NATCHITOCHES — Shaq won’t be here until Friday.
So when the gala-long weekend for the latest induction class to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame began Thursday, it had to settle for Ervin Johnson.
No, not THAT Earvin Johnson. Not Magic.
“That’s what (then UNO basketball coach) Tim Floyd thought he was getting,” Ervin Johnson laughed as the living members of the non-Shaq division of the latest class gathered on historic Front Street.
Johnson, mistaken identity or not, did enough to become a first-round pick out of UNO despite not playing high school basketball at Jonesville, and was good enough to play 13 NBA seasons. He’s surely earned his spot here.
But Natchitoches is bracing for a Shaqalicious weekend.
Two of Shaq’s former LSU classmates, football players Tommy Hodson and Kevin Mawae, are already here.
Hodson is a bit of a late entry, but all these years later he is still the Tigers’ all-time leading passer and is responsible for the only man-made earthquake in state history.
Mawae, an eight-time NFL Pro-Bowler, may well be the best offensive lineman LSU ever produced and, at any rate, is surely the greatest Tiger never to play on a winning team in Baton Rouge (remember Curley Hallman?).
Most people here, though, are wondering when Shaquille O’Neal will show up.
For now, though, there’s the horse racing version, Ron Ardoin.
Louisiana produces a lot of jockeys and several are already in the Hall of Fame, most of whom would fit comfortably on a charm bracelet.
Ardoin looks normal size, which must have towered over the jockey’s room while he was winning 5,226 races.
“He had to be the Shaq of horse racing,” somebody said cleverly.
Shaq isn’t big-timing it, by the way. It’s not uncommon for inductees to miss the informal Thursday news conference. Tennis star Chanda Rubin of Lafayette will also show up today.
A friend of Shaq’s even suggested he didn’t want to overshadow the other inductees for the entire weekend.
So we got to hear Hodson’s version of the Earthquake Game, the 1988 winning pass to Eddie Fuller that caused such a Tiger Stadium ruckus it registered as the LSU geology department’s seismograph.
Hodson once overheard his daughter telling one of her friends that her dad had once played quarterback at LSU.
She explained to her friend that, “I don’t know if he was any good, but he threw a pass and the earth shook.”
He was good, but his daughter probably never heard it from him.
Hodson, who grew up in a basketball family on Bayou Lafourche, said he was flabbergasted to be joining the Hall of Fame.
“I’m just an average Joe,” he said. “I’m as average as they come. To be in this (Hall of Fame) just floors me. I look at the list of names that aren’t in and it humbles me.”
The earthquake he created might have affected more than he imagined.
Mawae was a heavily recruited senior at Leesville making a visit to LSU that night. A self-described an Army brat at Fort Polk, he started playing football in Germany, where his father was stationed. He had no particular ties to LSU and while in Germany the Big Ten was on TV more, and also interested him more.
He was in Tiger Stadium that night, mostly to see Fuller, who’d been a senior at Leesville when Mawae was a freshman.
“That night made me decide I really wanted to go to LSU,” Mawae said.
His timing might have been off. They weren’t banner years for the Tigers under Hallman.
“Others (old LSU teams) get together and reminisce about championships,” he said. “We have gripe sessions about Curley Hallman.”
Mawae doesn’t have many regrets, though.
As Hodson put it: “This won’t be the last Hall of Fame induction he goes through — he’ll be in the NFL hall.”
Mawae said he was most proud “to be the first Wampus Cat in this Hall of Fame.”
In the end Mawae was as respected off the field as on it, mainly as president of the NFL Players Association, where he was instrumental in
He got to know NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell well, and doesn’t envy his job.
“He works for 32 billionaire owners looking after 2,000 millionaire players,“Mawae said. “Every year 10 (wayward players) make 2,000 look like idiots.”
Shaq will be here today, by the way, possibly to clear up the tall tale that Dale Brown stumbled across him on an air base in Germany when he was a mere toddler of 6-foot-6.
Johnson’s story is almost as good.
After high school, he thought he’d found his life’s calling as a 6-foot-11 shelf stocker at the A&P grocery store in Baton Rouge (not needing a foot stool may have been big selling point).
When it was suggested he try basketball, he wanted to go to LSU and even talked to Brown.
“Coach Brown encouraged me,” Johnson said. “But he wasn’t interested. He had Shaquille and Stanley Roberts coming in.”
Johnson eventually went up against Shaq often in the NBA.
“He’s a wonderful person,” Johnson said of his many tangles. “He’s genuine.”
And he’ll be here today.
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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org