ONEONTA _ Mia Hamm just had to ask.
"What took you guys so long?" Hamm asked as she flashed a smile to open the presentation of her former U.S. National and North Carolina women's soccer coach, Anson Dorrance.
Hamm wasn't talking to Builder selection Dorrance or Veterans pick Hugo Perez, who were inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Sunday. Instead, she threw the light-hearted jab in the general direction of the Oneonta shrine.
In other words, why did it take the Soccer Hall so long to elect Dorrance?
Dorrance will begin his 30th season as the Tar Heels' head coach this fall. His resume includes 18 NCAA championships at North Carolina and a FIFA World Cup title in 1991.
Four of those college championships came with Hamm in a Tar Heels uniform, the last in 1993. She also led the 1991 World Cup team to victory.
Hamm fought back tears as she set up Dorrance for his induction speech, further illustrating a special bond the two have shared for the past 22 years.
Their relationship started well before Hamm became a household name, before the college and international championships, before the Gatorade commercials with M.J., before her marriage to baseball star Nomar Garciaparra, and before she helped draw a record Induction Ceremony crowd estimated at 5,000 as a member of the Class of 2007.
Dorrance, who presented Hamm last year, caught his first glimpse of the future Hall of Famer when she was age 14. One year later, she became the youngest player to make the U.S. National women's soccer roster.
"He created an environment that nurtured strengths and appreciated differences," said Hamm, who completed high school a year early and enrolled at UNC at age 16. "Because of Anson, there's an entire generation of strong, confident, intelligent, unique, competitive and independent women."
Dorrance contributed to the development of Hamm's independence, becoming her legal guardian while she attended UNC as her family moved to Rome.
Ever since, their lives have been intertwined, professionally and personally.
"He's just an amazing person and a wonderful friend," Hamm said of Dorrance. "He inspires people to be better than they were the day before."
Dorrance spoke highly of Hamm, a 36-year-old mother of 17-month-old twin girls who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dodgers infielder Garciaparra.
"I knew Mia Hamm when she was 14," Dorrance said at the podium. "I have loved seeing this special, young girl grow up to be this special woman."
He appeared touched by Hamm's introductory speech, saying afterward, "What she shared was just so poignant, articulate and just heart-wrenching."
Hamm said she felt the weight of responsibility for her speech as she tried to "adequately represent the voices of all the lives (Dorrance) touched."
After the ceremony, Hamm revealed that of all the accolades Dorrance's former players and friends bestowed upon him, loyalty was the most common trait cherished by those who are closest to him.
"It's not just a soccer factory," she said of North Carolina. "That's something that people kept talking about when I spoke to them.
"If you were the leading scorer, or one of the last ones off the bench, you knew what your value was to the team, and you embraced it, because he made sure that he expressed to you how important you were," she continued. "That really had an impact on all of us."