By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Gregg Popovich has been at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony many times over the years, always there to show support for someone on the stage.
Next year, he may be there in a different capacity.
The NBA’s all-time winningest coach — who has quietly declined overtures from the Hall in the past — is among the list of prominent first-time nominees for the 2023 class released Wednesday by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Also on the ballot for the first time: Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Dwyane Wade. They were all expected; Popovich was the biggest surprise on the list, since it’s never been clear until now when he would allow the Hall to list him as a candidate.
“It will be an unbelievable moment, really,” Nowitzki said. “I mean, to top everything that has happened here the last couple years and words and accolades that have come my way, that will be the ultimate … to be enshrined, hopefully, with the greatest in our game ever.”
Also on the nominee list for the first time: the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s team, the 1982 Cheyney University women’s basketball team that became the first from a historically Black college or university to play for an NCAA title, and Miami coach Jim Larrañaga — who recently won his 700th game and took George Mason on a historic run to the Final Four in 2006.
The finalists from the North American and Women’s committees for the Hall of Fame will be announced at NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City on Feb. 17. The full class of Hall of Famers for 2023 will be announced at the NCAA Final Four in Houston on April 1, and enshrinement weekend will be Aug. 11 and 12 in Connecticut and the Hall’s home in Springfield, Massachusetts.
It could be one of the most star-studded classes ever, particularly if Parker and Popovich go in together. Popovich has coached San Antonio to five NBA titles, four of them with Parker as the team’s point guard. The other two legs of the Spurs’ Big 3 from that championship era — Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili — are already Hall of Famers.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will be an assistant coach on USA Basketball’s team that, if it qualifies, will play in the World Cup next summer in the Philippines. The induction ceremony will take place shortly before the start of the tournament, and Spoelstra is already vowing to take a quick break from his duties on Steve Kerr’s U.S. staff and be in Massachusetts for the big event.
“I can’t wait for it because we all know how Dwyane is,” Spoelstra said. “He’s going to throw a party that’s going to be one for the ages.”
The 1976 U.S. women’s team and the Cheyney team will be considered by the women’s veterans direct-elect committee. There are also 12 candidates that will be reviewed by the international direct-elect committee, 26 candidates to be considered by the contributor direct-elect committee, and 44 candidates for the veterans direct-elect committee — including longtime NBA coach Paul Silas, who died earlier this month.
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