When John McClain, the longtime Houston Chronicle sports writer who started his tenure covering the WHL Champion Houston Aeros before decades with the Oilers, Texans and NFL, was approached years ago about the idea of a Houston Sports Hall of Fame, he had one reaction.
“How in the world you going to do this?” he told Patti Smith when she asked him to chair the selection committee. “She said ‘let me worry about that’ … they did a great job the first year and the next day I was surprised they weren’t dead, so much went into it.”
They are the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, who last week put on its seventh annual Houston Sports Awards show. Held at the first time at 713 Music Hall, the show featured a full VIP experience for those throughout the community who compete and support sports events in the region, from a red-carpet walkway to in-person pizzazz that rivals any national television program.
“When I moved to Houston and saw the great talent, whether you’re talking Olympians or professional sports athletes to come out of this city, I said ‘we’ve got to do something to honor them,’” said HCHSA Chief Executive Officer Janis Burke. “To see it all come together and be supported by the whole community that loves this event, it means a lot to me.”
This year’s inductees were Astros star Lance Berkman, four-time WNBA champion Cynthia Cooper of the Houston Comets and Warren Moon, the record-setting Oilers quarterback. Each received a tribute before their induction, the Hall of Fame white jacket and will later this year get an official Hall of Fame ring (in Cooper’s case, a pendant). Each honoree is also given a bronze plaque on the Walk of Fame located in the GreenStreet area of downtown and a commemorative painting by artist Opie Otterstad.
The three 2024 inductees bring the total of Hall inductees to 24. The first class is famously known as ‘The 34s’ in tribute to Earl Campbell, Hakeem Olajuwon and Nolan Ryan.
“Every athlete that I know came up to me at one time or another, ‘when are y’all gonna get me into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame?’” McClain said. “I said ‘you’re already in Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.’ And they reply ‘But I want to be in the one in Houston.’ It’s gotten a lot of respect and prestige.”
Along with this year’s Hall of Fame inductees were a series of high school and professional sports awards with Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud winning two, including Athlete of the Year, while the night of his drafting along with linebacker Will Anderson was named the city’s Moment of the Year.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also received the first “Lifetime Civic Champion Award” for his work in expanding the impact of sports in the city. Over his eight-year term, Houston hosted more major sporting events than any other major city in the United States
“What I have seen over the last 30-plus years is when Houstonians are at a baseball game or basketball game or soccer game or football game, you name it, regardless of our differences, we’re all rooting for the same team,” Turner said on stage. “For those special moments, a very diverse city is a city that is standing and rooting as one. That’s why as Mayor, in large part I did everything I could to promote sports in our city. Tonight, I think, speaks volumes about how a diverse city can be an inclusive city through the world of sports.”
Inclusiveness in sports also was recognized through the Community Impact Award, won by Peggy Turner of TIRR Memorial Hermann. Turner has spent decades developing the adaptive sports movement of Houston to create opportunities and experiences for athletes.
“Janis Burke and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority have embraced athletes as athletes and tonight is a testament to that to recognize me for working and elevating athletes with disabilities,” Turner said. “The entire Harris County-Houston Sports Authority is the reason that this city is thriving the way it does. … For them to recognize the elite athletes that have come into this city to make it as great a city as it is, it makes sense that this night happens.”