How to give a Hall of Fame speech: Be like Gretzky, not like Jordan

Eddie Murray, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan, all at their Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. (CP/AP file)

As evidenced by longtime NFL star Terrell Owens’s snub earlier this month, getting to the Hall of Fame in any sport is incredibly difficult. But accepting the honour is no cakewalk either. Here are the do’s and don’ts.

DO understand you have to give one
This isn’t the Oscars, so there’s no staying away from the ceremony and no declining the honour. If Eddie Murray can do it, you can, too. Once up on the stage, Murray declined to acknowledge his career-long hostility with the media and instead embraced the moment, tearing up when talking about his older brother, whose minor-league career inspired him.

DON’T air out grudges
You were the biggest in the game, so try to be as big in real life. The cautionary tale on this count is Michael Jordan, who so many times brought the fans out of their seats during his career, but had them looking for the shortest route to the exits during his speech. Jordan took digs at, among others, the coach who cut him from his high-school team, the player who made the team ahead of him and the Hall of Famers who engineered a “freeze-out” in the All-Star Game in his rookie season.

Better to follow Wayne Gretzky’s lead—in a much shorter speech, No. 99 managed to thank, among others, the Brantford Minor Hockey Association and the Cornishes, the family who billeted him when he was a 14-year-old playing for the Young Nats in Toronto.

DO keep it clean
Jordan decided to work blue, explaining that his decision to be introduced by David Thompson “shocked the s*** out of him.” MJ, it’s a family show. After all, your family is there. And the families of others. And if you manage to keep it clean, also worry about imagery. Avoid anything like Terry Bradshaw’s infamous line: “What I wouldn’t give right now to put my hands under Mike Webster’s butt just one more time.”

DON’T forget your coaching
Patrick Roy managed to avoid mentioning any coach by name, even though he won his Stanley Cup rings with four different men behind the bench. Though he did thank his GM in Colorado, Pierre Lacroix, he didn’t mention Serge Savard, the Hall of Famer who drafted Roy and built the Canadiens’ Cup-winning teams in ’86 and ’93.

If you find yourself in the same position, you’d be wise to follow the example of NFL great Curtis Martin, whose anecdotes touched on not just his Hall of Fame presenter Bill Parcells, but also the high-school coach who convinced him (and his mother) that he had a chance to go to college if he signed up for football, a game he didn’t want to play. For good measure, the former running back threw in the pastor who convinced him that pro football would put him in a position to make the lives of others better.

This story originally appeared as part of the How-To package in the March issue of Sportsnet magazine.

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