On Friday, thirteen individuals were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Hame. Among the inductees were former players, coaches, and executives who pushed the game forward and excelled on every level. I grew up admiring stars like Dino Radja, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Jason Kidd, and it’s great seeing them honored by the Hall of Fame, but one of my favorite inductees this year is Maurice Cheeks.
Mo Cheeks played the majority of his career for the Philadelphia 76ers throughout the 1980s, and after retiring as a player in 1993, he has coached in the NBA ever since. During his playing years, Cheeks was a four-time NBA All-Star and played in the NBA Finals three times (winning the championship in 1983), and he ranks 5th in NBA history in steals and 11th in assists.
Despite his illustrious NBA playing career, when I think of Maurice Cheeks, I think of him as Coach Cheeks on the night his Portland Trail Blazers were hosting the Dallas Mavericks on April 25, 2003. That night, 8th grader Natalie Gilbert sang the National Anthem as the winner of a “Get the Feeling of Star promotion.” Natalie walked onto the court and began singing the National Anthem, but she stumbled at “At the twilight’s last gleaming.” Her nerves got the best of her and she forgot the words. She paused and tried to find the words, but she couldn’t.
And then in the background you hear a man say, “C’mon, you got it,” and up walks Coach Cheeks next to Natalie who puts his arm around her and starts telling her the next lines of the song. For the rest of the National Anthem, it’s a duet of talented Natalie Gilbert and off-key Maurice Cheeks, but it’s one of the best renditions I’ve ever heard.
That night, Coach Cheeks modeled for the entire NBA world what great educators do every day. He went out of this comfort zone, stood beside a young student, and helped her succeed. I love that every day I get to see teachers on Mustang Mountain identify students who may be struggling and then go out of their comfort zone to help. It’s what we’re all called to do. And even though it’s not in front of thousands of fans in an arena or millions watching at home, it’s appreciated and sometimes even life-changing. We can’t ever forget that.
When you listen to Maurice Cheeks sing the National Anthem, you’ll see pretty quickly he won’t be inducted to the Music Hall of Hame anytime soon. I’m sure glad the basketball thing worked out for him.