Louie Dampier — an introvert who doesn’t fuss much over getting things his way — made one thing clear to Hall of Fame officials.
If he was going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, so was Southport High School.
As the Indianapolis-born Dampier gave his unassuming — and short in comparison to the other 10 inductees — speech at Friday night’s enshrinement, he focused on a special moment back in his hometown of Southport.
“A few years ago they did me the honor … I was the very first person to have their number retired in the whole school’s history,” he told the audience in Springfield, Mass. “And I am so proud of that and wanted to make that a part of my display in the Hall of Fame. I wanted to have my high school Southport in the Hall of Fame.”
It was at Southport where Dampier got his basketball start, going to games as a tiny boy with his mother. He later would lose his mom at age 16 and his dad at 18, life circumstances Dampier says altered his personality forever.
Still, Dampier became a star at Southport. It was there, he said Friday, that coach Blackie Braden became an important mentor as Dampier headed to play at the University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.
“He helped me prepare and worked with me after school every day,” Dampier said. “And the biggest thing that he taught (me), he told me I had to do was move my shot out to 20 feet and for that, I thank you coach Braden.”
Dampier went on to be a 3-point specialist in the ABA, playing for the entire existence of the Kentucky Colonels. Dampier was one of the greatest to play in the ABA, finishing as the league’s all-time leader in points (13,726), assists (4,044), games (728), 3-pointers (794) and minutes (27,770).
Most of Dampier’s speech, though, didn’t focus on basketball but instead was laden with thank yous to coaches and teammates — and family members.
“I thank my parents for the short time that I did have them,” he said. Perhaps the most touching moment came when he talked about losing his parents as a teenager.
But, he said, he was fortunate to have his four older siblings, a brother 9 years older and three sisters, 11, 12 and 13 years older.
“They took me into their arms. They gave me a place to live in the summers during school break from U of K,” he said. “They supported me through all my collegiate and professional career. To them, to all of them, I give the greatest of all thank yous.”
And as he ended his speech in a tribute to his wife, Judy, Dampier proved once again that he’s most content out of the spotlight. Many professional athletes, he said, at the end of their careers have trouble adjusting to everyday life.
“I have to say, though, that the last 33 years of my life have been my happiest,” he said. “And that’s due to the one person, my beautiful wife, my rock, Judy.”
Follow Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow.