SAN ANTONIO – Former Spurs forward Mike Mitchell and current Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon are going into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame.
Mitchell’s induction will not only put the spotlight on his NBA career, it will give his family an opportunity to celebrate his life with sports fans who remember his sweet jump shot and passion for basketball.
Monday’s announcement that Mitchell, who died of cancer in June 2011 at age 55, is among the four members of the Hall’s Class of 2018 was bittersweet for his family.
“Mike would have been just thrilled,” said Diana Mitchell, Mitchell’s widow. She and the couple’s youngest of four children, Michael Mitchell Jr., live in San Antonio and were at the Dominion on Monday for the news conference to announce the latest group of inductees.
“He loved the concept of sports and giving back to the community, and this organization does a great job of that,” Diana Mitchell said. “I thought, wow, what an honor.”
The San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame Tribute is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2018 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Proceeds from the Tribute benefit San Antonio Sports’ kids’ programs. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.sanantoniosports.org/halloffame.
Bill Hanson, a founder of San Antonio Sports, and businessman Gordon Hartman, who established Soccer for a Cause, are the other members of the Hall’s Class of 2018.
Hammon, 40, spent half of her 16-year WNBA career with the San Antonio Stars before retiring in 2014. In 2016, she was named one of the WNBA’s Top 20@20, which honored the 20 greatest and most influential players in the league’s 20-year history.
A six-time WNBA All-Star, she joined the Spurs’ coaching staff in August 2014, becoming the first female full-time assistant coach in NBA history. Hammon coached the Spurs’ Summer League team in July 2015, a first for a female. The Silver and Black went on to win the Las Vegas Summer League title with Hammon at the helm.
“Obviously, it’s always exciting to hear news like that, but also very humbling,” Hammon said via telephone during the news conference. She was in Sacramento, Calif., on Monday for the Spurs’ preseason game. “
“I know all the hard work and everything that not only myself but people around me – coaches, mentors, teammates – who I think should be going in with me. For me to have this honor, it’s just a tribute to not only my teammates and coaches, but there are so many people that invested in my life, in my career, to get me to this point. And, so, I’m very honored and reflective of those people and those times.
One of the greatest players in Auburn history, Mitchell was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 15th pick in the first round of the 1978 draft. He and Roger Phegley traded to the Spurs two days before Christmas in 1981 for Ron Brewer, Reggie Johnson and cash.
Mitchell played 6½ seasons with the Spurs, helping lead them to the Western Conference finals in his first two years in San Antonio. Mitchell played in Italy for two seasons after playing his last game as a Spur in 1988. He made a short return to San Antonio in 1990, but was waived before the season.
Mitchell, an All-Star with Cleveland in 1981, averaged 19.8 points and 5.6 rebounds during his NBA career. He played nine more seasons in Italy after being waived by the Spurs, retiring in 1999. Mitchell later worked as a counselor with at-risk youth in San Antonio, where he and his family lived throughout his pro career.
“He definitely loved the city of San Antonio,” Michael Mitchell Jr. said. “There was a chance when he was overseas playing in Italy to come back to the NBA and to play for the Celtics. He couldn’t see himself in green and white, definitely couldn’t see himself living in Boston.
“He loved the city that much. In fact, the only other city that he said he’d want to live in other than San Antonio was his hometown, Atlanta. Even then, he never made his way back. He stayed here in San Antonio.”
Hanson wrote the book – literally – on the management of sports events, titled the "A to Z Guide to Organizing a Sports Event.” Hanson was on the staff of San Antonio Sports, formerly San Antonio Sports Foundation, for 22 years. He was associate executive director of event operations when he retired in 2013.
Hanson is a former director of the U.S. Modern Pentathlon, and helped manage amateur sports events for 40 years on the local, national and international stage.
"This is just awesome," said Hanson, who turns 71 on Oct. 16. "It's a tremendous honor. I see this as representing the staff, the board members, the volunteers, everybody that was ever involved in an event that I was a part of. They're the reason I'm standing here now. I was just out there throwing the papers around, and a few ideas here and there."
Hartman, 54, established Soccer for a Cause in 2010 as a source to raise funds for the special-needs community. Soccer for a Cause led to Hartman securing a franchise in the North American American Soccer League and the construction of 8,000-seat Toyota Field. The San Antonio Scorpions played their home games there.
Hartman also opened the 75-acre STAR Soccer Complex, one of the voter-approved venues in Bexar County that required public/private partnerships. All the net profits benefited the special-needs community through Morgan's Wonderland, a highly accessible theme park Hartman created with his wife, Maggie, to honor their daughter. Morgan Hartman, now 24, was born with physical and cognitive challenges.
"The reason we started Soccer for a Cause to San Antonio is because, number one, we thought there was a need to soccer in a professional way to San Antonio," Hartman said after the news conference. "But we also knew that if we did that, and did it right, that ultimately we could bring about assistance and focus to those who have special needs. I think that we accomplished that as well.
"Focus, first of all, in that every time we talked about soccer, we were able to talk about what is Morgan's Wonderland, what is inclusion, what is ultra-accessibility? What does that mean? So it gave us a platform to work from, first point. Second point is it also brought in dollars. The fans were fantastic in their support of us when we were here. From that, we also, through the sale, working with the city, county and the Spurs, we were able to bring millions of dollars, ultimately, to Morgan's Wonderland."
Toyota Field and the STAR Soccer Complex are located adjacent to Morgan's Wonderland. Toyota Field and STAR Soccer Complex were sold in December 2015 to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. The deal included an agreement that Spurs Sports and Entertainment would operate the facilities and own a team, San Antonio FC. The club plays in the United Soccer League.
"Many people don't know that the stadium and everything was owned by Morgan's Wonderland, so when all that was sold, all the profits from that went to assist in helping special-needs individuals," Hartman said. "In many ways, Soccer for a Cause still lives on today. It's pretty cool on how it's all worked out."