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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Class

If you believe the mainstream media hype, Reggie Miller "headlined" the 12 member 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame class. Miller had an outstanding 18 year NBA career, scoring 25,279 regular season points while hitting many celebrated clutch shots but he earned just five All-Star selections and three All-NBA Third Team honors; he was never the best player at his position--admittedly, that would have been hard to do while spending most of his career competing against Michael Jordan--but it could also be argued that he was never the second best shooting guard in the league. With all due respect to Miller--and I greatly respect not only his accomplishments but also his extraordinary work ethic, which I witnessed firsthand late in his career when he practiced on the court by himself long before game time--it is ludicrous for Mark Jackson to suggest that Miller is the fourth greatest shooting guard in NBA history behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Miller made the All-Star team for the first time in 1990, the season during which he averaged a career-high 24.6 ppg--and yet he was no better than the fourth best shooting guard in the league that season, never mind all-time: the 1990 All-NBA shooting guards were Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Joe Dumars.

The point is not to bash Miller--placing his accomplishments in proper context should not be considered "bashing" anyway and, as I said, he had a wonderful career--but rather to bash the media for focusing so much attention on Miller that other players who are at least as deserving of praise just get shoved aside. Miller deserves credit for mentioning Mel Daniels, who he called his "uncle," but this cannot and must not just be acceptance speech lip service; Miller's platform as a recently retired player who is now a TNT broadcaster gives him tremendous influence and he should use that influence to remind viewers about the great players who built this game.

Mel Daniels won two ABA regular season MVPs, made the All-Star team seven times during his eight ABA seasons, led the Indiana Pacers to three ABA titles and is one of the greatest rebounders in professional basketball history: his 14.9 regular season rpg average ranks sixth all-time, while his 1608 playoff rebounds rank 14th on the all-time list and when he retired he trailed only Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor in that department. Daniels may be a forgotten player to younger fans but those fans need to learn the history of the game--and LeBron James set a great example by attending the Hall of Fame ceremony, which reminds me of how Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre used to attend the NBA Finals in person as young pros before they eventually won two championships together: it is vitally important to respect the past, respect the game and learn from one's great predecessors. I hope that James was at the ceremony not just as part of Phil Knight's Nike contingent but also to learn firsthand from the legends of the game.

Jim Bukata's 1973 book One on One--which may be even more forgotten than Daniels' career--contains some interesting quotes and insights. Daniels' Indiana Coach Bobby "Slick" Leonard said, "I've been around professional basketball as a player and coach for more than 20 years. Mel ranks among the top 10 centers I've seen. That includes Chamberlain and Russell and Mikan, all the great ones. Mel's the best defensive rebounder in the game today." Daniels' rebounding prowess was a key factor for those Indiana championship teams and Bukata noted that Daniels grabbed more rebounds in his first five professional seasons than anyone other than Chamberlain, Russell, Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy. Babe McCarthy, then the Coach of the Dallas Chaparrals, said, "Nobody pushes Daniels around. As far as I'm concerned, he is the second-best center in either league--behind Jabbar."

It is a travesty that Daniels had to wait almost 30 years to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame and it is very sad that some health problems prevented Daniels from attending the ceremony, limiting him to a brief video acceptance speech of less than four minutes:

Mel Daniels' Hall of Fame Speech

It is not surprising that he spent a good portion of the speech urging the Hall of Fame to recognize other worthy ABA players. Daniels is not a braggart or a self-promoter and during the times I was fortunate enough to speak with him I found him to be a no-nonsense straight talker. Jerry Colangelo deserves a lot of credit for forming the ABA Committee that selected Daniels and that honored Artis Gilmore last year.

Another player who had to wait far too long to be inducted is Chet Walker, who probably made some powerful enemies when he became a member of the "NBA 14," the group of players whose lawsuits paved the way for the free agency system that has made LeBron James and so many other current players fabulously wealthy. Walker is a successful businessman who earned an Emmy for co-producing a TV movie about Isiah Thomas' mother; Walker does not need and probably does not want charity from anyone but wouldn't it be great if James and other NBA players who have earned well in excess of $100 million each set up a fund to help out retired NBA players who have fallen on hard times? Do today's NBA stars even know anything about Bill Tosheff and the "Pre-1965ers"? Sadly, that is not the kind of story that will ever gain much traction with the so-called Worldwide Leader in Sports or--for that matter--even with the NBA's official publicity organs/media outlets.

Walker chose Isiah Thomas, Earl Monroe, Billy Cunningham and Adrian Dantley to be his presenters; Walker shares Chicago ties with Thomas, he played against Monroe, he played with and against Cunningham and he lauded Dantley for copying his moves. Walker spoke frankly and seemingly extemporaneously about his fight for free agency rights and the greatness of his 1967 Philadelphia championship team, a squad that he said has been ignored by so-called experts:

Chet Walker's Hall of Fame Speech

Julius Erving served as a 2012 presenter three times--for Ralph Sampson, Katrina McClain and the All-American Red Heads--which may be a record for one ceremony and adds to his previous total of five times as a Basketball Hall of Fame presenter. Casual fans may not fully understand just how much Erving is respected and idolized by other greats of the game but the number of times he has been selected as a presenter and the diversity of the Hall of Famers that he has presented (ranging from teammates to opponents to players who grew up watching him to great female players) demonstrates just how highly he is regarded.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:53 AM

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