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Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Welcomes 15 New Members and Honors Bill Russell a Second Time

The 2021 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class includes 16 inductees: NBA players Chris Bosh, Bob Dandridge, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, and Chris Webber; international player (and NBA player) Toni Kukoc; NBA coaches Rick Adelman, Cotton Fitzsimmons, and Bill Russell (who was inducted as a player in 1975); NCAA coach Jay Wright; WNBA players Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith; Clarence Jenkins (Early African-American pioneer); former WNBA Commissioner Val Ackerman; Howard Garfinkel (founder of the legendary Five-Star basketball camp); Pearl Moore (selected by the Women's Veterans Committee).

Most of the speeches were informative and/or inspirational, but I will limit my focus to just a few of the inductees.

Webber led off the festivities, speaking with great passion and eloquence about his journey, about the people who helped him along the way--including his parents and Isiah Thomas--and about how his faith buoyed him during challenging times. Webber mentioned that one of his teachers was related to Turkey Stearnes, the great Negro League baseball player from the 1920s and 1930s, and that this teacher inspired Webber by seeing potential in him that he did not yet see.

Webber is a gifted orator, but it is unfortunate that when he speaks it is advisable to have a fact checker handy. Webber stated that he never received "handouts," which may have seemed like a throwaway line to those who do not know his story, but in fact this is a bold-faced lie. If he had not told that lie during his speech then I would not discuss this right after Webber received the sport's highest honor, but Webber received more than $200,000 in cash and gifts from disgraced "booster" Ed Martin and then Webber pleaded guilty in federal district court to one count of criminal contempt after he lied about receiving that money. Lying in federal district court about receiving large sums of money illegally is not a small matter, which is why Webber's individual NCAA honors and awards were vacated, as were the University of Michigan's Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993. The NCAA also forbade the University of Michigan from having any official association with Webber for 10 years (that ban expired in 2013). Webber recently made a public claim that the current University of Michigan athletic director apologized to Webber about the school's handling of these matters, but the athletic director publicly denied apologizing to Webber. 

Webber spoke about the importance of studying history and learning lessons from history, but he appears to need a refresher course on his own history. He would have been much better served not talking about "handouts" at all instead of rewriting well-documented facts. I did not intend to bring up this subject in my Hall of Fame article, but after Webber lied any ethical and informed writer is obligated to set the record straight.

I thought that Bob Dandridge gave the best speech. Dandridge scored more points than any other player in the NBA Finals in the 1970s while being a vital performer for two championship teams (1971 Bucks, 1978 Bullets). He shared his grandmother's motto, which became a mantra for him: "Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all." He also said that his parents Dorothy and Robert provided to him and his siblings the "tools to flourish not for a short time but for a lifetime." Dandridge called his seventh grade/eighth grade coach Russell Williams the best coach that he ever had even though Dandridge received little playing time during those years. Dandridge declared that the basketball fundamentals that Williams taught to him enabled him to enjoy a long and successful NBA career. Can you imagine a modern player having such a mature and patient perspective? 

Dandridge is justifiably proud of the education that he received--in life, not just basketball--at Norfolk State University during a time when HBCUs provided opportunities that black athletes could not obtain at larger, better known institutions.

Dandridge noted that some people said that he played as if he had a chip on his shoulder, but he explained that during his era he faced the likes of Connie Hawkins, Elgin Baylor, and other Hall of Famers almost every game, and there was no "time management" (he clearly meant to say "load management") during his career. Battling against Hall of Famers on a regular basis required focus and a serious disposition.

Dandridge acknowledged that it took decades for him to finally be inducted, but he made it clear that he feels no bitterness: "You all know I've had to wait a little while, but there's been so much growth inside of me that I am real grateful for the wait. I've had a chance to be a better father, I've had a chance to be a better person." Dandridge concluded, "Things happen in God's time."

Dandridge mentioned that he and fellow Hall of Famer Alex English helped develop the NBA's rookie orientation program that has been in place since 1994. I hope that all young NBA players take seriously the messages and wisdom provided by Dandridge and English.

I am always impressed when a player who is not from the United States and did not grow up speaking English as his primary language is able to give a Hall of Fame induction speech in English. Croatian Toni Kukoc--a European basketball legend who also played a key role for three of Chicago's NBA championship teams--spoke flawless English as he described his basketball journey. Kukoc was presented by Michael Jordan and Jerry Reinsdorf. Scottie Pippen was not at the ceremony, but in prerecorded remarks Pippen said that the Bulls would not have won the 1996-98 titles without Kukoc. Kukoc praised both Jordan and Pippen for first kicking his butt in the 1992 Olympics--inspiring Kukoc to work on his game even more--and then welcoming him to the Bulls just a few years later.

Ben Wallace's speech was shorter and less well-structured than most of the other speeches, but that takes nothing away from his accomplishments. Like Dandridge, he is an HBCU product (Virginia Union), but he is the only undrafted player to be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Four-time Defensive Player of the Year Wallace was the heart and soul of Detroit's 2004 championship team.

Paul Pierce seemed to enjoy the moment as much as any inductee ever, taking selfies on stage during Friday night's ceremonies and reveling in the opportunity on Saturday to both thank his supporters and tweak his doubters--most notably each of the nine teams that did not draft him, and Pierce made a point of mentioning them all by name, bringing to mind Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech and the meme about various things that Jordan "took personally."

During an NBA TV interview prior to the induction ceremony, Pierce mentioned Steve Smith, Jimmy Jackson, and Grant Hill as role models after whom he modeled his game. I am not sure that I see the Hill comparison--Hill was a lanky, explosive athlete, while Pierce was bulkier and more ground-bound--but I definitely can see how Pierce borrowed elements of his game from Smith and Jackson, two players who scored based more on craftiness and fundamentals than athleticism.

Chris Bosh gave the evening's final speech, but it was well worth the wait to hear his intelligent and heartfelt perspective. He has long struck me as an athlete who is too smart and thoughtful to be well understood by most media members and fans, and this disconnect has sadly resulted in making Bosh the target of unfounded criticism. Bosh alluded to this when he talked about the memes about him crying after his Miami Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals. Bosh admitted that he cried after many painful defeats, dating back to when he played youth basketball. Bosh cried not because he is soft or weak--it is ridiculous to consider crying to be a sign of weakness--but because he loves the game so much and cares so much about performing at a high level. Bosh described the tears he has shed during his life as the water that fed his growth as a player and as a person.

Bosh began his speech with a story about Pat Riley, who joined Ray Allen as Bosh's presenters. Bosh recalled that when he met with Riley during the 2010 free agency period Riley took all of his championship rings out of a velvet bag, placed them on a table, and told Bosh to take one to keep until they won a ring together. Bosh considered that to be quite a bold offer, since Bosh had not yet even agreed to sign with Riley's Heat. Bosh took the ring, and he admitted that he was waiting for the perfect time to give it back. Bosh turned to Riley on the Hall of Fame stage, and handed the ring back to him.

Bosh spoke about how great it was to be in a room filled with his heroes, but added that he also thought a lot about the people who were not there--most notably, Kobe Bryant. Bosh said that as one of the younger players on the 2008 Team USA squad he sought to make a big impression by getting up earlier than anyone else. Bosh set his alarm for 6 a.m., went to the team breakfast--and saw that Bryant was already there, icing his knees after working out. Bosh noted that this was just days after Bryant's Lakers had lost in the NBA Finals, and Bosh admitted that he was still exhausted even though his season had ended weeks earlier. He found Bryant's dedication and energy to be remarkable, and Bosh said that from this he learned that legends are defined not by success but by how they bounce back from failure. This is yet another great example of how a Pantheon-level player like Bryant is better appreciated by his peers than by media members, "stat gurus," and fans who lack the knowledge and life experience to understand what it takes to reach an elite level.

Bosh concluded by talking about how a potentially life-threatening medical condition ended his playing career when he was just 31, and he said that his career and life demonstrate how a person can "turn setbacks into strengths."

Bill Russell joins John Wooden, Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens, and Tommy Heinsohn as the only people inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame as players and as coaches. Russell won two NBA titles as a coach, both times as a player-coach when he was the best player on the team (1968-69 Boston Celtics). His NBA coaching record when he was not playing was 179-207 (.464). The latter mark is not impressive or Hall of Fame caliber, but it may not be fair to divide Russell's coaching career this way: other coaches have had Hall of Fame players but not won championships, and the reality is that Russell did a great job not only "coaching" himself but also coaching an aging roster to two championships in three years, capping off a playing career during which Russell led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Perhaps it may have been more appropriate to honor Russell as a contributor than as a coach. Russell was the first African-American coach to win an NBA title and he has indisputably made many contributions to the game as a player, coach, commentator, and activist. He also had to answer perhaps the most stupid and offensive question ever uttered at an NBA press conference, as shown in the archival career montage footage: after Russell was hired as the Celtics' coach, one media member--I wish this person was identified by name--asked Russell if he could coach white players without prejudice, and after Russell immediately answered "Yes" the media member doubled down by retorting, "How?" Russell calmly explained that basketball is based on mutual respect for each player's abilities. 

Russell attended the ceremony in person, but was only able to go on stage by using a cane and having the assistance of his presenters. He did not speak live, but instead provided brief, recorded remarks. Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Walton, and Rick Welts presented Russell. During his recorded statement, Russell lamented that David Stern and Kobe Bryant passed away and could not be his presenters as well. 

Barkley presented three of the 2021 inductees (Cotton Fitzsimmons, Bill Russell, Jay Wright), but he still has a long way to go to catch up with how many times Erving has been a presenter. The official records for Hall of Fame presenters only go back to 2001 (which is an odd limitation for an organization that is supposed to be dedicated to preserving and honoring basketball history), but there is good reason to believe that no one has been a Hall of Fame presenter more often than Erving. Here is the list of each time that I can confirm that Erving has been a Hall of Fame presenter. During his 1997 Hall of Fame speech, English explained that he selected Erving to be his presenter because, "Julius Erving has always been one of my idols, and what I consider and feel that all NBA players should model themselves after. He's been a great athlete, great player, a great statesman for the game, and a great ambassador."

A person must be a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee to be a presenter. Erving was inducted in 1993.

Julius Erving as Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Presenter

1994: None
1995: Presented Cheryl Miller
1996: None
1997: Presented Alex English
1998-2000: None
2001: Presented Moses Malone
2002-2003: None
2004: Presented Clyde Drexler
2005: None
2006: Presented Dominique Wilkins
2007-2010: None
2011: Presented Artis Gilmore
2012: Presented Katrina McClain, Ralph Sampson and the All-American Red Heads
2013-2014: None
2015: Presented John Calipari
2016: Presented Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal
2017: None
2018: Presented Maurice Cheeks and Charlie Scott
2019: Presented Chuck Cooper and Bobby Jones
2020: None
2021: Bill Russell

Fitzsimmons, Jenkins, and Garfinkel are posthumous inductees. It is fair to wonder why each of them was not inducted a long time ago. Fitzsimmons won the NBA Coach of the Year award twice (1979, 1989), and he ranks 16th in NBA history with 832 regular season coaching wins. Fitzsimmons ranked seventh in regular season coaching wins when he retired in 1997, and it is sad that he did not receive this honor until 17 years after he passed away. Jenkins was a key player on dominant teams during the pre-NBA era. Jenkins passed away in 1968. Garfinkel's Five-Star basketball camp was a fertile training ground for players and coaches alike. Garfinkel passed away in 2016 at the age of 86. His Five-Star basketball camp was active from 1966 through 2008, reportedly producing over 600 NBA players and more than 10,000 Division I players.

Articles About Recent Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies:

Kobe Bryant Headlines the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Class of 2020) 

The Basketball Hall of Fame Welcomes A Diverse Class of 12 Inductees (Class of 2019)

Thoughts and Observations About the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony (Class of 2018)

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:31 AM



At Monday, September 13, 2021 8:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Ben Wallace and rooted for those Pistons, but he is not a Hall of Famer

At Monday, September 13, 2021 11:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Who would you say was the best/most dominant player on Detroit's 2004 championship team, and on the Detroit teams that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals each year from 2003-2008?

Whether or not one considers Ben Wallace to be a Hall of Famer depends on how one defines what a Hall of Famer is (or should be). I remember reading an article about the Baseball Hall of Fame in which the author proposed that the Hall of Fame should be capped at 25, and no one should be enshrined without removing someone else. That is an extreme take on the elitist view that some people have of Halls of Fame. Other people seem like they would put anyone who made one All-Star team into the Hall of Fame. I don't subscribe to either of those extreme views.

At Thursday, September 16, 2021 12:08:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

it is only natural for Hall of Fame to grow with time and I wouldn't put there anyone who happened to get to All-Star Team, but I would put any great and unusual accomplishment in regards to basketball to remember, even such as non-drafted player being key member of championship team

At Saturday, September 18, 2021 10:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as Anonymous from the earlier post:
those Detroit teams were ensembles, featuring Ben's D/rebounding alongside scoring from Chauncey, Rip, Tayshaun and Sheed -- the latter two also contributing big on D and Sheed with boards. The team doesn't win without any of those 5 players (and perhaps Coach Brown in '04).

Ben wasn't even on the 2007 or 2008 Piston teams. His Chicago team in '07 got bounced in the 2nd round in the East.

He lacked any real offense. Though Rodman didn't put up much numbers on offense, the difference is he won 5 rings and averaged 13 boards a game versus Ben's 9.6. (Also, in big games, Dennis sometimes scored and got votes for the '96 Finals MVP.)

Again, I really liked Ben's game and those Detroit teams, but to make it to the Hall without offense takes a rare bird -- and Ben simply can't hold a candle to Dennis (no one really can, in the defense/boards category). I just don't see it.

For that matter, among historical Pistons, Bill Laimbeer won 2 rings, put up very significant offensive numbers (career 12.9ppg with 4 seasons over 15ppg) and had 9.7 rpg (vs Ben's 9.6), https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/l/laimbbi01.html. There's a very strong argument for Laimbeer's being enshrined (perhaps lacks votes b/c viewed as a dirty player?) -- and much stronger than Ben's IMO.

Not to take anything away from Ben, but Laimbeer has a much stronger case, and I don't think Ben really is a HOFer.


At Sunday, September 19, 2021 9:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I know that Ben Wallace was not a member of all six Detroit teams that advanced to the ECF from 2003-08--but he was a key member of the 2004 championship team, and the 2005 team that returned to the NBA Finals. My point was to elicit your opinion about which player was most important to Detroit's success during that era. When Coach Brown left and the Pistons did not retain Ben Wallace, I predicted at that time that the Pistons would not return to the NBA Finals, even though many "experts" considered them to still be the best team in the East.

I agree that the Pistons from that era had an ensemble cast, and I would also agree with the notion that none of their best players even approaches Pantheon status. That being said, Ben Wallace won two rebounding titles, averaged at least 10 rpg for seven straight seasons, and won four Defensive Player of the Year awards.

His career averages are distorted a bit because he received little playing time during the first 100 or so games of his career, and because he stuck around a season or two too long, but in his prime he was a dominant rebounder and defensive player.

Wallace does not have to be better than Rodman or Laimbeer to be a worthy Hall of Famer; he does not have to be the best player in the Hall of Fame, and somebody has to be the "worst" player in the Hall of Fame (not saying that Wallace is the "worst," but just pointing out that if a player meets the criteria then he should be selected, even if there are better players who are already in the Hall).

Of course, part of the problem is that there are no official, publicly defined standards for Hall of Fame induction. I consider Ben Wallace to be a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Regarding Laimbeer, his prime rebounding years were comparable to Ben Wallace's. Laimbeer was a better scorer, and a much better shooter, but he was not nearly as good defensively. Wallace was the best defensive player in the NBA for several seasons. Laimbeer was never the best defensive player at his position, let alone being the best defensive player in the entire league. Laimbeer's deserved reputation as a dirty player no doubt hurts his HoF candidacy, but even if you just look at his numbers and impact alone I don't see him as a HoFer. Laimbeer may have a fringe HoF case, but I disagree that he has a "much stronger case" than Ben Wallace.

At Tuesday, September 21, 2021 3:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as Anonymous from the earlier post:
those are all reasonable points, but I think longevity is a factor too -- considering how forgettable his Bulls years were. HoF is not science. And, for me, it just doesn't feel like he's quite on the level of what HoF should be. but reasonable minds can disagree

At Tuesday, September 21, 2021 5:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that longevity is a factor, but Ben Wallace had a significant run as an elite defender and rebounder. If he had retired early instead of playing those forgettable years with the Bulls would that change your opinion of Wallace? Subpar seasons at the end of a career do not diminish the impact of that player's great seasons.

I evaluate players primarily based on their peak value--how they performed when they were at their best. Of course, a player with a high peak value for 10 years should be ranked higher than a player with a high peak value for five years, so I factor in longevity as well. Consider Dr. J: he won four regular season MVPs and he was a perennial MVP candidate for the first 12-13 years of his career, so that combination of high peak value (four MVPs, several other top five finishes) and longevity (he was not just an MVP candidate for a season or two) is a major reason why he belongs in the Pantheon. Contrast this with Steve Nash. Nash won two MVPs, but even disregarding the strong arguments that could be made that he did not deserve to win either one it is worth noting that during most of his career he was not considered an MVP contender even by those voters who were generous enough to give him two MVPs. So, to me Nash is a HoFer because he played at a high level during a long career, but he is not even close to Pantheon status, and I did not put him on my 50 Greatest Players List, either.

A lot of the HoF conversations revolve around how each of us perceives the HoF, even if that is not explicitly mentioned in the conversation. A person who believes that the HoF should be reserved for MVP winners or multiple MVP winners or perennial MVP candidates is not going to consider Wallace to be a HoFer. That is why I created my Basketball Pantheon--those 14 players are the elite of the elite, a cut above even "ordinary" HoFers (such as Wallace). I have no problem with Wallace being in the HoF, but I would agree with anyone who says that Wallace is not in the same category as the Pantheon-level players. The question then becomes, "Should the HoF only induct players who are Pantheon-level or very close to Pantheon-level?" I think that there is a deserved place in the HoF for guys like Wallace (and Dandridge and Pierce, to cite other 2021 inductees) who had an impact during their time but did not approach the Pantheon level.

At Wednesday, September 22, 2021 8:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as Anonymous from the earlier post:
one final point: Ben had a career FT% of 41%, a single-season BEST of 49% FT and other seasons of 41% and 42% during his Pistons tenure, not to mention some sub-40% years sprinkled in. Not sure how much teams employed hack-a-Ben -- and, if not more, why not. But this is a major "skill set" deficiency in an area where improvement should be attainable. If a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, then this is a real problem with his game. Anyway HoF is mostly marketing and very personal

At Thursday, September 23, 2021 1:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In general, I agree that every player should do everything possible to improve in all skill set areas. Also, it appears that Ben Wallace has the lowest career free throw percentage of anyone selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as an NBA player. Of course, it would have been ideal for Wallace to at least lift his FT% to .600. However, he was not selected to the Hall of Fame based on shooting skill or offensive prowess; he was selected to the Hall of Fame based on defense, rebounding, and impact on winning. It is difficult to argue that he did not excel in each of those three areas.

Regarding intentional fouling, I am skeptical of the value of the strategy in general. It may make sense on a particular possession based on score, time, and personnel on the court, but a team that repeatedly intentionally fouls an opposing player will (1) put the opposing team into the bonus, (2) get their own players into foul trouble, and (3) enable the opposing team to set up their half court defense. Think about it this way: if a team normally scores a little more than one point per possession, and intentionally fouling shaves one or two tenths of a point off of that, is that marginal gain worth incurring the disadvantages that I listed? Further, the team who is shooting all of those free throws may get an offensive rebound or two, which provides additional opportunities to score (or attempt more free throws). I cannot think of an important game which was decided in favor of a team that repeatedly intentionally fouled a poor free throw shooter; I am not talking about intentionally fouling on just one key possession, or intentionally fouling to prevent a player from getting an easy dunk.

Ben Wallace's single game high for free throw attempts was 22. I would assume that he was intentionally fouled at some point, because he is not a big enough offensive threat to draw that many fouls any other way. He shot 7-22 from the free throw line, but he also had 12 rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots, and a +13 plus/minus number in a 109-101 win over the L.A. Clippers (December 11, 2005 Pistons versus Clippers). Those Clippers were coached by Mike Dunleavy, who was known to employ the intentional fouling strategy, particularly when his team was trailing. A glance at the play by play sheet for that game shows that Wallace shot 5-20 on free throws in the fourth quarter. Daniel Ewing scored six meaningless points in the final 50 seconds to make the game seem closer than it was, but even with Wallace missing all of those free throws the Clippers trailed by double digits for most of the fourth quarter. Wallace rebounded one of his missed free throws and then got an assist on a made three pointer by Chauncey Billups.

Statistics from one regular season game may not mean much in the larger scheme of things, but Wallace's teams went 5-0 in playoff series during which he shot worse than .300 from the free throw line (I am not including his three series with the 2009 Cavs during which he did not play much, but if you really want to know then the Cavs went 2-1 despite him shooting 0-6 from the free throw line in those series).

At Thursday, September 23, 2021 11:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how does a missed FT "enable the opposing team to set up their half court defense"?
--Anonymous from this string

At Friday, September 24, 2021 12:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not say that a missed FT enables the opposing team to set up their half court defense. I said that repeatedly using the intentional fouling strategy enables the opposing team (i.e., the team being fouled) to set up their half court defense.

If you can get a defensive stop without intentionally fouling, then you can rebound the ball and have a fastbreak advantage before the opposing team can set up their defense. However, if you intentionally foul then the opposing team can immediately station two players on defense. The player being intentionally fouled can retreat after he shoots the second free throw, and thus there are already three players back on defense. The team that is shooting could even place two guards (instead of two big men) on the free throw lane so that they are already in position to play full court pressure defense. This works better if the intentionally fouled player makes the second free throw and forces the fouling team to inbound but even if he misses there is unlikely to be a scoring opportunity in transition. Intentionally fouling is a great way for a team to shut down their own easy scoring opportunities.

Thus, even if fouling Ben Wallace limited the Pistons to one point per possession, the other team may struggle to get one point per possession on offense. The Clippers game cited above is a small sample size, but essentially that is what happened: Wallace shot a bunch of free throws, missed most of them, and the Clippers obtained no advantage.

If you or anyone else can find an example of an NBA team winning a game while using the intentional fouling strategy for an extended time--not just selectively on one or two possessions, when it might make sense depending on time/score/personnel--I would be interested to see it. I remember seeing Dunleavy's various teams intentionally fouling on a few occasions, but I don't recall it ever working, nor do I recall it working for any other team. Dunleavy has said that the math favors the intentional fouling strategy, and I know that he is a smart guy, but I respectfully disagree with him regarding the overall math here; he is only thinking about the free throw percentage and points per possession for the opposing team but not how intentional fouling disrupts the overall game flow and negatively affects his team. I was rooting for Portland during Scottie Pippen's time with the Blazers, and I could not stand it every time Dunleavy resorted to intentional fouling. I recall that the Portland players did not seem thrilled with the strategy, but I am not sure if they publicly spoke out against it.

You could also further argue that intentional fouling instills a defeatist mindset--"We can't stop the other team, so let's foul their worst free throw shooter and hope for the best"--and I think that is a valid argument, but one whose value is difficult to quantify. I made a good argument against the intentional fouling strategy even without resorting to analyzing its psychological impact, though I do think that psychology is important in sports.

At Tuesday, September 28, 2021 12:22:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

I completely agree with your overall thoughts about the intentional fouling strategy and think it's a gimmick that's just more frustrating than anything else. That being said, I was at Game 5 of the 2015 first round series between the Spurs and Clippers. Popovich, who is notorious for using this strategy, utilized it against DeAndre Jordan in the third quarter. The Spurs were actually up 63-62 at 5:22 in the third when they started fouling him and went up 72-67 at 3:26 when Jordan was taken out of the game for Glen Davis. Jordan went 5-10 from the line during this stretch and shot 7-16 (.438) from the line for the game. The Spurs did end up winning the game 111-107 although they ultimately lost the series in seven games. This is in no way a defense of the strategy as Popovich's decision to utilize it combined with the Spurs winning the game may have been purely coincidental. I will say that I was with my dad at the game and neither of us had ever seen the strategy used up close and in person and we found the absurdity of it to be hilarious.

At Tuesday, September 28, 2021 4:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As your story indicates, the few possessions during which Popovich utilized the intentional fouling strategy in this game did not have a significant impact on the outcome. A two minute stretch is such a small sample size that one cannot draw broad conclusions, anyway.

Intentional fouling makes sense in certain specific situations, such as a team is up by three with less than 10 seconds left and the worst free throw shooter on the opposing team gets an offensive rebound in prime dunking position. There are other situations in which the strategy makes sense on a limited basis, but I disagree with the notion that a team can greatly increase its chances to win just by repeatedly fouling Ben Wallace or other poor free throw shooters; the previous commenter in this thread who derided Ben Wallace seemed to take the position that Ben Wallace's poor free throw shooting made him a huge liability. Obviously, it would be preferable if Wallace had been a better free throw shooter, but his positive contributions far outweighed his poor free throw shooting (which, of course, is not true of every poor free throw shooter).

At Tuesday, September 28, 2021 5:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I'd agree with your overall consensus about intentional fouling having a lot of drawbacks. However, I don't think using the small sample size argument is that relevant here since you cannot continue intentional fouling for very long in a game or else you'll have no players left to play. It's always done on a small scale. The previous poster mentioned LAC taking out Jordan. That's a huge advantage for the team fouling as the opposing head coaches often will take out this key player of theirs since he can't hit his FTs. Also, the team doing this is usually the underdog and losing, and will lose regardless. The strategy of fouling is Plan B or Plan C or even lower, and worth a try as their initial plan isn't working and will not likely work. Even for a minute or two, this could pay dividends and often has. The question is, will not enough? And I don't think you can just look at the final outcome. For example, if you're down 10 and/or will lose by 10-15(speculation), and you end up losing by 5; then I'd say it worked, just not enough for the win. There's other issues with your team that are too big to overcome. It's hard for me to believe that so many coaches will utilize their strategy for even small amounts of time if not's working at all or backfiring on them. I think it's at least worth a try for 1-2 possessions depending on score, situation in game, and each teams' personnel.

I don't agree with Wallace being that much of a liability. Other great bigs like Russell, Wilt, and Shaq were terrible FT shooters, too.

At Tuesday, September 28, 2021 5:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, if you're going to count both MVPs and both champions during the ABA years including the year Erving/McGinnis tied, then we need to continue counting every team that loses in the Finals as champions and every player who finishes top 3 in MVP voting as MVP as well. Regardless of how one thinks about the ABA, this is very misleading.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 12:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The small sample size argument is relevant because Anonymous wrote in this thread about Ben Wallace: "Not sure how much teams employed hack-a-Ben -- and, if not more, why not. But this is a major "skill set" deficiency in an area where improvement should be attainable. If a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, then this is a real problem with his game." My point is that "Hack a Ben" or, more broadly, the strategy of intentionally fouling for an extended period of time, is not as effective as Anonymous suggests. In certain special situations, intentionally fouling makes sense; you could argue that it makes sense to do so when up by three points with less than three seconds remaining even if the fouled player is a great free throw shooter. So, I am being careful to distinguish selective and situational fouling from "Hack a Ben" intentional fouling that results in the hacked player shooting 10, 15, 20 free throws or more while the fouling team gets in foul trouble, puts the other team in the penalty, and shuts down their own easy scoring opportunities. If anyone can provide an example of intentional fouling on a repeated basis working then I would be interested to see it/read about it.

You have shifted the goal posts a bit (pardon the mixed sports metaphor) by asserting that intentional fouling makes sense for an underdog team that has already determined that Plans A and B did not work. Whether or not you are right about this, you are not addressing the point about Ben Wallace's poor free throw shooting supposedly being a major liability for his team. I agree that Wallace (and every player) should work on skill set weaknesses, but I don't see evidence that his free throw shooting outweighed his positive contributions. At the end of your comment, you agree with me about that point.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 12:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The NFL "counts" AFL statistics, championships and award winners. Joe Namath is credited in the NFL record book as the first player to pass for more than 4000 yards in a season even though he did that in the AFL. When the NBA and ABA merged, the statistics, championships, and award winners should have also merged, but instead the NBA tried to write the ABA out of history, much like the NBA today refuses to pay equitable pensions to ABA players. Every time I hear "The NBA Cares" I feel ill when I think about Chinese detention camps, ABA players whose pensions are not properly funded by the NBA, and a host of other examples that the NBA "cares" mainly about profits.

Regarding the MVPs, it would be a shame to not count the MVP winners from the weaker league. That would not be fair to Kareem, McAdoo, and others, but we saw after the merger during the NBA Finals, the NBA All-Star Game, and on the statistical leaderboard that the smaller, financially less solvent ABA had superior top end talent, including Erving, Malone, Gervin, Thompson, Gilmore, and a host of others (not to mention the great ABA players whose bodies had broken down before the merger, including Mel Daniels and Roger Brown).

Also, keep in mind that Major League Baseball has two leagues that each crown their own champions, MVPs and statistical leaders. Why can't pro basketball have a nine year period in which two leagues crowned their own champions, MVPs, and statistical leaders?

You may say that each season should only have one MVP but, as you noted, the ABA had co-MVPs in 1975, and other leagues have had co-MVPs, co-Rookies of the Year, etc.

The NBA got the three point shot and the Slam Dunk Contest from the ABA. The NBA should be celebrating the ABA, not just using ABA logos to sell apparel while refusing to officially acknowledge ABA statistics and refusing to honor ABA pensions that were supposed to be fully funded after the merger.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 10:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't commenting what the other guy, I was commenting on your small sample size argument. And I wasn't specifically talking about last 3 or last 10 seconds of a game, etc. Even if you do it for just 3-5 possessions in the 2nd quarter, for example, and this strategy ends up giving you a 2-5+ point advantage, then it worked, regardless if your team won the game or not. We often get caught up in just looking at final outcomes. There's so many minor (and major) things influence the outcomes. But, lots of time strategies work even when your team ultimately loses.

I'm not shifting anything. We're talking about intentional fouling as a strategy. The reasons for it are important. I also never said Ben's FT shooting was a major liability, but it's definitely a minor liability, and has cost his teams win before.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 10:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fully understand some of the hypocritical problems with the NBA. You mention other leagues, which might have some relevancy, and might not. MLB's leagues, until recently, had different sets of rules and there wasn't interleague play.

I wasn't saying you can't have 2 MVPS and they shouldn't be counted, though ABA MVPs are ABA, and NBA MVPs are NBA-different leagues. We still need to understand the differences.

What I'm talking about is that if you're going to count multiple MVPS and multiple title teams for a 9-year span, then you need to do the same thing every year. If not, this is being inconsistent.

A player who has 3 top 2-3 MVP finishes, for example, but never wins is a 0-MVP award winner. But if we're going to credit 2-3 guys with MVPs every year, that same guy becomes a 3x MVP award winner. That player goes from low or mid-level HOFer to borderline pantheon player at the very least just from the way we view MVPs. I'm wondering how many 3x MVP winners aren't in your pantheon?

I'm not necessarily saying Erving shouldn't be in the pantheon (he probably should), but if you limit MVPs/title teams to 1 every year, how many does he win of each from 74-76? Those are the questions you need to ask. Because his accolades solely in the NBA post 76 are nowhere enough for pantheon status.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 11:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The small sample size point is connected to the other Anonymous' contention that Ben Wallace's free throw shooting was so poor that it cost his team wins. If the intentional fouling strategy works, at best, for only a small number of situations and can only be effectively applied in brief spurts then it is very doubtful (and impossible to prove) that Wallace's free throw shooting cost his team wins. The larger point here is that it makes no sense to isolate one weakness of one player and say that is the main or sole determinant of victory or defeat. Yes, Wallace was a poor free throw shooter, yes, he should have improved that part of his game, and yes, it is possible that his poor free throw shooting had a negative impact on his team's likelihood of success at some point--but there was an extended period of time during which Wallace was an elite rebounder and defender, and those two positive skill set traits had a demonstrable impact on winning, because the Pistons were not a high-powered offensive team so they relied on defense and rebounding to win.

Use round numbers and call Wallace a .400 free throw shooter. Foul him on every possession and the Pistons score .8 points per possession (.400 times two free throws), not even counting offensive rebounds and other plays that could add to that total. The intentional fouling puts the opposing team in the bonus (unless they do it very selectively, which is NOT what we are talking about here in connection with Wallace), and also negatively affects their ability to score in the open court because the shooting team will always have at least two players back on defense.

I cannot recall a game in which a team intentionally fouled for an extended stretch and profited from doing so. Of course, it may make sense to intentionally foul when up by three points with just a few seconds remaining, or when the alternative is that a poor free throw shooter dunks the ball--but those situations are NOT what the original Anonymous was asserting or implying. He said that Wallace was such a bad free throw shooter that the opposing team should have just intentionally fouled him on a repeated basis. My point is that such a strategy would not work, and I cannot think of an example of it ever working.

Bill Russell is the greatest individual winner in the history of North American team sports, and he was a lousy free throw shooter. Wilt Chamberlain was the best player on two of the most dominant single season teams in NBA history, and he was a lousy free throw shooter. Shaquille O'Neal won three Finals MVPs and four championships despite being a lousy free throw shooter. Free throw shooting is important, and it would not be good if an entire team shot poorly, or even if the team's primary ball handlers shot poorly, but it is a proven fact that the dominant big man on a championship team does not even have to be an average free throw shooter.

At Wednesday, September 29, 2021 11:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure what you are proposing involving the counting of MVPs, but I cannot think of a way to make your argument make sense. All of the MVPs must be counted because they all happened. It's that simple. Those MVPs are historical facts, just like it is a historical fact that Joe Namath set the single season passing record that the NFL recognized (until it was later broken) even though Namath played in the AFL when he set the record, and it is a historical fact that every MLB season crowns two league MVPs who have equal status (in 1979, the NL had co-MVPs, so MLB had three league MVPs that year).

Someone who finished second in MVP voting is not an MVP winner. That should not be hard to understand. Julius Erving won three ABA MVPs (sharing 1975 honors with future teammate George McGinnis). Erving was the best player in a professional league equal to, if not superior to, the NBA. So, we count all of the MVPs, place everything that happened in historical context, and we make our judgments. For reasons that I have stated at length in other articles, I rank Erving and his MVPs much higher than I rank many other MVPs, particularly some of the questionable MVPs that have been awarded in the past 20-25 years.

Look at some footage of Erving circa 1971-76. Check out the speed, the jumping ability, the passing, the rebounding, and the better than most people realize outside shot. Picture that player playing under today's rules and in the style of play favored today. That Erving is putting up 30-35 ppg, 10-12 rpg, and 5 apg--easily. He is also averaging at least 2 spg and at least 2 bpg while shooting over .500 from the field. He is attempting at least 8-10 free throws a game, and he is shooting .780-.800 from the free throw line. During Erving's ABA prime, Pete Axthelm called Erving perhaps the greatest player of all-time. Later, Axthelm asserted that Erving had made more clutch shots than any recent player other than Larry Bird. Charles Barkley jokes that if he played today he would be paid so much money he would be arriving at games in a spaceship. If prime Erving played today, he would own a fleet of spaceships.

It would be a tremendous injustice to just act like nearly one third of Erving's career did not take place. That would be like taking away two of Larry Bird's championships, or two of Magic Johnson's championships.

If you have read all of my Pantheon series articles then you know that I took into account a player's skill set, awards, and impact. Jerry West never won an MVP, but he was a perennial MVP candidate and perennial member of the All-NBA First Team. He played in the same era as several other Pantheon members, so I am not foolish enough to pretend that Steve Nash with his two incorrectly awarded MVPs is near West's level. The same can be said for James Harden's MVP and his numerous second place finishes.

Perhaps you view MVPs differently than I do. I do not just count MVPs and then rank players based on how many MVPs they won. Nash won two MVPs that should have gone to better and bigger players who had more impact, and we can tell that those MVPs were fluky because Nash had a long, consistent career during which he was only voted as an MVP candidate in three seasons.

At Thursday, September 30, 2021 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the other poster was asserting for the opposing team to Hack-a-Ben for the entire game. That's not feasible. When intentional fouling is done, it's done no more than 7-8x tops, if that, except for rare occasions. Usually, the poor FT shooter's coach takes that player out of the game before it happens too much. So, while you make good points about intentional fouling not being a great strategy potentially, there is one big advantage for it if the opposing coach takes that key player out of the game.

If Wallace only shot .400 during Hack-a-Ben, even with potential offensive rebounds, etc., that'd still be an advantage for opposing teams.

What's an extended stretch for you? 5 possessions? 7? 10? 20? As I mentioned previously, I don't think the final outcome is necessarily relevant to evaluate if the intentional fouling strategy worked. Even if a coach wants to for 10+ possessions, the opposing team will take out their poor FT shooter. Even if it's done mid-game for 2-3 possessions only, if you gain even just 1-2 points from it, then it worked as a strategy. These are the little differences that might be needed to win.

At Thursday, September 30, 2021 12:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused why you don't get it. And let's keep it to the NBA. The other leagues are separate and irrelevant.

Nobody said not to count both ABA/NBA MVPs. You want to credit 2-3 players with MVP status and 2 teams with title status from 68-76. That's fine if you want to do that. But, then you're only crediting 1 player and 1 team post 76. Think about it. You're giving players/teams from 68-76 twice the chance for these accolades. You really don't understand the inconsistency here?

Nobody said not to count Erving's ABA years. Though you give way too much credit to that era compared to today. I've seen numerous videos from that era, including celtics/lakers with baylor, west, wilt, russell, etc. It looks like slow motion compared to today. The defense was atrocious compared to today. Players much smaller on average and definitely less athletic/skilled. Always a few exceptions, but I don't see it.

I understand Nash and he didn't deserve any MVPs though you could make cases for him. If the league was split in 2 during those 2 years he won like when Erving was in the ABA, Nash would've likely at least made the Finals at least once. These are the things we need to remember. Erving also lost to a 32-52 team 4-1 in the 1st round of the playoffs in 1975. So, I think you're overrating him a bit. I also don't see West ever winning an MVP regardless of era if voting was always competent, which it wasn't always great when players voted either. Small guards like him don't truly lead teams to titles either. I don't like Wade much, but I have hard time putting West ahead of Wade. West seems to get more credit for playing like a weak era with much fewer teams; and also have stacked teams for himself to play on almost every year. Curry is maybe the closest example, for a small player leading teams to titles but he was never better than 3rd best player in any Finals he played and usually wore down and got injured in the playoffs many years.

At Thursday, September 30, 2021 6:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There is a difference between using the intentional fouling strategy on one key possession (up by three, less than five seconds remaining) or even for one specific situation (foul a bad free throw shooter every time he is in dunking range to avoid giving up the easy two points) versus fouling for "7 or 8" possessions. If you do the latter, you are giving up 14 or 16 free unguarded shots per game. Even if your expectation is that the fouled player is going to convert on half of those shots or less, those are still unguarded shots--and you are doing this while putting your team in the penalty, putting at least some players in foul trouble, shutting down your own fast break, and probably disrupting your own half court offense. I disagree with anyone who believes that seven or eight intentional fouls is a better approach than playing solid defense on those possessions and forcing the opposing team to shoot seven or eight contested shots. The notion that having one bad free throw shooter on a team is a major liability at the NBA level is refuted by the championship success of, among others, Russell, Chamberlain, Shaq, and even Wallace himself (though Wallace is the only one-time NBA champion in that group).

A coach who understands this big picture is not likely to take his poor free throw shooter out of the game, unless that poor free throw shooter is very weak psychologically, is not contributing in other areas, or is scheduled to come out anyway.

Again, if anyone can provide an example of a team using the intentional fouling strategy to positive effect (which does not even have to mean winning the game) I would be interested to know about it. I can recall seeing many times when the strategy had no positive effect, or even a negative effect.

At Thursday, September 30, 2021 6:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The other leagues are not irrelevant to this discussion. Those examples demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with having more than one league MVP per year, nor is there anything wrong with a merged league recognizing the statistics from both pre-merger leagues. During the 1960s, pro football had an NFL champion and an AFL champion each year. Each league had its own MVPs, statistical leaders, etc. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is not misleading or deceptive.

There were two professional basketball leagues for a nine year stretch. Both crowned champions, awarded MVPs, and had statistical leaders. Who has the right to say that only one league "counts" after the two leagues merged? ABA players dominated the NBA after the merger, winning MVPs, scoring titles, and other honors, while also playing key roles on championship teams. If one could show that the ABA was definitely a significantly inferior league then maybe the ABA's statistics should be looked at differently, but that is demonstrably not true.

I am not sure what videos you watched, but you need to watch more videos, different videos, and/or better videos. Start with this one:

"Top Six NBA Centers of the 1960's - The Truth About Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell's Competition."

If the link does not work in the comments section, then go to YouTube and search for "Top Six NBA Centers of the 1960's - The Truth About Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell's Competition." The notion that NBA players in the 1960s were small, slow, and unathletic is false. My Pantheon is from the post-shot clock era, and the players I selected had their primes in the 1960s or later. Russell and Chamberlain were elite track and field performers in addition to being great basketball players. They are both way more athletic than any center playing today, whether you want to talk about vertical leap, broad jump, speed, or agility.

I've written tens of thousands of words about Erving on this site, analyzing his career in great depth, so I am not going to summarize all of that material here. I made the case that he is underrated, not overrated, and I stand by that.

West finished in the top five in MVP voting eight times, including four second place finishes. He won the first ever Finals MVP, and is still the only player from the losing team to win that honor. He was a better shooter, scorer, rebounder, passer, and defender than Wade. I can't think of anything that Wade could do better than West. You might think dunking, but if you have actually seen footage and still pictures of a young West in action easily dunking with two hands and playing well above the rim then even that is not a lock in Wade's favor.

West is about the same height as Wade. Wade is bigger/heavier, but that could also be a product of modern weight training. Put West and Wade under the same conditions, and West would be the far superior player. Jeff Van Gundy is a great commentator on the modern game, but he betrays his ignorance of the game's history every time he rates Wade ahead of West.

We agree that small players (which I would categorize as under 6-6) generally do not lead teams to titles. Baylor (6-5), Robertson (6-5) and West are the only players under 6-6 in my Pantheon. Baylor retired early in a season during which the Lakers won a title (led by Pantheon members Chamberlain and West), while Robertson and West both teamed up with Pantheon centers to win a title.

At Friday, October 01, 2021 12:54:00 PM, Anonymous NotThatAnonymous said...

Other Anonymous-

You're being silly.

Yes, the state of play was different in the 70s with two leagues. But that's not a bigger difference than comparing Wilt or Russell's MVPs from an 8-team league with no three point line with Curry or Durant or Lebron's MVPs from a 30 team league that lives and dies by it.

If you're going to do inter-era comparisons you just have to accept the differences; the big difference in the 70s is that the best talent was pretty much split between two leagues. By almost any reasonable reckoning the two best players in the world at the time were Kareem and Erving. Both benefitted by not sharing a league. They won 7 combined MVPs during the split and 3 after. Despite that merger coming only seven/five years into their respective careers. While both were still in their prime.

If you don't want to count the ABA stuff you really can't count the NBA stuff from that era, either. At that point you're on a slippery slope of disqualifying other eras and MVPs too.

At Friday, October 01, 2021 4:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

NotThatAnonymous (Wouldn't it be simpler to just use your real name?):

Exactly. Any cross-era comparisons involve a variety of contextual factors, so it is silly to just zero in on the nine years when the ABA and NBA overlapped while not acknowledging that rules changes, expansion, styles of play, coaching techniques, and a host of other things have impacted statistics/championships.

I place a lot of emphasis on how much a player dominated in his era, because it is largely speculation to assert how much he might have dominated in a different era. That is not to say that I don't have strong opinions about this, but it is a fact that Julius Erving won four regular season MVPs--and it is speculation to say how many MVPs he might win if he played in this era in his prime. I think that there is good reason to believe he would win more than four MVPs, but there is no way to prove that. Similarly, it is a fact that James Harden has won one regular season MVP--and it is speculation to say how many MVPs he might have won in a previous era, but I think that there is good reason to believe that he would not have won any MVPs.


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