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Spencer Haywood and Dikembe Mutombo were great players who accomplished as much or more off the court.
On Friday night, they were celebrated for both.
The two former NBA stars were enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, part of a class of 11 players, coaches and referees.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was scheduled to be last member of the class to speak at Symphony Hall.
The rest of the class includes referee Dick Bavetta, former Celtic Jo Jo White and women's star Lisa Leslie. Tom Heinsohn is being inducted as a coach after already being enshrined as a player, and will be joined by former coaches George Raveling and Australia's Lindsay Gaze, plus ABA star Louis Dampier and early African-American player John Isaacs.
Players such as LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant will likely be here one day, and will owe a debt of gratitude to Haywood.
His battle with the NBA that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970 knocked down the age requirement that required players to be four years removed from high school. Once in the league, he went on to play 12 seasons, make four All-Star teams and win a championship.
"Remember guys, I had game," Haywood said. "It was not like I just did this Supreme Court thing. I had some serious game."
So did Mutombo, a fierce defender and shot blocker for 18 seasons. He said he was proud to have been the third African to play in the NBA, "to come to the U.S. with nothing and now I'm part of the NBA history."
And he's giving back, opening a hospital in his homeland of Congo that he said has served 140,000 people. He twice won the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and now works for the league as a global ambassador.
"Playing basketball allowed me to become a global citizen," Mutombo said, adding that he may not have won a championship "but I'm a champion to so many people."
Bavetta never missed an assignment while working 2,635 regular-season games over 39 NBA seasons. He had the crowd inside the building chant "Oh no, bad call, get a job!" before his speech.
"I'm not used to people telling me how great a referee I was, how nice it is to see me," he said.
It was a big night for the home state. Calipari was head coach at the nearby University of Massachusetts and had plenty of fans screaming for him as he entered the building.
Heinsohn won two titles as a Celtics coach on a team that included White, who had surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2010 and taped his speech, but drew a huge ovation when he came on stage after.
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