NATCHITOCHES — LSU and NBA great Shaquille O’Neal provided a moment of levity to close the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony Saturday night.
“I talked to the governor, and they’re changing the name of this town to Shaqitoches,” O’Neal said after thanking his mother, Lucille, and his coach at LSU, Dale Brown, for believing in him.
The ceremony, which attracted a capacity crowd to the Natchitoches Events Center, featured nine inductees. In addition to O’Neal, the class included former LSU football players Tommy Hodson and Kevin Mawae.
Tennis great Chanda Rubin, of Lafayette, and jockey Ronald Ardoin, a Carencro native, represent the Acadiana area. Two former pro basketball players, the University of New Orleans’ Ervin Johnson and Grambling’s James Jones, also were part of the class.
Newman basketball coach Ed “Skeets” Tuohy and multi-sport standout Anna Koll, who also played tennis, were inducted posthumously. New Orleans businessman Milt Retif and sportswriter Bob Marshall also were honored.
Retif received the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Dave Dixon award for leadership in sports. Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning outdoors writer, took home the LSWA’s Distinguished Service in Sports Journalism award.
Hodson is LSU’s all-time leading passer and was a four-time All-SEC selection. He played seven years in the NFL but marveled at the event and the Hall of Famers he was around all weekend.
“Really, a kid from Lockport gets to hang with all these big names,” he said. “It’s been an unbelievable ride.”
Mawae was a 16-year NFLer who was selected to eight Pro Bowls. He also spent four years as president of the NFL Players Association and helped broker the agreement that ended the 2011 strike.
An emotional Mawae recalled highlights from throughout his life, including his high school, LSU and NFL stints.
“I’m so blessed and thankful for this moment,” he said.
Rubin was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world as a singles player and reached the Australian Open semifinals. In doubles, she won the Australian Open and reached the U.S. Open final.
“I got to go to places I could only dream about growing up,” she said. “Through it all, I remain Louisiana proud. This is truly one of the special moments of my life.”
Koll was a pioneer in women’s sports. She excelled in several pursuits, including tennis, track and field, gymnastics and basketball.
Tuohy won 84.5 percent of his games in 15 seasons at Newman High. His team won 15 straight district titles and three state titles.
Johnson never played high school basketball, but he led UNO to two NCAA tournament berths and played 15 seasons in the NBA. He noted that, through basketball, “I just wanted to make a better life for myself. I’m so grateful to be part of this class of 2013.”
Ardoin is one of only 23 jockeys to win 5,000 or more races, with his mounts totaling $58.9 million. He rode in the Kentucky Derby twice.
GSU’s Jones played 10 pro seasons and was a six-time ABA all-star before moving to the NBA.
O’Neal was National Player of the Year at LSU and enjoyed a 19-year pro career in which he won four NBA titles and played in 15 All-Star Games.
Brown presented O’Neal and talked about meeting the 7-foot-1 standout when he was a 13-year-old in West Germany. He also credited O’Neal’s charitable work.
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