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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Basketball Hall of Fame Finally Welcomes Artis Gilmore and Tex Winter

Jerry Colangelo, the Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board, has fulfilled his promise to make the induction process more fair, more inclusive and more representative of the sport's entire history. Last year, the Hall of Fame welcomed 10 new members--the largest class since the Hall's third year of existence (1961)--and corrected some longstanding injustices by finally opening its doors to Dennis Johnson and Gus Johnson; the 2011 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class also numbers 10 and belatedly honors two of the biggest snubs in the organization's history: Artis Gilmore and Tex Winter.

When I spoke with Colangelo during the 2010 All-Star Weekend, he vowed to take measures to grant proper recognition to people who have "slipped through the cracks" and the past two Hall of Fame classes represent a major positive step in that direction. I specifically asked Colangelo about creating an ABA committee and though he was initially noncommittal that is in fact exactly what ultimately happened and as a result Artis Gilmore--easily the greatest eligible player who was not a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame--has finally received an honor that he should have been granted many, many years ago.

I have been one of the most outspoken advocates declaring that ABA Numbers Should Also Count and that great players like Artis Gilmore, Roger Brown and Mel Daniels--who (along with Indiana Coach Bobby "Slick" Leonard)--are among The ABA's Unsung Heroes--deserve to be members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Gilmore excelled in college, the ABA and the NBA and it will always be a mystery why the Basketball Hall of Fame spent nearly two decades ignoring his accomplishments. Gilmore is one of only five Division I players who posted career averages of at least 20 ppg and at least 20 rpg and he led Jacksonville to the 1970 NCAA Championship Game, where the Dolphins lost to one of UCLA's dynasty teams (the Bruins were in the midst of a run that included seven straight NCAA titles). Gilmore won both the 1971-72 ABA Rookie of the Year and regular season MVP awards (beating out--among others--Pantheon member Julius Erving); the only other players who have pulled off the RoY/MVP double are Wilt Chamberlain (1960, NBA), Wes Unseld (1969, NBA) and Spencer Haywood (1970, ABA). Gilmore led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1975 ABA Championship before enjoying a long, very productive NBA career spent mainly with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.

Gilmore ranks second in ABA/NBA career field goal percentage (.5819, just behind Shaquille O'Neal's .5823), fourth in ABA/NBA career blocked shots* (3178, surpassed only by Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and fifth in ABA/NBA career total rebounds (16,330, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar); Gilmore is actually the NBA's all-time field goal percentage leader (.599) but he shot a lower percentage during his ABA career.

Tex Winter, a brilliant basketball strategist and a purist who did not shy away from bluntly criticizing some of the sport's greatest players, enjoyed a very successful career as a collegiate head coach before serving as an NBA assistant coach under Phil Jackson. Winter's Triangle Offense has been employed by all of Jackson's NBA teams as Jackson won a record 11 titles, six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the L. A. Lakers. Jackson has long campaigned for Winter to be elected by the Basketball Hall of Fame and after receiving word that Winter had finally been voted in Jackson made an interesting observation about Winter: "Every star that I've ever had on a team--except Scottie Pippen, basically--he had trouble with parts of their game," Jackson said. Pippen embraced Winter's intricate Triangle and mastered all of its subtleties; when Michael Jordan took a hiatus from the NBA to play minor league baseball, many people wrongly assumed that Pippen would try to average 30 ppg and that the Bulls would be a mediocre team sans Jordan--but Pippen knew his strengths and limitations, so instead of trying to become a scoring champion he used his playmaking skills to enhance his teammates' performances, helping B.J. Armstrong and Horace Grant to each earn their first (and only) All-Star appearances as the Bulls surprised observers by going 55-27 and pushing the New York Knicks to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Winter's Triangle provided a structure and framework not so much for Jordan, Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant but rather for their less talented teammates (part of the reason that the Miami Heat have struggled at times this season--particularly in terms of late game execution--is that the Heat have yet to establish such a structure and/or their star players are reluctant to operate within such a structure, preferring to pound holes in the court with their dribbling).

It is also refreshing that the Hall of Fame voters did not allow any potential personal biases regarding Dennis Rodman's off court antics to prevent his much deserved election; Rodman is one of the greatest rebounders in pro basketball history and the greatest defensive power forward spanning the period between Kevin McHale's peak years in the mid to late 1980s and the emergence of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Rodman played a crucial role on five championship teams (1989-90 Detroit, 1996-98 Chicago) and won a record seven straight rebounding titles (1992-98), second only to Chamberlain's 11 total rebounding titles (Chamberlain had two four year streaks, plus a three year streak). Rodman was a natural small forward who spent most of his career battling against power forwards and even centers; he used intelligence, leverage, tenacity and superior conditioning to outduel opponents who were much bigger and stronger: I once described Rodman as "a Phi Beta Kappa student of basketball who seemingly wants everyone to believe that he is the class clown."

The other members of the 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame class are Teresa Edwards, Herb Magee, Chris Mullin, Arvydas Sabonis, Tom "Satch" Sanders, Reece Tatum and Tara VanDerveer--a group that represents the NBA game, the international game, the college game, the sport's early pioneers and the women's game.

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* Blocked shots were not tracked when Chamberlain and Russell played, otherwise those two would undoubtedly rank first and second in that category.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:50 PM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Wednesday, April 06, 2011 12:59:00 AM, Anonymous yogi said...

FinallY! Definitely about time for both of them.Ignoring Tex Winter for so long was just cruel and ignorant.

 
At Wednesday, April 06, 2011 3:55:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

How do you feel about other sports? Such as pre-open era in tennis, pre 1900 in baseball, pre super bowl era in football?

I guess with baseball the rules drastically changed and then the WS began in 1903. With tennis, only amateurs could play in grand slam events before the open era, so both these sports are a lot different than the aba/nba merger.

As for football, I don't think much changed, and while I"m no packer fan, I think bart starr gets shafted when a lot of people only credit him with 2 champ., as opposed to the 5 total champ. he won, 3 before the first super bowl.

I'm still not certain if the aba records/stats should be combined with the nba records/stats, but the great players/teams/coaches of the aba should at least be more widely recognized. I guess until they combine the aba with the nba, if it ever happens, the aba's recognization will still be minimal. At least gilmore finally got his due recognization.

I'm definitely not one who likes it when they hand out HOF honors, but gilmore seems like he easily deserves it. As for mullin, that's another story.

 
At Wednesday, April 06, 2011 11:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

david its good artis and tex got in and worm and mullin. wats ur take on webber t mac g hill u think they will get in or serve too.

 
At Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

AFL stats and pre-Super Bowl stats are not segregated from "modern" NFL stats in the official NFL record book; for example, the NFL recognizes Joe Namath as the first player to pass for at least 4000 yards in a season even though he accomplished that feat in the AFL. The NFL should probably also recognize AAFC stats, though some might argue that the AAFC was not as strong a league from top to bottom as the AFL was.

Pre-Open era tennis and pre-1900 MLB really had significantly different rules and conditions than the modern versions of those sports; great players from those early eras deserve HoF consideration but it is very difficult to compare their stats with the stats of "modern" players. However, as far as I know, the record books of both sports include all of the stats that can be reasonably verified. ABA stats are well documented, so there is no reason to separate them from NBA stats: when the leagues merged the stats should have been merged, just like the NFL did with the AFL.

I think that most knowledgeable football observers credit Starr as a five-time champion while noting that his final two titles were also Super Bowl wins.

Artis Gilmore was easily the greatest eligible basketball player who had not been inducted in the Basketball HoF and you could make a case that he was the greatest eligible player in any major sport who had not been inducted.

When you consider the totality of Mullin's career--college Player of the Year, two-time Olympic champion, four straight All-NBA selections--he is a deserving HoFer, though you could argue that there are other, more worthy eligible candidates.

 
At Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Players have to be retired for six years to be eligible, so Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill will not be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for at least several more years.

Injuries and lack of NBA championships can be held against each of these three players but a good case could be made that they all deserve serious HoF consideration. I think that the strongest HoF case can be made for Hill (keep in mind that the Hall considers all levels of basketball, not just the NBA, so Hill's collegiate accomplishments will help him). I think that Webber's case is weakest--he was certainly a productive player but his actions brought disgrace to Michigan (vacated Final Fours) and he did not distinguish himself in clutch situations in college or the pros. I suspect that Hill will eventually be elected but probably not as soon as he is eligible, while T-Mac and C. Webb will probably have to wait a while and may never be inducted.

 
At Thursday, April 07, 2011 11:12:00 AM, Anonymous boyer said...

Ok, I see. The Basketball HOF is not all levels of basketball, not just NBA. The nba should have their own HOF. I just don't see how mullin, on nba merit alone deserves to be a HOFer. He basically only had 4 very productive years, and his teams overall performed very poorly. At least he won 3 playoff series, 3 more than T-mac.

If you include college, maybe Hill should make it, but his overall NBA career isn't exactly HOF material. Webber and T-mac probably shouldn't make it either. I mean, do any of these guys deserve to be in the HOF with guys like Wilt and Bird, etc.? I'd like to think of the HOF as extremely special, only the elite elite should be there, but that's just me.

 
At Thursday, April 07, 2011 1:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Yes, the Basketball HoF honors all levels of the game. Many people agree with you that the NBA should have its own HoF; after all, there is a college HoF and a FIBA HoF (among others) in addition to the Naismith HoF.

Mullin averaged at least 25 ppg for five straight seasons and was arguably the best small forward in the NBA in the transition period between Bird's decline and Pippen's rise. Even if you consider Mullin's NBA career not quite HoF worthy, his collegiate and Olympic careers put him over the top.

Hill actually earned more All-Star and All-NBA honors than Mullin did.

There are two main schools of thought regarding Halls of Fame; one is that only the best of the best should be enshrined (i.e. the 15-20 greatest players of all-time) while another is consistently excellent performers should be honored as well. I read an article years ago in which the author argued that the baseball HoF membership should be capped at 25, with someone being booted out before a new member is enshrined; that is an intriguing concept intended to maintain the Hall's elite status but I think that it is actually asinine if you really think about the implications: should the Hall just destroy the busts of former members and send mercenaries to confiscate those members' Hall of Fame rings?

While some people believe that various Halls have become "watered down," the reality is that only a very tiny percentage of players/coaches/contributors have been inducted in any of the majors sports' HoFs.

 
At Thursday, April 07, 2011 2:24:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

One of mullin's 25ppg+ seasons, he only played 46 games. To me, he looks like he had 4 very productive seasons, and then a few other decent seasons, with overall poor team success throughout his entire career, and maybe I'm wrong, but I think he was a pretty bad defensive player and basically was just a shooter who could score fairly well. If he was a SF, he was smaller than Kobe. I guess I have no problem saying he isn't a HOFer. He's definitely a borderline HOFer.

Actually, 15 or 20 or 25 is too small for me. I wasn't thinking that small. I mean you have to go with each era, I think. Take George Mikan for example. I don't think he would even make the cut to play in the nba today, but he's definitely got to be in the HOF, as he was dominant when he played. And I agree that whoever came up with the idea to kick people out of the HOF is rather absurd.

I'm not sure what the magic # of great or close to great seasons that you should have or if not, then how long you actually have to play in the league. Take Mark Jackson who was never great, but finished his career #2 in all time assists, now #3. I mean it's one of the main 3 stats, and he was #2 when he retired, and he played on pretty good teams for much of his career. But, I don't really think he should be in the HOF, though he seems more worthy than some other players. And you could easily replace mullin with jackson, and the 1988/1992 olympic still win rather easily

 
At Friday, April 08, 2011 6:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Depending on how you define "very productive" one could argue that Mullin had more "very productive" seasons than many other players who are already in the HoF.

Mullin was listed at 6-7, 215 for most of his career, though he may have been a bit smaller than that. He played small forward during his prime years (Mitch Richmond played shooting guard) but did swing over to shooting guard at times later in his career.

Jackson is a tough call. Ranking so highly on the career assists list is the main reason to consider him but he seems like a borderline case to me.

Mullin won gold medals with the 1984 and 1992 Olympic teams; he did not play for the 1988 squad that settled for bronze (he was in the NBA by that time and 1988 was the last year that the U.S. sent an all amateur team to the Olympics). In 1984, Mullin finished second on Team USA in scoring (behind Michael Jordan), second in steals and third in assists. In 1992, Mullin ranked fourth on the Dream Team in scoring (behind Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone), led the team in three pointers made and tied for fourth in assists; the Dream Team was so dominant that no one player--not even Jordan--was indispensable but Mullin was certainly a significant contributor.

We agree that Mullin was not on what I would call the "Pantheon" level--consisting of guys like Jordan, Bird, Dr. J, Magic, etc.--but Mullin's overall collegiate, Olympic and NBA career accomplishments make him deserving of being elected to the Hall of Fame.

 
At Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

Hey Dave,

Hall of fame bids for Tex and Artis Gilmore are much deserved. Winter and Phil Jackson brought the triangle to LA in 1999, and five subsequent Laker titles resulted. That's always made him a sentimental favorite of mine, although one can clearly see that his accomplishment as a coach alone before coming to LA merited enshrinement many years ago. Gilmore was quite a ways before me time, but I've known a bit about him since I was a kid. Well deserved, and long overdue.

I never got around to commenting it, but I enjoyed the Mark Heisler shout out in your previous post. I read that article in the LA times maybe just a couple hours earlier. I've had the pleasure of meeting Elgin Baylor before, and know him to be a very polite and friendly man. He must also have had the demeanor of Gandhi to work for someone as overtly bigoted as Donald Sterling for so many years. Just hearing someone like Jerry West rave about him 40 years later, even after seeing later gravity defying superstars like Erving, Jordan and Kobe, really speaks volumes about the kind of player he was.

One thing I was interested in hearing was your perspective on the Chicago Bulls going into the playoffs. Specifically, how do you think they would fare in potential matchups with Boston and Miami?

 
At Monday, April 11, 2011 4:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

Winter's Triangle Offense not only contributed to the Lakers' championships in the 2000s but also to the Bulls' championships in the 1990s plus Winter's success as a Division I head coach back in the 1950s.

I am glad that the Basketball Hall of Fame has finally opened its doors not only to Artis Gilmore but also (in recent years) Gus Johnson and Maurice Stokes; I wrote articles describing the greatness/HoF worthiness of each of those players. I hope that Mel Daniels and Roger Brown are voted into the Hall of Fame next year.

I will be doing a playoff preview article after the seedings/matchups are officially announced following the conclusion of the regular season.

 

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