Sue Gunter Enshrined at Basketball Hall of Fame
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. _ Sue Gunter, the longtime coach of LSU, who also coached at Middle Tennesee and Stephen F. Austin, would have been proud of her successor and former all-American.
Given the most difficult job of the five inductees at Friday’s night Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony here, Pokey Chatman stepped in and delivered a moving acceptance speech of behalf of Gunter, who died last month after a lengthy illness.
Joining Gunter in the induction class of 2005 were former Brazilian women’s superstar Hortencia Marcari, Syracuse men’s coach Jim Boheim, Connecticut men’s coach Jim Calhoun, and Hubie Brown, who has coached several NBA teams and has been a broadcast analyst.
Much of what Chatman said was the night-time lead of the Associated Press wire service’s coverage of the event.
Prior to the speech, there was a video introduction as there were for the other four honorees. Chatman was escorted to the podium by former UCLA star Ann Meyers, a member of the hall who is also a broadcast analyst for ESPN and several other networks.
Besides noting the passing of Gunter, there was also the appropriate mention of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other parts of the Southeast.
Then Mike Breen introduced the video tribute by saying Gunter’s legacy would forever be part of basketball history.
Meyers, who played for Gunter on the 1980 Olympic team, commented in the video, “Coach Gunter deserves induction not just because what she’s given back to the game, but how important she’s been to the legacy of women’s basketball when she first started back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sue Gunter fought for the right for women to have the opportunity to play.”
Chatman, in the film, observed, “She was the coach. She was also the administrator and the trainer, she was also the custodial worker, she understood how to make the big time what you are.
“From day one, coach Gunter took care of me. She was my mom away from home. When you know her, you know all of her. I mean, there’s no secrets. She let you in.”
Washington Mystics rookie Tameka Johnson said, “There’s not a day that goes by when I step on the floor that coach Gunter is not with me.”
Then Chatman, who was previously Gunter’s top assistant, took over with her acceptance on Gunter’s behalf.
“When I first walked in the door and saw the Hall of Fame, I thought, `Man, I hope they don’t make the rookie go first.’
“It’s interesting because I should be the least-nervous person here. I only had to do one thing to stand here tonight, and that was choosing Louisiana State as a high school senior.
“I spent 15 years witnessing coach Gunter’s mastery. I always had the honor of filling in. I filled in as a point guard, and I learned a lot about basketball, but I learned more about life through basketball.
“Then I stepped in as her assistant and I learned how to teach the game of basketball.
“Then I stepped in as her interim head coach, and led her team to the Final Four,” said Chatman, who also took the Tigers back to the finals last season.
“And now I stand before you on a night that should have been the grandest for her.”
Chatman mentioned how Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had remarked to her earlier in the evening as “Sue Junior.”
“I’ll try to do my best Sue Junior. If she was with us tonight, she would first thank the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Those of us, who knew her dearly, understood she struggled with the limelight. This is a different type of limelight. She should not be seen on just the cover of the media guide. She should be seen on the cover of basketball,” Chatman continued.
She mentioned being at the edge of Gunter’s hospital bed last April when the news of the selection to the Hall occurred.
“I saw a smirk at the corner of her mouth. And then I looked and saw the Gunter wink. And that said more to me than any words could ever express.”
Chatman talked about Middle Tennessee giving Gunter her first job, “taking a chance on a young, hot-headed, official-attack coach in her early 20s.”
“I thank her because I know she’s smiling down on me now. If she was given five minutes (for the speech), she would be done in three. But she’s not the boss tonight and I’m going to take all five.
“I thank my lucky stars I made that decision in 1987 to become part of her life. I hope I can come close to living up to her legacy. Thank you.”
Summitt was asked for thoughts afterwards as part of the NBA-TV and ESPN Classic broadcast of the event.
“I think about what an awesome person and friend Sue Gunter was,” said Summitt, who was one of her assistants on the 1980 USA team. “Not only to Pat Summitt, but to all the student athletes that she coached, and all the staff members that she had a chance to touch in her lifetime.”
Asked about Gunter’s influence on her coaching, Summitt smiled and said, “There’s no question Sue had a softer side than maybe Pat Summitt did when she coached me, but the thing she taught me is it’s ok to let down your guard and allow your players to get to know you. They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Earlier in the day, Hortencia was asked if she had any aspirations to join the WNBA when it launched in 1997.
The Brazilian responded through a translator, saying that she had just given birth and had planned to soon have another child.
Asked who was the best American women’s player she ever went up against, Hortencia said, “It’s tough to say. There were so many good ones. But to name one – (Southern Cal alum and Hall of Famer) Cheryl Miller.”
Brown, in his speech, referred to Hortencia as the best women’s player he ever saw, which occurred when he broadcasted an international tournament.
New York Liberty general manager and Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski, the former Montclair State scoring sensation, was among the notables in attendance, Friday night, as was former WNBA president Val Ackerman, now president of USA Basketball.
Lucia Harris-Stewart, a former Delta State star who was one of the first women inducted into the Naismith Hall, was also in the house.
That said, we’ll be back later today to wrap up the WNBA weekend and a brief look ahead to the finals.