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Hall of Famers Show Basketball’s Changes _ for Better and Worse

May 7, 1996

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ George Gervin and David Thompson stepped forever from the shadow of drug abuse. Nancy Lieberman-Cline thanked her Uncle Sam for boosting women. George Yardley railed against sports agents.

So it went as the changing world of basketball honored its best and celebrated its traditions at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony late Monday.

``They call me `Ice,′ but I’m feeling it today,″ said Gervin, who was nicknamed the ``Iceman″ for his on-court composure. ``It’s all about recovering and moving on in your life, and that’s what I’ve done.″

Besides Gervin, Thompson, Lieberman-Cline and Yardley, this year’s inductees were Los Angeles sharpshooter Gail Goodrich and the late Yugoslav star Kresimir Cosic.

Gervin, who starred for San Antonio and Chicago, perfected his signature ``finger roll″ shot while capturing NBA scoring titles in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1982. They are surpassed only by Michael Jordan’s eight titles and Wilt Chamberlain’s seven.

Thompson, who could leap high enough at 6-foot-4 to play as a pro forward, led North Carolina State to the 1974 NCAA crown. He once scored 73 points in a 1978 game, but Gervin scored 63 a few hours later to win that season’s scoring title by a fraction. Thompson played for Denver and Seattle.

But both players struggled with drug habits, and each now calls his recovery a personal hall of fame. They each work for programs that give them the chance to speak to young people about bad choices.

``There are so many negative things out there that young people can get involved in,″ Thompson said to several hundred players, fans, officials and others at the induction ceremony in the Springfield Civic Center.

Yardley, the first NBA player to score 2,000 points in a season with his 2,001 in 1957-58 _ he played for the Pistons and Syracuse Nationals _ was at moments flip and funny, and at others downright acid as he accepted his honor Monday.

He fretted about the business side of today’s game, including labor strife and high-paid agents. ``I don’t know what is worse, being a drug dealer or an agent,″ he said. ``Both make money with no product.″

Lieberman-Cline nostalgically recalled her days of schoolyard basketball with boys as she grew up in New York City. ``We didn’t play for money. We weren’t being recruited. We did it for love,″ she said.

She added a word of praise for the federal mandate that aims at equality for women in college sports. ``Without Title IX, I probably would not be standing here this evening,″ she said.

Lieberman-Cline, a powerful scorer and passer, helped lift Old Dominion to national championships in 1979 and 1980. She became the first woman to play in a men’s pro league in 1986, when she joined the Springfield Fame of the U.S. Basketball League. She now works as a television commentator.

Ljerka Cosic, widow of the Yugoslav Olympic champion, said he cared deeply about his Mormon faith and native Croatian homeland, as well as basketball. ``In the Communist era, he had the courage to be a believer,″ she said in her emotional speech.

Cosic, who died of cancer a year ago at age 46, played for Brigham Young.

The new Hall of Famers offered some classic thanks, too. Goodrich spoke haltingly through tears as he remembered his father’s basketball guidance and his mother’s understanding. ``I literally grew up with a ball in my hand, dribbling around our furniture,″ he said.

He helped UCLA win the NCAA title in 1964 and 1965. He capped his career with an NBA championship in 1972. That Lakers team won a record 33 straight games and also set a standard with 69 wins until Chicago’s 72 this season.

This year’s inductees are the latest of 215 people and four teams honored at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, where James Naismith invented basketball 104 years ago.

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