"I thought about it occasionally, but I kind of figured they'd get around to me at some point," he said in a phone interview.
That point came on Tuesday, as the 2011 class for the Cleveland hall was revealed. Diamond, whose hits include "Sweet Caroline," made the list, along with the Alice Cooper Band, New Orleans musician Dr. John, Darlene Love and singer-songwriter Tom Waits.
Piano man Leon Russell was honored with a musical excellence award, previously the sideman category. Executives Jac Holzman and Art Rupe were given the Ahmet Ertegun Awards.
It took three tries before Love, best known for hits such as "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and her work with producer Phil Spector and the Blossoms, was approved for the hall. When reached on Tuesday, an enthusiastic Love said: "I can actually breathe."
"Finally it's done," she added. "It still hasn't hit me yet. I still have that nervous stomach, and I'm still excited."
The excitement will have to wait for some: Bon Jovi, nominated for the first time, was turned away from the hall, as was LL Cool J, the J. Geils Band, the Beastie Boys, Donna Summer and more.
Alice Cooper's name had been mentioned in conjunction with the Rock Hall for years, but the shock rocker hadn't been nominated until this year. Like Diamond, Cooper said he wasn't anxiously waiting.
"You know it crosses your mind, but then you think of all the guys who aren't in there, some of them before you, and you go, 'Wow.' ... You realize that it's a waiting game," he said in a phone interview. "I don't think you sit around holding your breath on it."
Cooper, a heavy metal rocker best known for his dark horror themes, said his band was responsible for bringing show business into rock 'n' roll.
"There was no spectacle in rock 'n' roll, and I think what we did was we kind of brought theater to rock 'n' roll," said Cooper, known for a goth look, heavy eyeliner and black shaggy hair. "It was sort of Cirque du Soleil before Cirque du Soleil. It was kind of a weird vaudeville that we did. But it all connected back to the lyrics. ... If we do a 10-hour rehearsal back then, nine hours was on the music, and one hour was on the theatrics."
Diamond was on the other end of the spectrum, a singer-songwriter whose first hit came in the form of a song he wrote for the Monkees, "I'm a Believer." His early hits in the 1960s included "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" and "Cherry Cherry."
"The music I was doing was not in vogue. ... I was like a lone voice out there with a guitar, and it was different than what was going on because it was the English invasion and I wasn't doing that," Diamond said. "I think I've had so many hits because what I was putting out and what I was writing was very different for what was being played on the radio."
He's kept producing relevant material through the decades; he released his latest album this fall. Diamond said he was gratified to be in the hall and said his first choice to induct him would be a fan. Of his induction, he joked: "I'm glad they did it before I'm dead."
Love said she thought two of her biggest boosters for the hall - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's Stevie Van Zandt - would likely do the honors at the March 14 induction ceremony in New York City.
She was also happy for some of the other inductees, including Russell, who used to play on some of her sessions.
"This is going to be a helluva jam session," she quipped about the upcoming festivities.
The induction ceremony will be aired on Fuse.