From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of FameThis article was originally published at NBCSports.com on 3/24/07; it has been updated to included the 2006-07 season
The NBA first began selecting a Rookie of the Year in 1953. Between that year and 1984, 33 players received that honor (there was a tie in 1971) and 17 of those players have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Just two of the 10 ABA Rookie of the Year winners (that league also had a tie for the award in 1971) have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, perhaps a reflection of the ABA’s lower profile—still, even including the ABA that means that 19 of the 43 Rookie of the Year winners over a three decade period are now Hall of Famers. That number may yet increase; Maurice Stokes, the 1956 Rookie of the Year, was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2004, so players who have been passed over for a much shorter period of time than he was may eventually make the grade in the eyes of the Hall’s voters.
Rookie of the Year voting is a somewhat subjective evaluation of one year of a player’s career and Hall of Fame voting is an equally subjective evaluation of a player’s entire body of work but it still seems that there is something to be said for getting off to a quick start in one’s career. Twelve of the NBA’s first 15 Rookies of the Year are Hall of Famers. The three early Rookies of the Year who are not Hall of Famers are somewhat unique cases. Don Meineke, the NBA’s first Rookie of the Year, played just five seasons. There were not any future Hall of Famers among the NBA’s 1953 rookies. Ray Felix, the 1954 Rookie of the Year, enjoyed a nine season NBA career but never played better than he did in his first year, when he earned his only All-Star selection. The only future Hall of Famer among that year’s rookies was Felix’ Baltimore Bullets teammate Bob Houbregs, who only played five years in the NBA and was inducted more for his college achievements. Woody Sauldsberry, the 1958 Rookie of the Year, was a very talented player but he peaked early in his career and then retired from the NBA at the age of 28. Sauldsberry later returned to the NBA for one season, winning a championship ring with the 1966 Boston Celtics.
The Rookies of the Year from 1955-71 are a very distinguished group, with 12 of them being listed among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in addition to being Hall of Famers: Bob Pettit (1955), Elgin Baylor (1959), Wilt Chamberlain (1960), Oscar Robertson (1961), Jerry Lucas (1964), Willis Reed (1965), Rick Barry (1966), Dave Bing (1967), Earl Monroe (1968), Wes Unseld (1969), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970) and Dave Cowens (1971). Chamberlain and Unseld won the MVP during their rookie years, while Baylor finished third, Robertson ranked fifth and Abdul-Jabbar came in third.
The 1970s produced 19 Rookies of the Year between the NBA and the ABA. So far, only five of them--Abdul-Jabbar, Cowens, Dan Issel (1971, ABA), Bob McAdoo (1975, NBA) and David Thompson (1976, ABA)--have been inducted in the Hall of Fame. Artis Gilmore, the 1972 ABA Rookie of the Year, may be the most worthy player in any professional sport who has not been inducted in his sport’s Hall of Fame; he ranks fourth in career NBA/ABA blocked shots (3189), fifth in career NBA/ABA rebounds (trailing only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and 19th in career NBA/ABA points (24,941). Spencer Haywood, the 1970 ABA Rookie of the Year (and MVP), has more career NBA/ABA points (17,111) and rebounds (8675) than many Hall of Famers. Other than Gilmore and Haywood, though, Adrian Dantley (1977) is the only Rookie of the Year from that decade who has a decent chance of eventually being inducted. Dantley was a Hall of Fame finalist this year.
Moving into the 1980s, the only Rookie of the Year from that decade who has been inducted in the Hall of Fame is Larry Bird (1980). The next four Rookies of the Year--Darrell Griffith, Buck Williams, Terry Cummings and Ralph Sampson--have received little or no Hall of Fame consideration since their retirements. The period from 1984 to the present really has to be considered separately from earlier eras because most of the Rookie of the Year winners since 1984 are either still active or have not been retired long enough to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. There have been 25 Rookie of the Year winners since 1984 (there were ties in 1995 and 2000). Seven of these players are Hall of Fame locks: Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan.
Strong Hall of Fame cases can be made for Mark Jackson, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Grant Hill and Vince Carter. Jackson ranks second all-time in career assists. Richmond scored 20,497 points and made the All-NBA team five times. Chris Webber and Grant Hill also each made the All-NBA team five times. Carter is an eight-time All-Star. Most eligible players who have made five All-NBA teams are in the Hall of Fame, as is every eligible eight-time All-Star except for Larry Foust. The only eligible 20,000 point scorers who are not in the Hall of Fame are Dantley, Gilmore and Tom Chambers.
On the other hand, Chuck Person, Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson and Damon Stoudamire are not likely Hall of Fame candidates. It is too soon to tell regarding the post-1999 Rookies of the Year, although Steve Francis, Mike Miller, Pau Gasol and Emeka Okafor certainly do not seem to be on track for the Hall of Fame. Elton Brand would need to sustain his 2005-06 level of play for a few years to have a good chance. Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and Chris Paul are three of the four most recent Rookies of the Year but they are already performing at a very high level and each seems to have the potential to be a Hall of Famer.
The odds against any player becoming a Hall of Famer are long. Talent, a strong work ethic and good health are just three of the requirements. While some recent stars--including Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki--blossomed gradually, as of this writing 19 Rookies of the Year have been able to parlay excellent first seasons into Hall of Fame careers. Michael Jordan and a slew of stars from the 1980s and 1990s are sure to join their ranks as soon as they are eligible for Hall of Fame induction.
From Rookie of the Year to the Hall of Fame?
Year...Rookie of the Year...Rookie..PPG/RPG/APG..Career Notes
2006-07.Brandon Roy..16.8/4.4/4.0..Led rookies in scoring, assists
2005-06.Chris Paul..16.1/5.1/7.8..Led NBA in total steals as a rookie
2004-05.Emeka Okafor..15.1/10.9/.9..4th in RPG, 2004-05
2003-04.LeBron James..20.9/5.5/5.9..3-time All-NBA, 3-time All-Star
2002-03.Amare Stoudemire..13.5/8.8/1.0..2-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
2001-02.Pau Gasol..17.6/8.9/2.7..1-time All-Star
2000-01.Mike Miller..11.9/4.0/1.7..2006 Sixth Man of the Year
^1999-00.Elton Brand..20.1/10.0/1.9..1-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
^1999-00.Steve Francis..18.0/5.3/6.6..3-time All-Star
1998-99.Vince Carter..18.3/5.7/3.0..2-time All-NBA, 8-time All-Star
1997-98.Tim Duncan..21.1/11.9/2.7..2-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP
1996-97.Allen Iverson..23.5/4.1/7.5..1-time MVP, 7-time All-NBA
1995-96.Damon Stoudamire..19.0/4.0/9.3..Top ten in apg three times
*1994-95.Grant Hill..19.9/6.4/5.0..5-time All-NBA, 7-time All-Star
*1994-95.Jason Kidd..11.7/5.4/7.7..6-time All-NBA, 8-time All-Star
1993-94.Chris Webber..17.5/9.1/3.6..5-time All-NBA, 5-time All-Star
1992-93.Shaquille O'Neal..23.4/13.9/1.9..1-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP
1991-92.Larry Johnson..19.2/11.6/3.6..1-time All-NBA, 2-time All-Star
1990-91.Derrick Coleman..18.4/10.3/2.2..2-time All-NBA, 1-time All-Star
1989-90.David Robinson..24.3/12.0/2.0..1-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA
1988-89.Mitch Richmond..22.0/5.9/4.2..5-time All-NBA, 6-time All-Star
1987-88.Mark Jackson..13.6/4.8/10.6..1-time All-Star, top ten in apg 12 times
1986-87.Chuck Person..18.8/8.3/3.6..13,858 career points (14.7 ppg)
1985-86.Patrick Ewing..20.0/9.0/2.0..7-time All-NBA, 11-time All-Star
1984-85.Michael Jordan..28.2/6.5/5.9..5-time MVP, 6-time Finals MVP
^ Brand and Francis shared the 2000 Rookie of the Year award
* Hill and Kidd shared the 1995 Rookie of the Year award
posted by David Friedman @ 7:29 AM