Philadelphia University's Magee enshrined in Hall of Fame
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Herb Magee may be more rowhouse than red carpet, but the spotlit path Friday night was the only way into Symphony Hall, where the Philadelphia University coach and nine others were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
A West Philadelphia native who, in 44 years as head coach at his alma mater, has become the winningest coach in NCAA history with 922 victories, Magee appeared sheepish as cameras and a crowd of onlookers monitored his entrance into the renovated downtown concert venue.
Wearing a dark suit, crisp white shirt, and gold tie, and accompanied by several family members, Magee otherwise appeared calm even as more recognizable members of basketball's royalty milled around him in the lobby. Asked whether he was nervous, he said no.
"Maybe on the inside," Magee said, leaning over velvet ropes to reply, "but on the outside I'm calm."
That was evident in the relaxed and funny thank you speech he gave to the glitzy audience and the NBA Network's TV viewership. He talked about being orphaned at 12 and told now-familiar stories about his time at West Catholic High School and Philadelphia University, known as Philadelphia Textile Institute when he enrolled.
"We used to hear all the jokes," Magee said. "The players not only have to earn their [letter] sweaters, they have to make them. We're a close-knit team. We run the weave."
He was accompanied on stage by Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach and the progenitor of a long line of acolytes who have been successful at Philadelphia colleges and on NBA sidelines.
"Having [Ramsay] here with me is one of the greatest honors of my life," Magee said.
Each of the 10 inductees was accompanied by a Hall of Famer, an A-list basketball lineup that outshone the incoming class.
Performing that duty, in addition to Ramsay, were Phil Jackson for both his ex-Chicago Bulls assistant Tex Winter and former player Dennis Rodman; 76ers legend Julius Erving for NBA and ABA all-star Artis Gilmore; UCLA all-American Ann Meyers and another 76ers great, Charles Barkley, for five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards; Bill Walton, another UCLA all-American, for Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis; former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca for his star Chris Mullin; Boston Celtics great Tom Heinsohn for his Boston teammate Tom "Satch" Sanders; two Globetrotter legends, Marques Haynes and Meadowlark Lemon, for a third, the late Reece "Goose" Tatum; and former Texas women's coach Jody Conradt for Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
Curiously, Ramsay, when he was the coach at St. Joseph's, recruited two of Magee's West Catholic High teammates - Jim Lynam and Jim Boyle - but never offered Magee a scholarship. Magee went instead to Division II Philadelphia Textile and became its all-time leading scorer and now a Hall of Fame coach.
"Don't feel bad," he said, turning to Ramsay. "Things have turned out fine for me."
Like Ramsay, Magee has seen several of his former disciples, all of whom worked without pay, wind up as successful coaches: Boston College's Steve Donahue; Billy Lange, the ex-Navy coach who is now a Villanova assistant; and new Penn State coach Pat Chambers.
Chambers and Donahue were present Friday, as was Temple coach Fran Dunphy, some of Magee's former players, and a few Philadelphia University officials, including president Stephen Spinelli, a native of this Massachusetts city.
"When he [Spinelli] got the job, he said to me: 'I'm counting on you to get me back to Springfield,' " Magee recalled.
Magee complied, and Spinelli said the enshrinement cemented Magee's "rightful place as one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time."
During Magee's video introduction, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli talked about his friend's reputation as one of the sport's shooting gurus.
"If you want to put the ball in the basket," Martelli said, "see Herb Magee."
About 60 members of Magee's family - including his wife, two daughters, and brother - were with the coach for the weekend, and several accompanied him on a tour of the Hall earlier Friday. There, Magee searched for several Philadelphia-related exhibits and at one point wrapped an arm around the statue of James Naismith, the game's founder.
"I'd like to thank this man for allowing me to not work a single day in my life," he joked.
But Magee, a basketball lifer, understood perfectly the significance of his inclusion, especially now, at age 70.
"Every time they mention Wilt Chamberlain, Tom Gola, Paul Arizin, Jack Ramsay, they mention Hall of Fame," he said. "Same with great baseball players. And when people talk about Donovan McNabb, they always ask whether or not he'll ever make the Hall of Fame.
"Well, this is the Hall of Fame. And now I'm in it."
Much of the anticipation around Friday night's ceremonies focused on Rodman, the flamboyant rebounder/defender whose history of outlandish wardrobes has included a bridal gown and several other women's outfits.
NBA commissioner David Stern, who watched as he walked into the ceremony, must have been relieved when Rodman arrived dressed relatively subdued, in a silver-and-black ensemble that, despite a black boa, was otherwise decidedly male. Rodman wore a silver cowboy hat and suit, plus gigantic silver sunglasses and earrings.