Michigan legend Rudy Tomjanovich elected into Basketball Hall of Fame

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

From his playing days at Michigan to his coaching career in the NBA, Rudy Tomjanovich built a Hall of Fame-worthy resume.

It was finally, and officially, recognized on Saturday.

After several near misses, Tomjanovich was named to the 2020 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and is the first former Michigan basketball player to earn the honor.

Rudy Tomjanovich

"It was a very suspenseful day because I've been in this position before and I've got the, 'Sorry, not this year,' response. So, I was hanging on every word that (Basketball Hall president) John (Doleva) spoke," Tomjanovich said on the ESPN broadcast.

"When he said, 'You're in,' the first thing that happened was an unbelievable sigh of relief and then slowly, but very powerfully, complete jubilation."

Tomjanovich, 71, was elected along with three former NBA stars — the late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — former WNBA star Tamika Catchings, former FIBA exec Patrick Baumann and college coaches Eddie Sutton, Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens.

While Tomjanovich was successful at every stop throughout his basketball career, he became an immensely popular figure during his coaching days. After starting as an assistant with the Houston Rockets in 1983, he took over the head job in 1992 and led Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.

In 11-plus seasons in Houston, he went 503-397 in the regular season and 51-39 in the playoffs. He's the winningest coach in franchise history by more than 300 victories and is one of nine NBA coaches to win back-to-back championships.

Tomjanovich also coached the U.S. team that took CBA players to the world championships in 1998 because of an NBA lockout and won bronze, and guided the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000. 

He left the Rockets organization in 2003 after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. He returned to coaching and spent half a season with the Los Angeles Lakers before stepping away for good in 2005.

Tomjanovich’s other NBA highlights include being the No. 2 pick in the 1970 NBA Draft and a five-time All-Star — a total that likely would have been six if not for Kermit Washington’s punch that left him with life-threatening injuries in the 1977-78 season. He averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds over his 11-year career with the Rockets.

Before that, Tomjanovich, a Hamtramck native, put together a legendary career in three seasons at Michigan. He ranks first in program history with 1,039 career rebounds and 14.4 rebounds per game, and his 25.1 points per game trails only Cazzie Russell’s mark of 27.1 points.

He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors twice and was a second-team All-American in 1970. He owns the program's single-game records for made field goals (21) and rebounds (30) and also holds Crisler Center records for most points (48) and rebounds (27) in a game.

"My sincerest congrats to Rudy T on his election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame!" Michigan coach Juwan Howard tweeted. "He was a tremendous (Michigan) man, a pros pro, a (two-time) NBA champion, an innovative head coach, a true inspiration who dedicated his life and did so much for the game of basketball."

Former Michigan coach John Beilein also extended his congratulations on Twitter, writing, "This is such a deserving honor for one of Michigan’s best. Truly a great person, player, and coach! Thanks Rudy for all you have done for Michigan and the game."

Tomjanovich had his No. 45 jersey retired by the Rockets in 1982 and honored by Michigan in 2003. He has already been inducted into the Houston and Michigan sports hall of fames.

Tomjanovich had been in consideration for the Basketball Hall of Fame for several years, including being a finalist in 2017 and 2018, before finally receiving the call.

The induction ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts is set to take place on Aug. 29.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins