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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.

* 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