SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- If you want to know the impact of this years Basketball Hall of Fame headliners, dont check the record books or even the NBA jersey sales in China. Simply think back to the first week of August.In what was once a dead zone on the NBA calendar, LeBron James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant led off Pardon the Interruption Aug. 4-5. Yes, the NBA now merits year-round discussion.This was not mere accident or circumstance. This was the culmination of almost a quarter century of blending hip-hop, reality TV and international marketing into the NBA mix, three trends represented by Shaquille ONeal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming. The trio helped take the NBA beyond the realm of basketball games and into the world of pop culture. Keyword: world.All three players are internationally famous, as much on their own accord as from the groundwork laid by those who came before them. Shaq, Iverson and Yao became known for themselves as much as their game. The NBA emphasized stars in the eras of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and they leveraged that platform into brands.Shaq, Iverson and Yao went beyond branding; they helped make the league personality driven. They set the stage for the likes of LeBron and Stephen Curry. Its no longer just about how these guys play. Its about who they are and where they go.Although Shaqs 1996 free agency didnt have the same buildup and crescendo as a live-televised Decision, it was still big enough to overshadow the start of the Olympic Games in Atlanta and alter the NBA landscape. (And with three championships plus a fourth trip to the NBA Finals, Shaqs signing with the Los Angeles Lakers remains the most successful free-agency acquisition in sports history.)And Shaq had all the movies, hip-hop albums and endorsements to go with it. He was the first basketball big man with a personality to match his jersey size. Before him, centers tended to run the gamut from aloof to arrogant. Then Shaq came along -- a gigantic goofball -- unafraid to let his guard down and make faces during interviews or break-dance on the court.And whenever anyone questioned his ways or motives, he had a one-word response: Marketing.For one, it was to prove to my college professor that big guys could sell, Shaq said. And two, they was giving that money away, right and left. And three, it was an opportunity for me, young guy from the projects, medium-level juvenile delinquent to be on TV. Its a great feeling, to have your momma at the crib, seeing you on a commercial. Forget the game, but just seeing you in a commercial or a video ... thats why I did it.During Thursdays Hall of Fame press conference alone, Shaq:Said emcee Eddie Doucette, the longtime NBA play-by-play announcer, had a sexy voice.Made a big show of helping Yao put on his huge Hall of Fame jacket.Invited Morgan Platt, a 12-year-old girl visiting the Hall with her family, up to the stage with him. When he noticed her Michigan State sweatshirt he called over Spartans coach Tom Izzo, a fellow inductee, to pose for pictures.Looked crushed when Sheryl Swoopes mentioned her fiancé, then he stood up and got in a boxing stance.Im not sure theres a better ambassador, Izzo said later. Hes about everything. When you look at his police work, when you look at his basketball work, when you look at how he handles people ... I just love being around him.Technically, Yao might be a better candidate for the title of ambassador. He did handle the pressure of being the first overall No. 1 NBA pick to come directly from a foreign country with grace. And he helped make China a profitable and productive place for everyone from Kobe Bryant to Stephon Marbury.Yao had funny comments throughout his playing career, including his epic podium walk-off line to Ron Artest: See you in the club. But he put the thoughtful side on display in the public portions of Thursdays activities. Yao gazed up through the atrium at the pictures of the games greats near the top of the sphere-shaped Hall of Fame and said that for once, I feel so small. It was a nice touch, and a good way to summarize what the moment meant to him.But soon after, he couldnt help himself when Shaq was grumbling about the start to an ESPN roundtable discussion being held up because Iverson was running behind.He must have been at practice, Yao said.Ahh, A.I. His fans will be happy to know hes still very much the Allen Iverson we remember, running behind and dressed informally, in shredded jeans and a Yankees cap. His willingness to embrace the role of antihero made him heroic to so many. He was proudly, even defiantly, hip-hop at a time when the genre was still entering the mainstream and sports culture on the heels of the Fab Five. We will miss him at the mic as much as we miss him on the court.Even Doucette referred to Iverson as a man who has changed the cultural aspects of basketball through the years.I asked Iverson where that comfort with being himself came from. He thought for a long time. Then he gave an answer that was so good, so completely Iverson-esque, that well just close this column by running it in full. And when youre done, just remember that the NBA got to the place it is today in part because Iverson long ago reached this place within himself:I always looked at it, and I always felt like ... why isnt it cool being you? Whats wrong with being you, with your flaws, with your mistakes, with the way you look, with your financial status, the way you talk? Whats wrong with that? God gave you all of those things. Thats how He wanted it to be. So why are you ashamed of it?Now, when it comes to basketball, yes, I wanted to be like Mike. Yes. Didnt everybody that played basketball, after he arrived? Everybody wanted to be like Mike. But I didnt want to be him, I didnt want to talk like him, I didnt want to dress like him. I felt that it was cool being who my mom loved, who [my coach] loved, who my sister loved, who my girl loved, who my children love. Like, thats cool to me. Now as a basketball player, I would rather be Michael Jordan status when it comes to basketball. I would trade that part in -- you know what it means. If I could have my choice, yeah, I would want to be Michael Jordan, basketball-wise.But it was never no problem with me being who I am and being the person that I am. Like, I love my daughters and my sons being who they are and feeling good and comfortable about who they are. I love my kids loving the fact that their daddy is their daddy. Now, theyre at that age now where hey can read the newspaper, and they can read old articles and go to YouTube and look at old things that happened in my life. And Im not ashamed. Im not going to apologize for it. Those are mistakes that I made in my life, just like the mistakes that theyre going to make in theirs. I wont judge em. Ill always love them for who they are.I was always just cool with who I am. Why not? Thats disrespect to my mom and my dad, the people that raised me, for me to have a problem with me, trying to be somebody else that Im not. Im cool with the person they raised. Im cool with that. Justin Jones Jersey . The Barrie Colts defenceman, who impressed many with his play for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, is the top-ranked skater in the February rankings. 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MINNEAPOLIS -- Maya Moore scored 33 points, hitting six 3-pointers, and the Minnesota Lynx outlasted Elena Delle Donnes strong performance for an 87-82 victory over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday night.Moore hit a 3 just before the shot-clock buzzer with 55.7 seconds left to give Minnesota an 85-80 lead. Chicago had the ball, down three, with 19.7 seconds left but Rebekkah Brunson jumped a pass attempt and went coast-to-coast for a layup to seal the win for Minnesota (15-3), which is ranked No. 2 in the AP power poll.Delle Donne scored 25 of her season-high 38 points in the first half for sixth-ranked Chicago (7-10). She made 10 straight shots, includiing an open 3-pointer with 7:33 left in the third for a 58-52 lead.dddddddddddd. 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