PHOENIX – The Arizona Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony was a celebration nearly two years in the making.
A night long postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic rebounded in style Monday at the Phoenician with a full red carpet and a banquet hall the size of a football field.
For the inductees, a proper celebration was worth the wait.
Andre Ethier, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Joe Caldwell, John Bridger, Roland Hemond and the late Paul Westphal made up the 50th class of Hall Of Fame inductees.
Additionally, the late Pedro Gomez, a longtime sports journalist, was honored for his role in helping grow the event.
At the start of the ceremony, a video in honor of Gomez played. Most fell silent. Some grabbed their table napkins to wipe away tears.
It became not only a celebration of the living, but a remembrance of those who passed away. Those in attendance said they welcomed the human connection limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought they would just do some kind of remote or Zoom induction, right?” Bridger said. “Go, ‘Hey! Here we are on Zoom!’ So to get something like this happening, it’s so great!”
Bridger is the former executive director of the Thunderbirds, a non-profit organization formed to distribute money raised by the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The public voted him into the 2020 class.
Westphal and Meyers Drysdale also headlined the class.
Westphal’s family represented on his behalf, with his children and grandchildren speaking in honor of the former Grand Canyon coach and Phoenix Suns player and coach. He passed away on Jan. 2, 2021, at 70 from brain cancer.
Meyers Drysdale served as general manager for the Phoenix Mercury from 2007-2011, and currently serves as vice president and broadcaster for the Mercury and Suns. She is also a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame, Women’s Basketball Hall Of Fame and UCLA Sports Hall Of Fame.
She is the first woman to sign a four-year athletic scholarship for college, and the first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team (the Indiana Pacers). She is best known for her play on the court and her impact on women’s sports in the post-Title IX era.
At the ceremony, she reminisced about her late husband, Dodgers pitching great Don Drysdale.
“This would’ve been my husband and I’s 35th wedding anniversary,” she said during her acceptance speech.
It would have been an anniversary to remember in more ways than one.
“It is very special. There’s no question. I’ve been here 15 years now with the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns,” Meyers Drysdale said. “I never dreamed of something like this. Any time you get inducted into a 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 1961-64 and was the second overall pick in the 1964 NBA Draft.
Caldwell’s NBA and Arizona State legacies live on in his grandchildren: Marvin Bagley III who plays for the Sacramento Kings, and Marcus Bagley who plays at ASU.
Caldwell almost didn’t play here.
“I didn’t want to come to the desert because it was so damn hot,” Caldwell said in his acceptance speech.
Former ASU and Dodgers outfielder player Andre Ethier was also inducted into the Hall, and he felt the support of family members.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be here (with) all the great sportsmen and sportswomen who played in this state or represented this state,” Ethier said. “Four Generations of Arizona in my family will be here tonight. Really proud to just be representing the state.”
The message the Arizona Sports Hall Of Fame delivered was clear: Good things come to those who wait … and work hard.