By Mike Williams | @MikeWritesSport
Sports Capital Journalism Program
MINNEAPOLIS — The 2019 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announced this weekend at the NCAA Final Four highlights trailblazers in the history of basketball.
This year’s class features Vlade Divac, who went from humble beginnings in Yugoslavia to become one of the biggest European names in league history during a time when the league took fewer chances with international player; the Wayland Baptist University Flying Queens, the first dynasty in women’s college basketball; and Teresa Weatherspoon, who joined the WNBA in its inaugural season after a successful career in Europe and went on to become one of the league’s first big stars with the New York Liberty.
Other members of the Class of 2019 will be Bill Fitch, Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief, Jack Sikma, Paul Westphal, Tennessee A&I teams from 1957-59, Al Attles, Charles Cooper and Carl Braun. The 12-member class will be honored from September 5-7 at Springfield, Mass.
Divac originally played soccer as a kid in Yugoslavia. “I was a goalkeeper,” he said. “It was a rainy day…and I didn’t want to dive for the ball and get dirty. So, coach told me to find an indoor sport, and I switched to basketball and fell in love from day one.”
In his career, Divac scored over 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,500 blocked shots. He is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and has two FIBA World Championship gold medals. He is currently the general manager of the Sacramento Kings.
Divac joins the 2019 class as a selection from the International Committee. He joined the Los Angeles Lakers as the 26th choice of the 1989 NBA draft. Divac had previously played professionally for six years in Europe as a member of Sloga (1983-86) and Partizan (1986-89). He joined Yugoslavic players Dražen Petrović, Dino Rađa, and Žarko Paspalj in the NBA. He will join Petrović in the Hall of Fame.
“I was asked about our joining the league recently in Dallas,” said Divac. “If we opened the door, I really think players like Dirk blew it away. It’s incredible to watch and just shows that basketball is for everybody.”
That includes women.
Joining this year’s class will be the teams from Wayland Baptist University. Long before Title IX was passed in 1972, the Flying Queens won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU national championships between 1954 and 1975. Five players from this era are enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team will be represented by Linda Price, who graduated from Wayland Baptist in 1969.
Price, who is head of the Hutcherson Flying Queens Foundation, was emotional when describing the impact of the Flying Nuns in women’s basketball. “We did it at a time where we were all told it could hurt our bodies,” she said. “As great as Title IX was for the sport, I think it hurt us as a team. We were just a small school and with Title IX, the larger schools were able to take over.”
For Price, the recognition of the Flying Queens is a sign of growth in women’s basketball. “I’m overcome with gratitude,” she said. “It’s come a long way, baby, that’s for sure…There’s just great players out there and great coaches, and we’re getting there, but there’s a way to go.”
Joining the Flying Nuns, five-time WNBA All-Star Teresa Weatherspoon enters the Hall with recognition from the Women’s Committee. Weatherspoon was the first WNBA player to tally 1,000 points and 1,000 assists. In the international game, she’s a six-time Italian League All-Star, two-time Russian League champion and a 1988 Olympic gold medalist.
Weatherspoon took time to recognize the Flying Queens when speaking with the media. “It means so much,” she said about the Queens’ recognition. “You have to understand your history to know where you’re going and once these young ladies and men hear about Wayland Baptist, I’m telling you, this is an incredible story of how persevering, how difficult it was back in the day…they paved a path for us”
For both Weatherspoon and Price, this means an opportunity to grow the game of women’s basketball. “This is just so great,” Price said as she held back tears. “To see the Flying Queens get talked about on ESPN and all these things that we didn’t have. It’s inspiring to this day to be able to inspire the future generations and make sure girls know they can play too.”
Weatherspoon spoke about the reception that women’s basketball has earned. “It’s eyes that need to be up on this league,” she said. “Every time you turn around, there’s something negative being said.”
Defiantly, Weatherspoon says she and the WNBA will continue to push on. “We’re going to keep pushing to get what we truly deserve,” she said. “Yes, have a long way to go, but the fight will never stop because we won’t stop.”