Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Val Ackerman's WBHOF Speech: WNBA Was A Cause - Not Just A Job

(Guru's note: First, a post under this rounds up Tuesday's two WNBA games with live coverage from New York. If you are reading this at melgreenberg.com simply click mel's blog on the left panel to get to blogspot and the entire archives.

Now, what follows is former and founding WNBA president Val Ackerman's acceptance speech Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn., at the Class of 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Bijou Theater.

It is written in all caps since she sent a copy directly from her computer and, because of the size -- the actual speech was 17.38 minutes, according to the digital tape -- the Guru will offer key excerpts rather than the speech in its entirety.)


THANKS SO MUCH.

I HAVE A LOT OF THANK YOU’S TO EXPRESS TONIGHT, AND AT THE TOP OF MY LIST IS MY FAMILY, WHO IS HERE WITH ME TONIGHT. I OWE MORE THAN I CAN EVER SAY TO MY MOTHER BARBARA ACKERMAN. SHE’S A WOMAN OF TREMENDOUS STRENGTH WHO COMES FROM VERY HARDY STOCK – HER PARENTS CAME TO THE US FROM EASTERN EUROPE IN THE EARLY 1900’S, LOOKING FOR A BETTER LIFE, AND MY MOM, THE YOUNGEST OF THEIR 8 CHILDREN, WAS THE ONE WHO WENT THE FURTHEST, INCLUDING BEING THE FIRST IN HER FAMILY TO GET A COLLEGE DEGREE.

SHE WAS A WORKING MOTHER HERSELF, AND SHE’S BEEN A TREMENDOUS ROLE MODEL FOR ME IN SO MANY WAYS. MY MOM HAS TAUGHT ME MANY THINGS, MOST NOTABLY THAT GOOD THINGS RARELY HAPPEN WITHOUT HARD WORK AND SACRIFICE, AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO TREAT YOU IN TURN.

ALSO, NEVER LEAVE FOOD ON YOUR PLATE AND ALWAYS SEND A THANK-YOU NOTE. I RESPECT, ADMIRE AND LOVE HER, AND I’M VERY PROUD TO BE HER DAUGHTER.

ONE OF MY ENDURING MEMORIES FROM CHILDHOOD IS OF BEING WITH MY BROTHER (George, who attended Saturday), AT A HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL GAME MY FATHER WAS OFFICIATING, ONE OF MY DAD’S MANY SPORTS JOBS. MY DAD GOT US SEATS IN THE FRONT ROW, AND EVERYTIME HE BLEW THE WHISTLE MY BROTHER AND I WOULD LEAP UP AND START CHEERING, WHICH COMPLETELY CONFUSED THE OTHER PEOPLE IN THE STANDS – THEY COULDN’T FIGURE OUT WHICH SIDE WE WERE ROOTING FOR. I GUESS THEY COULDN’T BELIEVE WE WERE ACTUALLY ROOTING FOR THE REFEREES – BUT WE SHOWED THEM!

I WOULDN’T BE STANDING HERE TONIGHT WERE IT NOT FOR MY WONDERFUL HUSBAND OF 23 YEARS, CHARLIE RAPPAPORT. IN ADDITION TO BEING A GREAT GUY AND A TERRIFIC FATHER TO OUR GIRLS, HE’S THE MOST KNOWLEDGABLE SPORTS FAN I KNOW, NOT TO MENTION THE SMARTEST PERSON I EVER MET. YOU KNOW HOW SOME PEOPLE ARE MARRIED TO SPOUSES WHO THINK THEY KNOW EVERYTHING? WELL MY HUSBAND ACTUALLY DOES KNOW EVERYTHING – IT’S REALLY REMARKABLE AND SOMETIMES A LITTLE SCARY.

MOST OF ALL, HE GETS BONUS POINTS FOR ALL THE TIMES HE GETS CALLED MR. ACKERMAN AND FOR LETTING ME HAVE FIRST DIBS ON THE SPORTS SECTION OF THE NEWSPAPER EVERY MORNING.

SIMPLY PUT, MY CAREER AT THE WNBA AND THE RUNNING AROUND I’VE DONE SINCE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE WITHOUT ALL OF HIS SUPPORT, AND I’M EXTREMELY LUCKY TO HAVE HIM IN MY LIFE.

BARB SKIBA WAS MY HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL AND FIELD HOCKEY COACH, AND I’M VERY HAPPY THAT SHE TRAVELED FROM ARIZONA TO BE HERE TONIGHT. I’M DEEPLY INDEBTED TO BARB FOR GETTING MY PLAYING CAREER OFF THE GROUND AT HOPEWELL VALLY HIGH SCHOOL IN PENNINGTON, NEW JERSEY IN 1973, AND I WANT TO THANK HER FOR BEING A GUIDING LIGHT, NOT ONLY TO ME, BUT TO THE MANY HUNDREDS OF YOUND GIRLS SHE MENTORED OVER THE COURSE OF HER 30-YEAR COACHING CAREER AT HO-VAL.

I’D BE REMISS IF I DIDN’T ACKNOWLEDGE MY ALMA MATER, THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, WHERE I WAS A PROUD MEMBER OF THE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM FOR 4 YEARS UNDER DEBBIE RYAN. GENE CORRIGAN WAS THE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AT VIRGINIA AT THE TIME, AND HE DID SO MUCH TO HELP MOVE THE WOMEN’S SPORTS PROGRAM THERE INTO THE POST-TITLE 9 AGE. DEBBIE’S 739 WINS IN HER 34-YEAR CAREER ARE A MILESTONE FEW COACHES WILL REACH, AND IT WAS TRULY AN HONOR TO PLAY FOR HER AND TO BE PART OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE PROGRAM SHE BUILT AT VIRGINIA OVER THE COURSE OF HER CAREER. I REGRET WE HANDED HER A FEW TOO MANY LOSSES IN THE EARLY YEARS, INCLUDING MY OWN CAREER-ENDING BLOWOUT LOSS HERE AT TENNESSEE IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE AIAW TOURNAMENT IN 1981 THAT PAT SUMMITT STILL WON’T LET ME FORGET ABOUT, TO THIS DAY. I’M VERY HAPPY THAT DEBBIE IS HERE TONIGHT, AND I’M VERY HONORED FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS AS AN INDUCTEE.

WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HAS PROGRESSED SO DRAMATICALLY SINCE MY DAYS AT VIRGINIA, AND I REMAIN IN AWE OF THE MANY MEN AND WOMEN THROUGHOUT THE NCAA WHO’VE DEVOTED THEIR LIVES TO BUILDING THE WOMEN’S GAME INTO THE POWERHOUSE THAT IT IS TODAY.

I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT THE WNBA SIMPLY WOULDN’T HAVE COME INTO BEING IF WOMEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL AND YOUR PROGRAMS HADN’T FIRST PAVED THE WAY.

I’M NOT SURE QUITE WHERE TO START WHEN IT COMES TO SPEAKING ABOUT THE WNBA. FOR ME AND I’M CERTAIN FOR MY MANY COLLEAGUES THERE, THE WNBA WASN’T JUST A JOB, IT WAS REALLY MUCH MORE THAN THAT – IT WAS A CAUSE. IN THE EARLY YEARS, AT ALL TURNS WE FELT LIKE WE WEREN’T JUST STARTING AND OPERATING A SPORTS LEAGUE, BUT THAT WE WERE DOING SOMETHING THAT HAD FAR-REACHING SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS, THAT WE WERE HELPING CHANGE LONG-HELD CULTURAL PERCEPTIONS ABOUT WHAT WOMEN COULD ACCOMPLISH, AND SPECIFICALLY, WHAT WOMEN COULD ASPIRE TO IN AND THROUGH PROFESSIONAL SPORTS.


THE PERSON WHO DESERVES THE MOST CREDIT FOR THE WNBA AND FOR MY STANDING HERE TONIGHT IS (NBA Commissioner) DAVID STERN. I SIMPLY CAN’T BEGIN TO DESCRIBE EVERYTHING I LEARNED FROM DAVID AND THE WAY HE INFLUENCED MY CAREER. IN MY VIEW, EVERYONE IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OWES HIM AN ENORMOUS DEBT OF GRATITUDE FOR HIS VISION AND HIS FORCE OF WILL IN MAKING A VIABLE WOMEN’S PRO LEAGUE IN THE U.S. A REALITY. IN DAVID’S MIND, THE WNBA WAS NEVER A QUESTION OF IF, BUT WHEN, AND I DON’T KNOW OF MANY OTHERS WHO HAVE DONE MORE TO INVEST IN AND ADVANCE WOMEN’S SPORTS IN OUR LIFETIME THAN DAVID AND THE NBA OWNERS HE COAXED ALONG IN SUPPORT OF HIS DREAM.

IT WAS THE PROFESSIONAL THRILL OF A LIFETIME FOR ME TO BE HANDED THE REINS TO THE WNBA IN 1996 AND A VERY DIFFICULT DECISION TO STEP AWAY IN 2005, AND I REMAIN ETERNALLY GRATEFUL TO DAVID FOR ALLOWING ME TO BE PART OF THE WNBA’S HISTORY FOR NEARLY A DECADE.

THERE WERE AND ARE SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE INVOLVED WITH THE WNBA WHO DESERVE TO BE RECOGNIZED – THEY INCLUDE RUSS GRANIK , THE NBA’S LONG-TIME DEPUTY COMMISSIONER WHO DID SO MUCH BEHIND THE SCENES FOR WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OVER MANY YEARS AND WHO SERVED AS MY MENTOR THROUGHOUT MY 16 YEARS IN PRO BASKETBALL.

RICK WELTS AND GARY STEVENSON, TWO OF THE BEST MARKETING MINDS IN SPORTS, WERE AT THE HEART OF THE WNBA’S LAUNCH; ADAM SILVER, THE NBA’S CURRENT DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, WAS ALSO THERE WITH US AT THE BEGINNING AND REMAINS VITALLY INVOLVED WITH THE LEAGUE TODAY.

AND OF COURSE OUR ORIGINAL LEAGUE OFFICE STAFF, LED BY THE INCOMPARABLE RENEE BROWN – A DEAR FRIEND WHO’S BEEN AN INTENSELY LOYAL, DEEPLY COMMITTED AND UNFLAGGING PRESENCE AT THE LEAGUE SINCE DAY ONE.

AND SO MANY OTHERS AT THE LEAGUE OFFICE OVER THE YEARS WERE SUCH IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTORS TO THE WNBA’S SUCCESS -- PAULA HANSON, JAMIN DERSHOWITZ, KELLY KRAUSKOPF, CAROL BLAZEJOWSKI, WHO LATER LEFT US TO GO RUN THE NEW YORK LIBERTY, PETER SMUL, AND DEE KANTNER, TO NAME BUT A FEW.

THE WNBA IS NOTHING WITHOUT THE TIRELESS WORK DONE BY ITS TEAM REPRESENTATIVES – THEY’RE THE ONES WHO SELL TICKETS, PUT ON GAMES AND BRING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PLAYERS AND FANS TO LIFE, AND I WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR COLLECTIVE EFFORTS TONIGHT.

I WANT TO RECOGNIZE THE WNBA’S REFEREES, WHO RARELY GET THE CREDIT THEY DESERVE FOR THE OUTSTANDING AND DIFFICULT JOBS THEY DO.

I ALSO WANT TO COMMEND THE WNBA’S COACHES, HEAD AND ASSISTANT, FOR THEIR EXTRAORDINARY LEADERSHIP OVER THE YEARS. TO GET TO KNOW GREAT COACHES LIKE VAN CHANCELLOR, MICHAEL COOPER, BILL LAIMBEER AND ANNE DONOVAN, ALL OF WHOM WON WNBA TITLES DURING MY TENURE – TO FEEL THEIR PASSION FOR BASKETBALL AND TO WATCH THEM ALL IN ACTION WERE GREAT HIGHLIGHTS FOR ME.

AND I HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE IMPORTANT ROLES PLAYED BY THE MEDIA AND THE WNBA’S BUSINESS PARTNERS. THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY PRINT AND ELECTRONIC MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES COVERING THE WNBA AND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OVER THE YEARS, MANY OF WHOM HAVE IN THEIR OWN WAY WORKED SO HARD TO HELP THE LEAGUE GET NOTICED AND GET THE ATTENTION IT’S DUE, AND THEY ALL DESERVE SO MUCH CREDIT FOR THEIR PART IN BRINGING WOMEN’S BASKETBALL INTO THE SPOTLIGHT.

SO DO THE WNBA’S SPONSORS AND NETWORKS, WHO HAVE BEEN INDISPENSABLE TO THE LEAGUE’S EXISTENCE AND GROWTH, AND I WANT TO THANK ALL OF THE COMPANIES, LIKE NIKE AND ESPN, WHICH HAVE COMMITTED TREMENDOUS RESOURCES OF THEIR OWN TO THE PROMOTION OF THE LEAGUE AND ITS PLAYERS. I ALSO WANT TO GIVE A SPECIAL SHOUT-OUT TO MY FRIEND CAROL STIFF FOR HER LONG-STANDING ADVOCACY WITHIN ESPN ON BEHALF OF THE WNBA AND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL.

AND OF COURSE THE WNBA WOULD NEVER HAVE GOTTEN TO WHERE IT IS TODAY WITHOUT ITS PLAYERS. TO LISA LESLIE, SHERYL SWOOPES AND REBECCA LOBO, THANKS FOR SIGNING ON WITH US THAT FIRST YEAR AND AGREEING TO BE THE FACES OF THE LEAGUE – I’M NOT SURE ANY OF THEM KNEW JUST WHAT THEY WERE GETTING INTO, AND YET THEY COULDN’T HAVE DONE A BETTER JOB AS OUR FIRST AMBASSADORS.

AND TO ALL THE PLAYERS WHO FOLLOWED THEM, WOMEN LIKE RUTHIE AND VICKY, CYNTHIA COOPER, THERESA WEATHERSPOON, MICHELLE TIMMS, ANDREA STINSON AND SUZY MCCONNELL-SERIO, AND LATER, STARS LIKE SUE BIRD, TAMIKA CATCHINGS, DIANA TAURASI, LAUREN JACKSON -- THE LIST JUST GOES ON AND ON, ALL OF YOU DESERVE A WORLD OF CREDIT FOR OPENING PEOPLE’S EYES TO WHAT WOMEN CAN DO ON A BASKETBALL COURT, FOR BEING SUCH WILLING AND COMPELLING ROLE MODELS, AND FOR BRINGING SO MUCH JOY TO FANS.

ONE OF THE REASONS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL HAS RISEN TO SUCH HEIGHTS HAS BEEN THE SUCCESS OF OUR NATIONAL TEAM PROGRAM, AND I’D ALSO LIKE TO THANK AND RECOGNIZE MY COLLEAGUES AT USA BASKETBALL FOR ALL THEY’VE DONE AND CONTINUE TO DO TO KEEP TEAM USA’S WOMEN’S PROGRAM AT THE VERY TOP OF THE HEAP.

IT WAS A GREAT PRIVILEGE FOR ME TO WORK WITH AND LEARN FROM MY PREDECESSORS AS USAB PRESIDENT -- DAVE GAVITT, C.M. NEWTON, RUSS GRANIK AND TOM JERSTEDT, AND IT’S BEEN EQUALLY A PRIVILEGE TO TEAM-UP FOR MANY YEARS NOW WITH JIM TOOLEY AND CAROL CALLAN, WHO ARE INCREDIBLY GOOD AT WHAT THEY DO AND SO WELL-REGARDED WITHIN THE INTERNATIONAL BASKETBALL COMMUNITY.

WHAT’S MADE MY TIME IN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL THE MOST SPECIAL HAS BEEN THE RELATIONSHIPS I’VE HAD WITH THE MANY AMAZING PEOPLE WHO WORK IN OUR SPORT. WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, MANY OF YOU IN THIS HALL HAVE TAUGHT ME AND INSPIRED ME, AND THE EXPERIENCE OF JOINING FORCES WITH ALL OF YOU IN SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN’S GAME AND WOMEN’S SPORTS HAS REALLY BEEN ITS OWN REWARD FOR ME.

IF THE PAST FEW YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME ANYTHING, IT’S THAT THE TIME EACH OF US HAS TO ACT, TO LEAD, TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, AND TO IMPACT THE LIFE OF OTHERS, IS SOMETIMES VERY SHORT, AND THE OPPORTUNITIES WE HAVE TO BE GOOD PROFESSIONALS, GOOD LEADERS, GOOD PARENTS, AND GOOD PEOPLE ARE SOMETIMES PRECIOUS AND FEW. I’M VERY GRATEFUL FOR THE TIME AND OPPORTUNITIES I’VE HAD AND HOPE ALL OF YOU WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE THE MOST OUT OF YOURS.

THANKS AGAIN FOR THIS TREMENDOUS HONOR.

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