Iverson delivered a captivating 31-minute speech in which he overcame initial jitters during a memorable address that featured multiple standing ovations. Fans with No. 3 Iverson jerseys in the balcony cheered throughout.
“[After] the incident happened in high school and all that was taken away … no other schools would recruit me anymore,” Iverson recalled. “My mom went to Georgetown and begged him to give me a chance. And he did.”
He said he later left Georgetown only as “an OK basketball player.”
“But once I started to listen to Larry Brown and take constructive criticism, I learned how much of a great, great coach that he really is. … That’s when I became an MVP.”
In maybe the most memorable moment of his address, Iverson recalled his first time playing against his idol, Michael Jordan.
“I’m sitting there and I’m saying, ‘Man, that’s Michael. And I’m looking at him. I can’t stop looking at him. I’m looking at his shoes and I’m like, man, he’s got on the Jordans! It was my Mike. It was my idol, my hero.”
After the Jordan story, Iverson seemed to settle in. Nervously rocking at the start of his speech, he confidently thanked a Rolodex of coaches, owners, teammates and rappers.
“I want to thank Biggie Smalls, Redman, Jadakiss, Tupac and Michael Jackson for being my theme music throughout my career,” Iverson said.
Not to be outdone, O’Neal took the stage later for his own punchline-filled speech as the final inductee of the night.
O’Neal referenced Luke and Laura from “General Hospital” and joked about his commercial endeavors, including how he sat in a “Buick I knew I couldn’t fit in.” Drawing laughter, O’Neal added, “Hey, they paid me $3 million. What did you want me to say, no?”
His speech had serious moments like thanking his parents, Phil Harrison and Lucille O’Neal, for giving him the discipline and drive that drove his NBA dream.
“If I know my father, he’s up there arguing with Wilt [Chamberlain] that his son is the best big man in the game,” O’Neal said.
Yao won the opening tip and delivered a heartfelt speech that showcased his own sense of humor.
“When I heard that I was speaking first tonight, I thought that someone made a mistake,” he said. “I think this spot belongs to the great Allen Iverson. You want to know why? Because I need practice more than him.”