The Blair County NAACP welcomed home one of its most favorite sons Saturday night.
Johnny Moore, Altoona's first and most accomplished NBA player who achieved stardom and had his uniform retired by the San Antonio Spurs, drew a packed house of 300-plus at the Calvin House and used the forum to thank the community for its role in his success.
"What I appreciate about Altoona is it gave me a sound foundation of education," he said. "Never forget your history."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Former NBA?player Johnny Moore signs an autograph for 13-year-old A.J. Labriola of Altoona?Saturday night at the Calvin?House.
The dinner always draws a diverse crowd with a particular emphasis on honoring young scholars and athletes.
Moore, 55, aimed his message at them, stressing "old school" accountability and responsibility.
"They don't talk about athlete-students," he said. "It's always student-athletes."
He talked about the tough love instilled by his father, Bill, and the encouragement offered by his mother, June, who often told him, "Baby, reach for that star, and if you don't get it, catch that moon beam."
Moore spoke about his parents, entertained with funny stories, and said although they have passed away, "I miss them, but love transcends the grave."
He mentioned past teachers and coaches who made a difference in his life. Moore was introduced by Tony Labriola, who coached him at Keith Junior High and taught him about mentoring and giving back.
Moore called Labriola "one of my favorite people in the world."
Just 4 years old when he went to kindergarten, Moore later had to prove himself on the hill - outdoor courts in the Fifth Ward overlooking Altoona and just down the street from the Booker T. Washington Center run by Don Witherspoon, the current NAACP president.
"The games on the hill were real," Moore said. "They taught us heart."
He went up against older players like his brother Billy and many others that he named Saturday night, and though his voice hadn't yet changed by the time he got to high school, his determination eventually led him to a scholarship at the University of Texas, where he became a four-year starter.
"Nobody in this town ever worked harder to hone his skills," Labriola said. "Johnny Moore became a star not because he was blessed with physical ability but because he worked to make his weaknesses his strengths."
Moore, who spent nine years in the NBA and now coaches in the San Antonio area, told stories about guarding Michael Jordan. He said he once dunked on Jordan, "and then I woke up," drawing laughs.
He also talked about his memories of the Altoona-Bishop Guilfoyle rivalry and playing in the Mansion Park Summer League, which put in a "Johnny Moore rule," that, he regretted, precluded players from coming back for just one or two games and being eligible for the playoffs (a rule that has since been changed).
Moore's presence "made a tremendous difference" in the anticipation and attendance of the dinner, Witherspoon said, and Mark Geis of Altoona City Council presented him with a proclamation and an honorary golden spike "for always being a great ambassador for Altoona."
Moore spoke for 40-plus minutes and received a standing ovation. He also joined in one to recognize honorees such as Alice Lawrence, a longtime NAACP committee chairperson and pillar in the community.
"I share my accolades with each and every one of you," Moore said. "We have an obligation for our kids, and I go back to this community that encouraged me."