‘Thunder Dan’ gets Arizona HOF nod, GCU gets D-I status


It’s an interesting intersection of events that Dan Majerle‘s invitation into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame came at almost the same time that Grand Canyon University got its formal acceptance from the NCAA as a Division I program.

Majerle, one of the most popular players in Phoenix Suns history, is getting ready to begin his fifth season as the GCU head basketball coach.  He has guided the program through a challenging four-year transition period from Division II to full accreditation at the D-I level.

With the approval for active membership, issued three weeks ago by the NCAA, the Antelopes will be eligible for postseason play, beginning with this season.  That has been a major hurdle for Majerle as he has tried to sell recruits on a program that left them with no chance to play in the NCAA Tournament during the transition period.

That all changes now.  And that may be even more important to Majerle than getting into the hall.  He has big plans for the GCU program.  He sees the small Christian college in west Phoenix as David vs. Goliath and wants the school to become the next Gonzaga or Butler, able to compete with the big boys.

The D-I acceptance appeared to be a done deal after GCU put together a full complement of sports programs that demonstrated during the transition that they were capable of competing at that level.  GCU won 13 championships over the four-year period while competing in the Western Athletic Conference.

But the announcement earlier this week that Majerle would be on the list of inductees for this year’s class for the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame was a little more unexpected.

The honor comes after other similar recognition of his success during his college and NBA careers.  He had already been inducted into the Michigan (his home state) and Central Michigan University (his alma mater) halls, as well as the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor.  His No. 44 jersey was retired at CMU and his No. 9 Phoenix Suns jersey was also retired.

Majerle, who played in three NBA All Star games, has had a high profile in the local community for many years and has a dedicated following among Valley sports fans.  He spent eight years in a Suns uniform, four years as a Suns broadcast analyst, and another five years as an assistant coach, and has a string of sports-themed restaurants around the Valley that carry his name.

His nickname, Thunder Dan, comes from his hard-charging, blue-collar style of play and thunderous dunks.  In 2003, the Suns organization established the Majerle Hustle Award, presented at the end of each season to the player that most personified the hustle and determination that Majerle displayed as a player.

“I fell in love with the Suns,” Majerle said in an article announcing his induction that was posted on the GCU website.  He was drafted by the Suns as the 14th overall pick in the first round in 1988.

“The fans took to me.  I played for some great teams and was able to be a broadcaster and coach and have restaurants.  Then to move 20 minutes away and be a part of this great university as a coach, I’m very fortunate to be able to do the things that I’ve been able to do and get the support that I’ve had from a lot of people in this state.”

That name recognition made him a logical choice to take over the GCU basketball program when he left the Suns in 2013 after being passed over for the head-coaching job.  The school was in the process of branding itself through its sports programs and was looking for high-profile individuals to help accomplish that.

Former Suns owner, Jerry Colangelo, was serving as an advisor to the school at the time, brought on board to help GCU make a successful transition to Division I.

Colangelo, also one of the most recognizable names in the state, was the catalyst for hiring Majerle.  And since the two have become good friends, Colangelo, who is already a member of the HOF, will likely be there on Nov. 1 when the induction ceremony takes place at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

This year’s incoming group includes Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell, former Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, ASU All-American wrestler Anthony Robles, and former azcentral sports columnist Paola Boivin, who will become the first female journalist to enter the hall, which was founded in 1957.

Expect to see another larger-than-life figure at the ceremony since Majerle will also be joining a group that includes the man he once called his favorite teammate during his time in the NBA, Charles Barkley.  The two played on the 1992-93 Suns team that won 62 games and made it to the NBA finals, and then went on to become good friends.

While there will be much to celebrate the night of Nov. 1, Majerle likely won’t take the party too far into the night.  His GCU team is hosting the Fighting Saints from the University of St. Francis (Ill.) in an exhibition game the next day.

However, that may be difficult to avoid if Sir Charles shows up to the party.