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Volume 20 No. 42
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Champions 2014: The speeches

    Members of the sports industry gathered to salute the 2014 Champions class during a luncheon at last month’s IMG World Congress of Sports in Dana Point, Calif.
    Three were present, while Chris Ilitch stood in for father Mike and two others delivered remarks by video.
    What follows are excerpts from their remarks about lessons, struggles, triumphs and those who helped along the way — all of the things that helped make them Champions.

Photos by Tony Florez Photography


   This is a lady that started at 12 years old in a little town in Louisiana — Opelousas, La. — and I got in the business because a gentleman wouldn’t let me play Little League baseball and I said, “This is just not fair.” You know Barbara Mandrell’s song that she was country before it was cool. … Well, I was a tomboy before it was cool for women to compete, and what a career. What an opportunity to give women that opportunity. I’ve spent my career in helping women compete at the highest level. All of us are in sports here and we understand the importance of sports. To me, to be successful you have to be competitive, and I think sports is a great way to teach you to be competitive.
   My favorite Bible verse is Luke 12:48, and it says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I expect to take this award and continue to give back, because I believe it’s important that we give back.


   I first peered into a television camera and talked into a microphone for money Labor Day weekend 1964 at KTBC-TV, the television station in Austin, owned by President and Mrs. [Lyndon] Johnson. … There have been a lot of highs and a lot of lows, some bumps and some bruises, a few selected side trips …
   I’ve tried to deal with the bleak periods with perseverance, with the real highs without gloating, to be kind and understanding to my friends, my colleagues, my family, to treat all of them with dignity and respect, to understand that the game really is the thing and to realize that sports television, when it’s done well, is the ultimate collaborative endeavor.

CHRIS ILITCH (on behalf of Mike Ilitch)

   He’s fortunate enough to have the opportunity to own two teams in his hometown. The town where he grew up, where he played baseball in the minor leagues, where he and my mother raised a family of seven children, where the two of them opened their first Little Caesars pizza restaurant, a hometown that they care an awful lot about.
   When my dad sat down … for his interview about this award he said, “I look at me and Detroit as one. The city is like a family member to me,” and he really means that. My father sees what pro sports teams and the world-class venues for those teams does for the folks in his town of Detroit. Competitive teams that are title contenders give the fans a sense of community pride. Just like having a child hit a home run or score a goal, it fills a parent with pride.  …
   My father said he’s not afraid to use the word love. He doesn’t think it makes him look soft or weak, because he loves to win, but more than winning, I would say he loves his family, he loves the people that work for him, he loves his community and he loves his city.


   I came into the NBA in 1958, played for the Cincinnati Royals for eight years and then was traded to the Boston Celtics. And there, probably the greatest inspiration for me as a player, but also I carried on into the front office, was Red Auerbach. [He said] to win — to be a champion — intelligence, character and talent, in that order, will help you become a champion, and so I carried that into my management when I became general manager of the Bucks and then Cleveland.
   I’ll finish by telling you what I tell our players every fall at the beginning of training camp. First, we want to win, right? We’re here to win, and to win you must first compete. Second is that you must comply with disciplines. Self-discipline and disciplines imposed by the team. And third is you’ve got to get along with your teammates and that means respect, and I go into respect and the fact that you must respect sports, respect the game that you are playing, respect your coaches, ownership, respect your fans, sponsors, all the various constituents.


   I get a question all the time. Javelin? Why the javelin? Well, I actually loved baseball, but unfortunately my range as a pitcher was dugout to dugout and I hit more guys than I ever pitched to. But if you have a good arm you can go somewhere. …
   We hired some great teams [at Gatorade] and I’m thoroughly proud of the fact that the individuals we hired and were on our staff have also gone on … to name a few, Tom Fox, Jeff Price, Greg Via and Scott Paddock. I’m extremely proud of them for what they’ve accomplished. In addition to that … I wanted to recognize an individual also who not only provided me with competition and companionship throughout my life as well as discipline and desire and dedication throughout … my twin brother, who couldn’t be here today.
   I do want to say that the path that I’ve taken is unique. From a coal-mining town of 80 people in Western Pennsylvania, but you learn that grit and that hard work ethic, and it stayed with me.


   I get to make a living doing the two things I love the most outside of my family and that’s selling cars and racing cars. I really owe that to my parents. They are my real heroes. Thirty years ago we went racing at Hendrick Motorsports with five employees. Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s even possible. Since the beginning, I believed that any team or company was great because of the talent, hard work and passion of its people and I still believe it.
   Now we have more than 500 employees at Hendrick Motorsports and 10,000 in our organization. I go to bed every night thinking about those families and how we can keep getting better. They’re our extended family. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but I’ve always said that we’re going to win together and we’re going to lose together, but whatever we do, we’re going to do it together. We’ve managed to do that for 30 years at Hendrick Motorsports and of everything the organization has accomplished, that’s the thing I’m most proud of.