Jack Sikma said coming back to Bloomington and reconnecting with many old friends reaffirmed his decision to come to Illinois Wesleyan University nearly a half century ago.
That decision helped pave the way on an unlikely journey from a small liberal arts college to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It just reinforces a lot of things… to come and play for coach (Dennie) Bridges, spend four years here at Wesleyan, many friends are here,” Sikma said. “It was such a good experience for me.”
Sikma became the first athlete in university history to have his number retired as Wesleyan unveiled a banner from the Shirk Center rafters depicting the No. 44 jersey he wore at IWU from 1974-77.
Sikma credits Bridges for helping him create a patented shot that made him a nearly unstoppable force, an inside pivot which later simply became known as the ‘Sikma Move.’
IWU athletic director Mike Wagner told the Shirk Center crowd he wanted to find some way to honor Sikma’s legacy last year. Bridges advised him he might want to wait.
“He said there might be something even more special coming to the horizon about Jack possible getting into the Naismith Hall of Fame,” Wagner recalled.
That call did in fact come, nearly three decades after the 7-footer from St. Anne High School near Kankakee had retired after a career in which he made seven All-Star teams and won an NBA Championship with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.
Sikma said he hadn’t given up hope that he would get inducted, but said he was prepared to accept his fate either way.
“It would be something I would cherish for sure, but it didn’t impact my life day to day,” he said. “I just felt if it was going to happen, it was going to happen.
Sikma was inducted into the Hall of Fame last September in Springfield, Mass. with a large contingent of Titans fans to cheer for him.
Sikma said the experience exceeded his expectations and afforded him the chance to reflect on the people who helped him along the way.
“The Hall of Fame does such a good job for their honorees. They know it’s a big honor and a big day and weekend of their life,” Sikma said.
Wagner emphasized Sikma’s success goes far beyond basketball, noting he was two-time Academic All-American and remains heavily involved in charities in the Seattle area, where he spent the bulk of his playing career decades ago.
“We stress a lot at Illinois Wesleyan about the commitment to excellence in academics, athletics and in service to others and Jack has exceeded in all of those areas,” Wagner said. “If there was a hall of fame for just great people, Jack Sikma would be in it for sure.”
The 64-year-old Sikma only recently retired from basketball. After many years as an assistant coach in the NBA, he served as a consultant with the NBA champion Toronto Raptors last season.
Fittingly, after the Titans unveiled Sikma’s No. 44 high above Dennie Bridges Court, the IWU men’s basketball team responded with a 44-point victory over Carroll University, 88-44.
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