Coaches Corner: Basketball Hall of Fame Welcomes Five Coaches--and No NBA or ABA PlayersOn Friday, the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its seven member 2007 class, consisting of coaches Phil Jackson, Van Chancellor, Pedro Ferrandiz, Mirko Novosel and Roy Williams, referee Mendy Rudolph and the 1966 Texas Western team that became the first squad to start five black players and win the NCAA championship. Each of the new Hall of Famers is worthy of this honor and it was enjoyable to listen to the various acceptance speeches. Jackson was the last to talk and he made a very important point: the game of basketball belongs to the players and nothing can be accomplished without them. That is what makes it so strange that the Hall of Fame did not induct a single NBA or ABA player this year.
I don't dispute the qualifications of this year's enshrinees and I don't want to in any way rain on their parades but there is no excuse for the Hall of Fame to not induct any professional players, particularly when there are many candidates who have already been overlooked for literally decades. For instance, consider Artis Gilmore, who is one of the greatest centers of all-time, a star in college, the ABA and the NBA: he is the all-time NCAA Division I career rebounding average leader (22.7 rpg) and the all-time ABA/NBA field goal percentage leader (.582). Gilmore ranks fourth in ABA/NBA career blocked shots (3178; he was third at the time I wrote the aforementioned article, but Dikembe Mutombo recently passed him) and fifth in ABA/NBA career rebounds (16,330). Other than Gilmore, the top 11 rebounders are either in the Hall of Fame or will be shortly (i.e., Karl Malone, who is not yet eligible for enshrinement).
Another player who should have been enshrined a long time ago is Roger Brown, whose pro career got off to a late start due to being wrongly blacklisted by the NBA. Brown later received a financial settlement from the league but he stayed loyal to the ABA, whose Indiana Pacers signed him when he was working for a General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio and playing AAU ball. By the time the two leagues merged, Brown had already retired, so most of the country never got to see him play. As Brown's teammate Mel Daniels--a two-time ABA MVP who also deserves Hall of Fame consideration--told me, "those who did not see Roger Brown or didn't know him, missed a treat." Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin--Hall of Famers who are also on the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--all waxed eloquently to me about Brown's unappreciated greatness. Brown and Daniels played on Indiana Pacers teams that won three championships in four years while being coached by Slick Leonard. There is no good reason that Leonard has not at least been enshrined as a contributor--he starred as a player in high school and college, played seven years in the NBA, compiled an excellent coaching record and has been a broadcaster for two decades.
I understand that the Basketball Hall of Fame recognizes accomplishments from both genders at all levels of the game from international play to college play but let's not kid ourselves: the highest level of the game is American professional basketball--the NBA and its nine year rival, the ABA--yet the Hall of Fame treats American professional players like afterthoughts at best. The ABA has basically been completely ignored except for a handful of players who "validated" their success in that league by performing well in the NBA--and Gilmore has been left out despite his prolific NCAA and NBA careers. Adrian Dantley is the 23rd leading scorer in NBA/ABA history (23,177 points; 24.3 ppg). He won two NBA scoring titles, had an outstanding NCAA career and was a member of the gold medal United States team in the 1976 Olympics, yet Dantley has been snubbed by the Hall of Fame for a decade with no end in sight. Everyone who is ahead of him on the career scoring list--other than Gilmore--is either in the Hall of Fame or a mortal lock to be enshrined when he becomes eligible.
If the Hall of Fame had snubbed Phil Jackson and his nine NBA championship rings that would probably be the end of the institution but how is it that Don Nelson has not been enshrined? In 1996, Nelson was voted as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history; seven of the other nine (including Jackson) are already in the Hall of Fame and Pat Riley will undoubtedly get the nod as soon as he becomes eligible. Nelson has won the NBA Coach of the Year award three times and ranks third in career wins.
As much as I celebrate the honor that has been justly bestowed on this year's enshrinees--and I will write a separate post just about Jackson's legacy--I cannot let this moment pass without stating that there is something very wrong with the Hall of Fame's selection process. ESPN's Marc Stein addresses this subject in a column that contains this telling quote from NBA Commissioner David Stern: "It's absolutely unacceptable, the [selection] process. It's troublesome. It doesn't even bring the NBA in in a rational way." That goes double for the ABA, which is so woefully underrepresented in the Hall of Fame that two decades of neglect may only be correctable by a special induction like what MLB did for the Negro Leagues.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:02 AM