I arrived at the Basketball Hall of Fame here in Springfield tonight expecting to see some interesting stuff at the pre-induction dinner.
This is, after all, admittance weekend for Michael Jordan. For John Stockton. For David Robinson, Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer. As everyone who has covered this stuff knows, Hall weekendsâ€”in all sportsâ€”are riveting Who’s Whos of the athletic world. There’s Charles Barkley talking to Bob Lanier! There was Ann Myers and Dolph Schayes! There’s … you get the idea.
Tonight, however, all the prestige … all the glamor … all the stars … all the food (pan seared Chilean Sea Bass with tropical fruit salsa) were surpassed by one breathtaking moment: The worst Hall of Fame speech of all time.
The man of the hour was Peter Vecsey, the longtime New York Post basketball columnist who, I must believe, somebody out there likes. Throughout his 32-year career covering hoops, Vecsey boasts an unparalleled record of alienation. This is just a guess, but I’d say 90-95 percent of players dislike him. I’d say 97-99 percent of coaches and owners dislike him. And, among his peers in the media … uh, well … yeah. Not a good track record. The problem, to be blunt, is this: Vecsey has never come off as a particularly nice person. His writing is snide and dismissive; his tone that of a know-it-all third grader. He’s extremely combative, and (this is a guess, admittedly) would rather try and throw punches than engage in an actual intellectual discourse. That Vecsey writes for the Post is appropriate: He and the newspaper deserve one another.
Anyhow, the night was going very well. Speeches were moderately short, the MCâ€”an excellent Ernie Johnsonâ€”kept things rolling, Jordan and his gang made their waves. At approximately 8:20 pm, Doug Collins, also inducted as a media member, offered up an absolutely wonderful speech, crying as he asked his wife and children to stand.
And then, Vecsey took the stage.
He seemed to have no notes. No thoughts. No … nothing. He began not by expressing his appreciation, but by rattling off all the shunned players he believed belonged in the Hall. From there, he just … babbled. About this. About that. He seemed to be drunk, but I don’t think he was. The man was just, well, lost. He used language one doesn’t use in a Hall speech. He called out people’s names (“Calvin Murphy! Tiny Archibald!”), and you could literally see the men squirming in their seats. I was sitting about 10 feet from David Stern, whoâ€”throughout the ceaseless banterâ€”dismissively shook his head while checking his Blackberry. Jordan, the star of the weekend, walked out. Just left, and never returned.
The best part came, oh, 30 minutes in, when Vecsey took a breather between points. As if on cue, the entire room started to applaudâ€”a very clear, very audible get-the-f^%$-off-the-stage command. Suddenly, music piped in from aboveâ€”yet another get-the-f^%$-off-the-stage command. Oddly, Vecsey really paid it no mind. It was as if he had a booger dangling from his nose, and everyone in the room was acutely aware of its existenceâ€”save for Peter Vecsey. He kept talking until, I believe, his mic was turned off (either that, or he got the clue).
Man, it was sooooooooooo bad. I almost felt sorry for Peter Vecsey.