It is hard to imagine what a little boy was thinking over half a century ago when he first picked up a basketball.
Like little boys now, perhaps he dreamed of some great championship or honor.
Herb Didrickson, 86, no longer a little boy but a great man, has finally been officially honored for his basketball prowess.
On Tuesday evening Didrickson was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in a free public ceremony at the Anchorage Museum Auditorium.
Didrickson has been honored in tournaments and communities for years. Those accolades came because of his talent, yet rode on the “shorts-tails” of the compassion inside the player.
Perhaps his most telling award came in the first year of the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau in 1947.
Petersburg captured the first place trophy by defeating Ketchikan but Didrickson, playing for Sheldon Jackson School, captured the hearts of the coaches, fans and players and was given the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
The 1947 GM Most Valuable Player, Herb Mead, had stated at the time that “My trophy could have gone to Herbie too.”
Didrickson counted that tournament’s opening matchup against the Ketchikan Rockets as one of his most memorable games. His SJC team lost 52-50, but Herb’s reputation as a player had carried over from his high school years.
Petersburg’s Wally Swanson stated later that he and his Wasvick & Torwick teammates from that Gold Medal tournament had never rooted so hard for a Ketchikan team before or since, as “We would rather play any team that did not have Herb Didrickson on it.”
Didrickson did receive the MVP at the 1948 GM tourney. He was a teammate on the Sitka team that won the 1949 GM title over Metlakatla, and titles over Haines (56), Ketchikan (57) and Prince Rupert (64).
He was in the first induction class for the GM Hall Of Fame in 1961 and he stepped up to help the GM tourney receive their Alaska Hall of Fame trophy last season.
On Tuesday he received his own turn at the lectern. And again he thanked us, the public and everyone else, for letting him enjoy a little boy’s game.
And in between all these exciting games and events has been a remarkable career, not of a basketball player, but of a man who happened to play the sport.
Didrickson was known to always visit the opponent’s locker room after games to either congratulate or console them.
Didrickson easily could have gone on to college or, perhaps, a professional career in hoops but instead chose to stay in the town of Sitka that he loved so dearly.
A town that named a street after him.
A town whose college, Sheldon Jackson, named their hoops palace the “Herb Didrickson Gymnasium.”
A town that watched him receive the “Christian Citizenship Award” a few years ago, the highest honor give by SJ College.
His other Hall of Fame homes include Sheldon Jackson High School, Sheldon Jackson College, Sitka ANB and the Alaska High School Activities Association.
The 28th Alaska State Legislature honored him when the recent session began.
Calling Didrickson much more than just a basketball player is an understatement.
He retired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs after 30 years of service, he taught in the Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s Industrial Department, he coached the freshmen and junior varsity teams and assisted on the varsity.
After so many years of being one of Alaska’s outstanding human beings, it is about time Herb Didrickson has been publicly lauded in the same venue that players Carlos Boozer, Trajan Langdon and Wally Leask reside. Where Kikkan Randall, Tommy Moe, Nina Kemppel and Hilary Lindh wax skis. Where Lance Mackey, Susan Butcher and George Attla hanker down from the cold.
Didrikson, the little boy who tired out for the Boy Scout Troop 643 team as an extracurricular activity at Sitka’s old BIA school on Katlian Street, who liked the game because “I felt like I could fly when I played it,” soared ever higher on Tuesday night.