Hall inductees know basketball and moment have both arrived

Tony Simms surveyed the room, saw a cross-section of Canadian basketball that covers nearly half a century, saw players and coaches and builders and those who were passionate about the sport long before it was fashionable and was taken aback.

Taken aback and proud because the 63-year-old Olympian, a member of Canada’s national team for a decade, part of the iconic Canadian team at the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton, finally realized just how instrumental he and his contemporaries were in getting the game to where it is today.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t feel as excited coming here, then I get to see (former teammate) Stew Granger, I get to see so many familiar faces and I have my son (Anthony) with me, all of a sudden, it dawns on me that this is a big moment,” Simms said at Canada Basketball’s legends brunch at an airy downtown Toronto restaurant Sunday morning.

“When we started out, there were no people like ourselves on the court. And to break the barriers and then to lead the way and then to be not just breaking the barriers but a part of the whole thing, contributing in a tremendous way to our country, it’s a powerful thing.”

The history of Canadian basketball reaches far beyond the arrival of the Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies and that was the overriding sentiment at the brunch to formally induct Simms, Granger, Steve Nash, Rick Fox, Angela (Johnson) Straub, Michèle Bélanger and John Bitove — the classes of 2021 and 2022 — into the Hall of Fame.

Simms and Granger were integral parts of truly exceptional Canadian teams in the 1980s, Bélanger’s coaching career spanned four decades and touched hundreds of other coaches, Johnson-Staub was an Olympian in Montreal in 1976 when women’s basketball made its Games debut.

Recognizing, and publicizing the pre-NBA era has to be a priority for the Hall of Fame and Canada Basketball.

“You see what the sport is now compared to what it was in the early ’90s, it’s a dream for all of us that’s come true, just how well established basketball is in Canada,” Bitove said.

“Kids today don’t understand it, they take basketball and the NBA in Canada as something we’ve always had and part of our history. And all we had when I was a kid (in Toronto) was we got a few Buffalo Braves games a year. We didn’t have a team, we didn’t have any players … You look at it now, it’s part of the fabric of Canada.”

Bélanger, the lone coach among the two years’ worth of inductees, amassed 854 wins over a 41-year career at the University of Toronto.

And given the ever-increasing number of women coaches across Canada now, her induction should serve as a signal to others to pursue the profession.

“I think there’s recognition. It’s not just, ‘Oh, so what else do you do? What do you do for your real job?’ ” she said. “I think there’s more of an understanding that this is a profession.

“I want to see the public acknowledge that our game, the women’s game, is as important as the men’s game. You don’t need to go to the men’s game to get the recognition that you’re a good coach.”

Sunday’s event was the most elaborate ceremony Canada Basketball has held to honour its Hall of Fame inductees. It should become the new standard to celebrate the game’s past.

“It just means basketball is part of the mainstream in Canada now, it’s expected of the sport, it’s big time,” Bitove said. “It’s what every basketballer has ever dreamed.”

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Source link

By Jon Doe