Knicks under Hubie Brown from 1983-1985 while King was on the team. He said Brown would ask him what play to run.
“All I did the entire season was say, ‘go to Bernard,”’ Pitino said with a smile.
King could sense that Pitino had a bright future.
“You could see then through his work ethic and his talents that he was going to be a tremendous head coach,” King said, “Besides, he called the right plays.”
That meant getting the ball to King.
“Bernard’s always been one of my favorite players,” Pitino said, and “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said in my life to my players, ‘Gary Payton, you’re not,’” when teaching defense.
Pitino’s induction comes just five months after he led Louisville to the NCAA championship. He also won the title with Kentucky in 1996 and is the only coach to take three teams — Providence was the other — to the Final Four.
“You’re on such a high with the championship and you’re on another high here,” he said, “so it segues into (something) I’ll never forget. It’s just an incredible feeling for all this to happen in a very short period of time.”
The other inductees include former coaches Jerry Tarkanian, who led Nevada-Las Vegas to the 1990 NCAA title, and Guy Lewis, who took Houston to five Final Fours.
E.B. Henderson, who learned basketball at Harvard in 1904 then introduced it to African-American students in Washington, D.C., and four-time ABA All-Star Roger Brown will be enshrined posthumously.
The others selected are North Carolina women’s coach Sylvia Hatchell, five-time WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley, former Knicks guard Richie Guerin, NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik and Oscar Schmidt, who played in five Summer Olympics for Brazil.
“This is the best three days of my life,” Schmidt said. “Yesterday, I got a ring. Today, I got a nice jacket. And tomorrow, I’ll be with those legends.
“I can’t believe that.”