DETROIT - C. Vivian Stringer stood as tall as she could on a stage with three greats of the NBA, but it wasn't easy, not after being introduced yesterday as one of five new inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"If you think about it too long, you're going to pass out," the former Cheyney State and current Rutgers women's basketball coach said. "It's extremely difficult. My knees are weak."
She may have lacked in height standing next to 6-foot-1 John Stockton, 7-foot David Robinson, and 6-6 Michael Jordan, but Stringer equaled her fellow inductees in accomplishments over a 38-year career in college coaching with three schools, all of which she has taken to at least one NCAA Final Four.
The fifth member of the enshrinement class, Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, was unable to attend after the death of his brother.
Stringer, 61, a coal miner's daughter from Western Pennsylvania who won election to the Hall in her fourth time as a finalist, ranks third all-time among women's basketball coaches with 825 victories, at Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers. She has posted 28 seasons of 20 wins or more.
Stringer will join her best friend in coaching, former Cheyney State and Temple coach John Chaney, in the Hall, in Springfield, Mass. Chaney will present Stringer for induction during the enshrinement ceremonies, from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12, in Springfield.
She recalled the times she and Chaney discussed and debated strategy at Cheyney before their teams practiced together.
"All of us want to continue to grow, and I was challenged each and every day," she said. "So many times when our athletes would come into practice, John and I would probably have been into hour No. 2 of arguments, with our salt and pepper shakers going through our philosophies and beliefs about the way a defense should have been or whatever."
Chaney said last night he was delighted to see Stringer elected.
"I'm just so excited," he said. "She had a lot of vision. She was a pioneer at the time and fought so hard for women. There were so many difficult challenges. Sometimes she'd have her team go to games in two station wagons, or they'd have to brown-bag it because they didn't give meal money. It was crazy."
Stringer has achieved fulfillment as a coach but also has experienced heartbreak in her personal life. On Thanksgiving Day 1992, her husband of 24 years, Bill, died of a heart attack at the age of 47. Her daughter, Nina, contracted meningitis at 14 months and is in a wheelchair.
In 2007, the day after her Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game, she dealt with derogatory comments directed at her players by New York radio commentator Don Imus. She handled the matter with strength and dignity and won herself and her players nationwide admiration.
"She has been some kind of tough going through the tough situations that she's gone through," Chaney said. "She has done a great job coaching young women with all the hardships that she's had. I know what kind of strength this woman has."
Speaking with reporters yesterday, Stringer repeatedly thought back to Cheyney State. She remembered 1982, when she led the small, historically black college into the first NCAA women's Final Four against three larger universities whose resources dwarfed those of her school.
"I'm always impressed with those who have nothing and rise to a level to accomplish something," she said.
"When I had the opportunity to take Cheyney State to the Final Four, we had a budget of like $150 and we were there with Maryland, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech," Stringer said. "It wasn't about riches, but it was in your heart and how hard you worked. So I couldn't help but admire this team because of what we didn't have and where we came from."
Connecticut head women's coach Geno Auriemma, a Hall of Fame member who has had his share of battles with Rutgers, said he was happy for Stringer.
He said she deserved to be in the Hall "when you take into consideration all the things in Vivian's coaching career that she's been able to accomplish, and all the different programs that she's had a chance to build and inspire, and the longevity of it and how long she's been really good at it.
"I think that's what the Hall of Fame is all about - being great - but it's also about being great for a long period of time."
It was one of those "pinch-me" moments for Stringer, who recalled making her first visit to the Hall as an aspiring 21-year-old coach and seeing the displays honoring basketball founder James Naismith and others.
"I was so enamored and mesmerized by what I consider to be the ghosts and angels of the game," she said. "So to believe I'll be there where I once stood revering these great angels of basketball . . . it's just surreal and really not possible.
"I don't know how I'm going to handle it in September. You feel fortunate to be able to do something you love. To be recognized like this, you can't be anything other than grateful."