The phone call early Monday afternoon was classic Boo Williams. NCAA tournament observations, coaching gossip and a random request.
“Teel,” he said, “could you look something up for me?”
A friend had just congratulated Williams on an honor from the Basketball Hall of Fame. Williams was blissfully unaware — of the award’s existence or his nomination for it.
Truth be told, Williams half suspected he was being pranked.
Williams’ initial reaction: “Wow.”
A Hampton native and former star at Phoebus High and Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Williams began a Peninsula-based summer league in 1982 with 46 players and $400. He literally ran the operation out of the trunk of his car.
Today, the league, and Williams’ traveling teams of all ages, are nationally acclaimed, with thousands of boys and girls from throughout Hampton Roads and Virginia among the alumni. Moreover, Williams has worked tirelessly with the Amateur Athletic Union and USA Basketball to promote youth programs in the United States and abroad.
In short, he’s an ambassador.
“This year’s winners … have all contributed greatly to the game of basketball and are active members in their community,” Hall president John L. Doleva said in a statement. “It is an honor to recognize and celebrate these three distinguished humanitarians, all of whom have dedicated their lives to helping others through the game they love.”
Johnson was among basketball’s greatest players and entertainers at Michigan State and with the Los Angeles Lakers. He announced in 1991 that he is HIV-positive and created the Magic Johnson Foundation. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Summitt coached Tennessee’s women to eight NCAA championships before retiring last year with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, and establishing a foundation for research. She is a class of 2000 Hall inductee and a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
According to the Hall’s press release, the Jackson award criteria “includes embracing the core values of the game, hard work, striving to improve the community and making a commitment to others. Beyond the game, award winners must reflect the values of Mannie Jackson’s life-long mission to overcome obstacles and challenge the status quo, while taking responsibility for his or her actions and seeking the highest standard of excellence.”
Jackson is the chairman and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. He played for the University of Illinois and Globetrotters and was inducted into the Hall in 2002.
Williams, Summitt and Johnson will be recognized Sept. 7 in Springfield, Mass., during the Hall’s annual enshrinement weekend. This year’s class, also announced Monday, includes former Virginia All-American Dawn Staley, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.
The Human Spirit Award honors people from three levels of the game: professional, amateur and grassroots. Williams was nominated in the grassroots category.
Williams considers Summitt a particularly close friend because for decades she attended his annual spring invitational tournament to evaluate the nation’s top prospects. The Hall inaugurated the Jackson Award in 2007, and two past winners also are close to Williams: Sonny Hill and Alonzo Mourning.
Williams modeled his summer league after Hill’s, a Philadelphia staple since the late 1960s. Williams’ introduction to the Hill league came during his college career at Saint Joe’s.
A 1988 graduate of Chesapeake’s Indian River High, Mourning is the most dominant player to compete on Williams’ barnstorming teams. He was an All-American at Georgetown and the second pick of the 1992 NBA draft behind Shaquille O’Neal.
Mourning retired from the NBA in 2009, five-plus years after receiving a kidney transplant. He is renowned for his youth-oriented charities, especially in Florida, where he played for, and won the 2006 NBA championship with, the Miami Heat.
“What great company,” Williams said. “I’m honored.”
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