A Monarch and two new Kings were immortalized among the game’s all-time greats Saturday when the Class of 2021 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Five-time NBA All-Star Chris Webber headlined a Sacramento contingent that included former Kings coach Rick Adelman and Monarchs great Yolanda Griffith. Webber, who waited 13 years after retirement to be voted into the Hall of Fame, was the first to be enshrined when host Ahmad Rashad welcomed him to the stage.
“Chris Webber, your time has come,” Rashad said.
Webber spoke poignantly about his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, coaches, teammates, teachers and the time he spent at Michigan as a member of the fabled Fab Five. It took more than 12 minutes for Webber to mention Sacramento — a city he initially didn’t want to report to when he was acquired via trade in 1998 — but he was saving the best for last.
“And now to the best fans in the world, to the Sacramento Kings, I just want to talk a little bit about God’s grace,” Webber said. “I want to talk about the fact that God has to lead you and you’re not always supposed to know where you’re going or how good it’s going to be when you come out on the other side. It’s just about trusting Him, trusting God, trusting the process. Sacramento, my faith will forever be strong because God gave me you.”
Former Kings Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson, Doug Christie and Jason Williams attended the induction ceremony. They’re still haunted by how close they came to winning an NBA championship, and how they fell short, but the inductions of Webber and Adelman gave them an opportunity to celebrate all they achieved in Sacramento.
“What a great group,” Adelman said. “That team, people loved to watch play. They just took off not only in Sacramento, but across the country. They got on the front of Sports Illustrated and they were just the talk of the league.”
Other inductees included Val Ackerman, Chris Bosh, Bob Dandridge, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Howard Garfinkel, Lauren Jackson, Clarence Jenkins, Toni Kukoc, Pearl Moore, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell, Ben Wallace and Jay Wright. Russell was inducted as a coach after being inducted as a player in 1975.
Russell became the first Black head coach in NBA history when he was named player-coach of the Boston Celtics following the retirement of Red Auerbach in 1966. Russell led the Celtics to back-to-back NBA championships in his second and third seasons as player-coach in 1968 and 1969. Russell spent his final NBA seasons in Sacramento, serving as head coach in 1987-88 and general manager in 1988-89.
Russell won 11 championships as a player and two as a coach, but even he couldn’t win in Sacramento. Former Kings president Geoff Petrie finally proved it was possible a decade later when he began to assemble what Sports Illustrated famously dubbed “The Greatest Show on Court.” Petrie came to Sacramento in 1994, but he didn’t make his first transformational move until he traded franchise player Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe to the Washington Wizards for Webber on May 14, 1998.
In a span of four months, Petrie acquired Webber, drafted Williams and hired Adelman. Petrie then signed Divac, Jon Barry, Scot Pollard and Stojakovic, who finally agreed to come to Sacramento after being drafted by the Kings in 1996. Petrie would later draft Hedo Turkoglu, sign Jackson, acquire Christie and trade for Mike Bibby — turning the Kings into a global phenomenon known around the world for their clever passing, beautiful ball movement and international flavor — but it all started with Webber.
Webber emerged as a prep phenom at Detroit Country Day, where he was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball, McDonald’s All-American Game MVP and Naismith national high school player of the year in 1991. He went on to Michigan, where the Wolverines made two Final Four appearances and sparked a cultural revolution in college basketball with their baggy shorts, black socks and playground swagger.
Webber came out of Michigan as the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. He won the Rookie of the Year award with the Golden State Warriors in 1994 and became an All-Star with the Washington Wizards in 1997, but his best years came in Sacramento.
Webber made four of his five All-Star appearances with the Kings. He was a five-time All-NBA selection who earned first-team honors in 2001, second-team honors in 1999, 2002 and 2003, and third-team honors in 2000.
Webber averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks during his 15-years career. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists over seven seasons with the Kings, who retired his No. 4 jersey on Feb. 6, 2009.
Webber thanked Petrie, Adelman, his former teammates and even Barbara Rust, Sacramento’s famous “Sign Lady.”
“J-Will, what’s up, baby?” Webber said, flashing that familiar smile. “Vlade, Peja, Bibby, Bobby Jack, Doug Christie, Sign Lady, Geoff Petrie, coach Adelman, thank you for just bringing that style to our game.”
‘Great years together’
Adelman amassed a 1,042-749 (.582) record in 23 seasons as a head coach in the NBA, leading his teams to the playoffs 16 times. He took the Kings to the playoffs eight times in eight seasons, compiling a record of 624-395 (.633).
Adelman ranks ninth all-time in career wins. He enjoyed two 60-win seasons and 11 50-win seasons. He reached 200 wins in 288 games, which was a record at the time.
Adelman led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. He took the Kings to the brink of an NBA championship before they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in an epic seven-game series in the controversial 2002 Western Conference finals.
Adelman coached the All-Star Game three times and coached several Hall of Fame players, including Divac, Webber, Clyde Drexler, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo, Chris Mullen and Drazen Petrovic.
“I want to thank the Hall of Fame for this honor,” said Adelman, who was presented by Divac and Jack Sikma. “This is really overwhelming for me, especially to be inducted with Chris Webber. We had some great years together. You made me a better coach. I also want to thank Vlade and Jack. It means a lot, especially means a lot when Vlade came in with a tie on.”
‘City that embraced you’
Griffith was a seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist. She was named WNBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. She earned All-WNBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team honors while leading the Monarchs to the WNBA championship in 2005.
Griffith was named to the WNBA’s All-Decade Team in 2006 and was recognized as one of the top 20 players in the league’s 20-year history in 2016. Griffith was named WBCA Division II Player of the Year at Florida Atlantic University in 1993 before beginning her pro career in Germany and the American Basketball League.
The Monarchs selected Griffith with the No. 2 pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft. She led the league in field goals, rebounds, offensive rebounds and steals in her first season. She was named WNBA Finals MVP after leading the Monarchs to their only championship before the team was disbanded in 2009.
“To Sacramento, how do you say thank you to the city that completely embraced you?” Griffith said. “To the best fans in the WNBA, you gave us a purpose, a will to always strive to be the best on the court, and without you there were no Monarchs.”