CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Paul Westphal says it’s an honor these days to have anyone remember that he played basketball.
The Hall of Fame obviously remembers.
Westphal is one of 13 people who were announced Friday as finalists for enshrinement later this year by the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s one of four first-time finalists, joining seven-time All-Star Jack Sikma, five-time All-Star Marques Johnson and four-time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said the 68-year-old Westphal, who played 12 seasons — his best of those years with Phoenix — before spending parts of 17 more seasons as a head coach or assistant coach. “You never want to take anything like this for granted. It’s just a real humbling, thrilling time to consider that something like this might happen.”
There are nine previous finalists back on the list this year — notably five-time All-Stars Chris Webber and Sidney Moncrief, eight-time first-team defensive player Bobby Jones, two-time NBA coach of the year Bill Fitch, women’s basketball pioneer Teresa Weatherspoon and four-time college coach of the year Eddie Sutton.
“I’m so inspired and honored by these individuals on the stage,” Moncrief said during the ceremony, looking at Hall of Famers on the stage such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nancy Lieberman, Rick Barry, Spencer Haywood and Rick Welts. “Thank you all for setting the trend for us.”
Moncrief, Wallace, Jones and Weatherspoon were all known as top defenders.
“Defense matters,” Moncrief said.
Also selected as finalists were Leta Andrews, who won a high-school-record 1,416 games in more than 50 years on the sidelines in Texas; Hugh Evans, a referee in the NBA for 28 years; and Barbara Stevens, the longtime coach at perennial Division II power Bentley and a winner of more than 1,000 games.
“To be named a Finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor and we are proud to recognize the outstanding men and women who have impacted the game,” said Jerry Colangelo, the Basketball Hall of Fame’s chairman.
The 2020 class of finalists could — and likely will — include Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
There were four enshrinees who already know they will be honored at the hall’s induction ceremony in September. Longtime coach Del Harris and Portland Trail Blazers co-founder Harry Glickman were announced as winners of lifetime achievement awards. And Curt Gowdy Award winners for media contributions to the game went to Marc Stein of The New York Times and retiring Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler.
“He has always been a Hall of Famer in my book,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said of Lawler.
Added Clippers coach Doc Rivers: “Ralph has been a pioneer in his field, and we have been fortunate to hear him for 40 years.”
So Westphal has gotten one call from the Hall — and now he waits to see if the second one comes. The finalists will learn during the NCAA men’s Final Four weekend in Minneapolis if they are actually going to be part of the class of 2019.
“You don’t run for the Hall of Fame. You don’t campaign or anything like that,” Westphal said. “If this is as far as it goes, it’s an honor. And if it goes farther, it’s a wonderful thing.”
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