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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Coaches Corner: Basketball Hall of Fame Welcomes Five Coaches--and No NBA or ABA Players

On Friday, the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its seven member 2007 class, consisting of coaches Phil Jackson, Van Chancellor, Pedro Ferrandiz, Mirko Novosel and Roy Williams, referee Mendy Rudolph and the 1966 Texas Western team that became the first squad to start five black players and win the NCAA championship. Each of the new Hall of Famers is worthy of this honor and it was enjoyable to listen to the various acceptance speeches. Jackson was the last to talk and he made a very important point: the game of basketball belongs to the players and nothing can be accomplished without them. That is what makes it so strange that the Hall of Fame did not induct a single NBA or ABA player this year.

I don't dispute the qualifications of this year's enshrinees and I don't want to in any way rain on their parades but there is no excuse for the Hall of Fame to not induct any professional players, particularly when there are many candidates who have already been overlooked for literally decades. For instance, consider Artis Gilmore, who is one of the greatest centers of all-time, a star in college, the ABA and the NBA: he is the all-time NCAA Division I career rebounding average leader (22.7 rpg) and the all-time ABA/NBA field goal percentage leader (.582). Gilmore ranks fourth in ABA/NBA career blocked shots (3178; he was third at the time I wrote the aforementioned article, but Dikembe Mutombo recently passed him) and fifth in ABA/NBA career rebounds (16,330). Other than Gilmore, the top 11 rebounders are either in the Hall of Fame or will be shortly (i.e., Karl Malone, who is not yet eligible for enshrinement).

Another player who should have been enshrined a long time ago is Roger Brown, whose pro career got off to a late start due to being wrongly blacklisted by the NBA. Brown later received a financial settlement from the league but he stayed loyal to the ABA, whose Indiana Pacers signed him when he was working for a General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio and playing AAU ball. By the time the two leagues merged, Brown had already retired, so most of the country never got to see him play. As Brown's teammate Mel Daniels--a two-time ABA MVP who also deserves Hall of Fame consideration--told me, "those who did not see Roger Brown or didn't know him, missed a treat." Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin--Hall of Famers who are also on the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--all waxed eloquently to me about Brown's unappreciated greatness. Brown and Daniels played on Indiana Pacers teams that won three championships in four years while being coached by Slick Leonard. There is no good reason that Leonard has not at least been enshrined as a contributor--he starred as a player in high school and college, played seven years in the NBA, compiled an excellent coaching record and has been a broadcaster for two decades.

I understand that the Basketball Hall of Fame recognizes accomplishments from both genders at all levels of the game from international play to college play but let's not kid ourselves: the highest level of the game is American professional basketball--the NBA and its nine year rival, the ABA--yet the Hall of Fame treats American professional players like afterthoughts at best. The ABA has basically been completely ignored except for a handful of players who "validated" their success in that league by performing well in the NBA--and Gilmore has been left out despite his prolific NCAA and NBA careers. Adrian Dantley is the 23rd leading scorer in NBA/ABA history (23,177 points; 24.3 ppg). He won two NBA scoring titles, had an outstanding NCAA career and was a member of the gold medal United States team in the 1976 Olympics, yet Dantley has been snubbed by the Hall of Fame for a decade with no end in sight. Everyone who is ahead of him on the career scoring list--other than Gilmore--is either in the Hall of Fame or a mortal lock to be enshrined when he becomes eligible.

If the Hall of Fame had snubbed Phil Jackson and his nine NBA championship rings that would probably be the end of the institution but how is it that Don Nelson has not been enshrined? In 1996, Nelson was voted as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history; seven of the other nine (including Jackson) are already in the Hall of Fame and Pat Riley will undoubtedly get the nod as soon as he becomes eligible. Nelson has won the NBA Coach of the Year award three times and ranks third in career wins.

As much as I celebrate the honor that has been justly bestowed on this year's enshrinees--and I will write a separate post just about Jackson's legacy--I cannot let this moment pass without stating that there is something very wrong with the Hall of Fame's selection process. ESPN's Marc Stein addresses this subject in a column that contains this telling quote from NBA Commissioner David Stern: "It's absolutely unacceptable, the [selection] process. It's troublesome. It doesn't even bring the NBA in in a rational way." That goes double for the ABA, which is so woefully underrepresented in the Hall of Fame that two decades of neglect may only be correctable by a special induction like what MLB did for the Negro Leagues.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:02 AM



At Saturday, September 08, 2007 11:08:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

There are so many players who should be in. Wilkes, King, Gilmore, DJ, Roger Brown and many more. Its a shame AD is not in and that the Jazz just reitred his number this past season. Thats why I say the Hall is a joke. I dont dispute the qualifications either but the game is about the players. Ive never watched a basketball game for a coach.

At Sunday, September 09, 2007 4:52:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I think all of the guys you and madnice metioned should be in the Hall of Fame. Other worthy players: Bob Dandridge, Chet Walker, Sidney Moncrief, George McGinnis, Maurice Lucas, Gus Johnson.

I don't know much about the selection process, but it seems like it may be rather political. Most of the should-be-Hall-of-Famers brought up here and elsewhere are guys who have been known to be outspoken or tough to get along with, or they played in small markets or the ABA.

It seems rather doubtful to me that the ABA will get any deserved recognition in the future, either in the form of a special HOF induction, or the NBA finally recognizing ABA stats and history. Unlike the Negro Leagues, there is nothing to explain its existance and lack of recognition as striking as segregation to make people go back and reconsider it. With every passing year, the memories of the ABA and appreciation of its players and influence will fade, and soon no one will care. It is a shame, because the more I look into it, the more I'm convinced the ABA was on par with the NBA during much of its existance.

At Sunday, September 09, 2007 5:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

There likely is some "politics" involved but since we don't know who the voters are we can only speculate about what issues they are considering.

I think that Gilmore is the most glaring omission from any major sports Hall of Fame (other than Pete Rose, who was retroactively banned from being voted in AFTER he was suspended--but that is a whole other story). Gilmore was never "outspoken" and he excelled in NCAA, ABA and NBA play. It is hard to understand how one of the all-time leaders in rebounding, shot blocking and field goal percentage is not in the Hall of Fame.

At Thursday, September 13, 2007 3:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it may be a consequence of the overblown relevance attributed to coaches these days. I don't mean that coaches are not very important, they obviously are, but the game is played by the players (hence the name).

I am not sure of foreign personalities and the Hall of Fame - Pedro Ferrándiz surely is one of the great characters that molded European basketball (and he won't miss any chance to tell anybody about it), but I am not really sure they belong in Springfield. The FIBA ought to have its own Hall of Fame.

At Thursday, September 13, 2007 4:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Ironically, according to an ESPN report that I saw, every constituent body of the HoF--NCAA, FIBA, the women's game, etc.--has its own HoF except for the NBA. A lot of people believe that it is well past time for the NBA to establish its own HoF.

Like I said in the post, I do not intend to attack the HoF worthiness of this year's inductees--but when five coaches and no NBA/ABA players are inducted something is clearly out of whack, particularly when so many very worthy players remain on the outside looking in.

At Friday, September 14, 2007 7:41:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The FIBA Hall of Fame was established earlier this year (2007), and consequently has little reputation. Specially compared to the Springfield HoF. Actually, it was Pedro Ferrándiz himself who pushed for its establishment, to biuld on the work of his basketball foundation.

I just think that the real scope for the Springfield HoF has never been really considered in terms of which countries, leagues or stages of basketball are covered. Or at least which will be the focus and which will be accessories.

At Friday, September 14, 2007 7:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I guess that explains why I had not heard much about the FIBA HoF prior to this year :)

In theory, the Naismith HoF covers all levels of the game and both genders. I think what you mean to say--and you make an excellent point--is that the Naismith HoF should make it clearer where its primary focus lies (and that such a decision should be well thought out). The steep decline in NBA/ABA players who have been enshrined in recent years suggests that the HoF has shifted its focus to the FIBA game but no such formal statement has been made, to the best of my knowledge.

At Wednesday, September 19, 2007 6:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to come back to this so late, but I just looked it up and maybe the Springfield HoF has indeed stated a preference, or focus.

Back in 1977, four players and one coach were inducted.
In 1987 it was five players.
In 1997 it was four players and three coaches.

In 2005, one player, three coaches and one contributor were inducted.
In 2006 it was three players, three coaches and one contributor.
In 2007 it's one team, one ref, five coaches and no players.

Is it just me or they are moving from players to coaches?

At Thursday, September 20, 2007 12:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I think that the Springfield HoF has been neglecting players for a number of years. Gilmore is the most egregious example but there are many others. The NBA should either form its own HoF or maybe Springfield should have two ceremonies a year, one for coaches/contributors and one for players. Like I said before, I don't want to rain on the parades of those who got inducted this year or in recent seasons but the players should receive priority or at the very least equal consideration.


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