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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jordan, Robinson, Stockton Headline List of Hall of Fame Finalists

Michael Jordan, David Robinson and John Stockton--three members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--are among 16 Finalists for induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. They were selected in their first year of consideration, as was Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan and WNBA star Cynthia Cooper; the other 11 Finalists are NBA players Dennis Johnson, Bernard King, Chris Mullin, coaches Bob Hurley, Vladimir Kondrashin, Don Nelson and C. Vivian Stringer, contributor Al Attles (who has been a player, coach and administrator), international player Pereira "Ubiratan" Maciel and Veteran's Committee selections Richie Guerin and Johnny "Red" Kerr, who already has received this year's John Bunn Award, the highest honor that the Hall bestows other than induction. As usual, several Hall of Famers attended the annual Hall of Fame press conference, including Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, David Thompson, Bob Lanier and Curly Neal (representing the Harlem Globetrotters, one of a handful of teams that has been inducted)

However, both Jordan and Stockton were absent, so Robinson spoke for all 16 Finalists when he came on stage and said that being tapped as a Finalist is "an amazing honor." Later, when Robinson answered questions for a small group of reporters, he talked about Stockton: "John is an amazing guy, one of the guys I respected the most during my career, just the way he carried himself and the way he approached the game. He was the consummate professional." Robinson described Jordan and Stockton as "locks" to be selected as inductees but hastened to add that it is hard for him to imagine any of the Finalists not making it.

Robinson said that the Spurs' playoff battles versus Stockton's Utah Jazz teams helped prepare the Spurs to finally become NBA champions for the first time in 1999: "They (the Jazz) were like pit bulls. They were just so tough. They were tough minded. They executed extremely well and I think they really helped us get to the level that we got to in our execution. When we won our championship we were known as one of the top executing teams in the league and I think that it was largely because of playing against those guys and understanding what it took night in and night out to make it happen. Those guys really set the standard for that."

Robinson's selection as a Finalist was a foregone conclusion, as is his induction later this year, but I asked Robinson what was the first thought that went through his mind when he was officially told that he is a 2009 Hall of Fame Finalist. Robinson answered, "My first thought actually went back to my senior year (in college). In the first game of the season we played in the Hall of Fame Classic against Vinny Del Negro and the N.C. State Wolfpack. I just remember being at the Hall of Fame and never thinking that I would actually be in the Hall of Fame but I remember that experience. That was the very first thing that came into my mind. I thought, 'Wow, I had a chance to be a part of that thing.' That's pretty special."

Robinson noted that the Spurs' management and coaching staff did not try to change his game, even when outsiders labeled him as "soft"; instead, they surrounded him with players who complemented his overall game. When I interviewed Hank Egan three years ago, he marveled at what he called the "grace" that Robinson displayed when Tim Duncan joined the Spurs; Robinson candidly admitted that Duncan was already a better scorer in the post and Robinson willingly ceded to Duncan the top scoring role on the team. I asked Robinson about making that transition and he replied, "That was a no-brainer but to me it was not really a lessening of my importance. They still looked to me for leadership and things like that but Tim was just a phenomenal scorer and just a great presence in the paint, so why would you not want a great scorer to do his job? That is why when he first came in I told him, 'It's obvious to me that you are a much better scorer than I am, so I am going to put you in a position where you can be successful.' I didn't care how many points I scored and it was obvious that first year that he didn't care either, which was nice. If one game he scored 25 and the next game he scored eight it never fazed him one bit and that's when I knew that he was going to be great. He has that temperament. He just doesn't get rattled. He's so steady, so patient and he knew that it was going to come. When you play against him, that is one thing you realize, this (sense of) impending doom. You know that guy is going to keep coming at you until the end and that is what he has proved throughout his career. He is just phenomenal."

Later, during All-Star media availability, I asked Duncan to share his first impressions about playing alongside Robinson and Duncan said, "My first impressions started way before I got to training camp. Knowing the kind of player he was and watching him play over the years, seeing what he had done during playoff runs and MVP seasons, walking in there I was more in awe than anything else but because of the competitor in me once I got on the floor I wanted to prove myself to him."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:24 AM

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