PHOENIX – The Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony was a celebration of almost two years.
A long postponed night due to the COVID-19 pandemic bounced back in style on Monday in Phoenician with a full red carpet and a banquet hall the size of a football field.
For the inductees, a real celebration was worth the wait.
Andre Ethier, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Joe Caldwell, John Bridger, Roland Hemond and the late Paul Westphal formed the 50th class of inductees into the Hall of Fame.
In addition, the late Pedro Gomez, a longtime sports journalist, was honored for his role in the growth of the event.
At the start of the ceremony, a video honoring Gomez was released. Most of them fell silent. Some grabbed their napkins to wipe away tears.
It has become not only a celebration of the living, but a remembrance of those who have passed away. Those in attendance said they welcomed the human bond limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought they would just do some sort of distance induction or Zoom, right?” said Bridger. “Come on, ‘Hey! Here we are on Zoom! ‘ So for something like that to happen, it’s so awesome!
Bridger is the former executive director of the Thunderbirds, a nonprofit organization formed to distribute money raised by the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The public elected him in the 2020 class.
Westphal and Meyers Drysdale were also headlining the class.
Westphal’s family represented on his behalf, with his children and grandchildren speaking in honor of the former Grand Canyon coach and the Phoenix Suns player and coach. He died on January 2, 2021 at the age of 70 from brain cancer.
Meyers Drysdale was General Manager of the Phoenix Mercury from 2007-2011 and is currently Vice President and Broadcaster of the Mercury and Suns. She is also a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame, and the UCLA Sports Hall Of Fame.
She is the first woman to sign a four-year athletic scholarship to college and the first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team (the Indiana Pacers). She is best known for her playing on the field and her impact on women’s sport in the post-Title IX era.
During the ceremony, she remembered her late husband, the Dodgers pitching the great Don Drysdale.
“It would have been my husband and I’s 35th wedding anniversary,” she said during her acceptance speech.
It would have been an unforgettable birthday in more ways than one.
“It’s very special. There is no question. I’ve been here for 15 years now with the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns, ”said Meyers Drysdale. “I never dreamed of something like this. Every time you are inducted into the Hall of Fame it means a lot. ”
Caldwell celebrated his 80th birthday, while the Hall of Fame celebrated him for his accomplishments on the basketball court. He played for ASU from 1961 to 1964 and was the second overall pick in the 1964 NBA Draft.
Caldwell’s legacy in the NBA and Arizona State lives on in his grandchildren: Marvin Bagley III who plays for the Sacramento Kings and Marcus Bagley who plays for ASU.
Caldwell almost didn’t play here.
“I didn’t want to come to the desert because it was so hot,” Caldwell said in his acceptance speech.
Former ASU and Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier was also inducted into the Hall and he felt the support of his family members.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be here (with) all the great sportsmen and women who have played in this state or represented this state,” said Ethier. “Four generations of Arizona in my family will be here tonight. Really proud to represent only the State.
The Arizona Sports Hall Of Fame’s message was clear: Good things happen to those who wait… and work hard.