Bernucca: We need an NBA Hall of Fame

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has undergone two major overhauls. Basketball Hall of Fame Springfield

It’s time for another one.

Not the dramatic architectural changes of 1985 and 2002, in which new buildings were constructed to accommodate the growth of the greatest sport in the world. No, this overhaul will ensure that sort of renovation won’t be needed again for quite some time.

It’s time for an NBA Hall of Fame.

Tonight’s ceremonies in Springfield will induct 12 new members to the Hall. And as has often been the case in recent years, there will be more head-scratchers than no-brainers.

Here’s some of the folks who have entered the Hall in just the last five years: Mirko Novosel, Pedro Ferrandiz, Cathy Rush, Maciel Pereira and Herb Magee. I’ll take Obscure Basketball Immortals for $200, Alex.

Also inducted in that time span were Van Chancellor, Vivian Stringer, Bob Hurley, Cynthia Cooper, Goose Tatum, Tara VanDerveer and Teresa Edwards. Those are certainly much more recognizable names – whose combined connection to the NBA totals zero games.

Meanwhile, truly legitimate candidates such as JoJo White, Sidney Moncrief and Maurice Cheeks remain on the wrong side of the velvet rope, wondering if their significant achievements at the unquestioned highest level of the game will ever be acknowledged.

Alongside the no-brainers of Reggie Miller, Don Nelson, Chet Walker and Mel Daniels, here is this year’s class of head-scratchers:

  • Ralph Sampson and Jamaal Wilkes. Great college players. Above average NBA players. Not Hall of Famers.
  • Hank Nichols. A long-time referee – in the NCAA.
  • Nike chairman Phil Knight. Hunh?
  • Katrina McClain. A truly great player – in the women’s college and international game.
  • Lidia Alexeeva. Who?
  • And the All-American Redheads, a team that does not include Matt Bonner, Robert Swift or or Brian Scalabrine.

Although it may appear otherwise, this is not an attempt to discredit the bodies of work of these folks on one of the greatest days of their lives. I’m sure there are people much older, smarter and more worldly than me who can effectively argue on behalf of each of them.

And you don’t even have to bother making a case for Don Barksdale, another of this year’s inductees. He was the first black player to be named an All-American, Olympian and All-Star, the sort of pioneer that mandates a historical wing in every Hall of Fame.

But when Miller and Nelson are enshrined alongside the likes of Sampson and Alexeeva, it can also be effectively argued that true basketball immortality has been devalued.

Years ago, I asked former longtime NBA coach and broadcaster Kevin Loughery about the Hall of Fame merits of Mark Jackson, who had ascended to second on the all-time assists list but had played in just one All-Star Game. Loughery spent several minutes pointing out the arguments for and against Jackson, then ended our chat with this gem.

“It doesn’t matter. Everybody gets in now.”

It sure seems that way.

Ralph Sampson candid shot not playingSampson and Wilkes played a combined 1,284 games, or two less than Sam Perkins. They have one All-NBA selection between them. They never led the league in any category. They never finished higher than 10th in any MVP balloting.

Their ability to perform at a truly great level ended when they left college, where Sampson was a three-time Player of the Year and Wilkes was a two-time All-American and NCAA champion. If both had chosen grad school over the NBA, they would still be worthy of the Hall of Fame — the National College Basketball Hall of Fame, which opened in 2006 in Kansas City.

If Sampson and Wilkes can ride their college resumes into Springfield, who else is under consideration? Tyler Hansbrough? Joakim Noah? Kevin Houston? Should we really be reserving immortality for players whose level of greatness was obviously diminished by the level of competition?

McClain also is worthy of the Hall of Fame – the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, which opened in 1999 in Knoxville, Tennessee. A two-time All-American, Olympic gold medalist and world champion, she was inducted in 2006.

And Alexeeva is Hall of Fame material – the FIBA Hall of Fame, which opened in 1991 in Madrid, Spain. Having never lost a major international competition in 22 years as coach of the Russian women’s team, she was inducted in 2007. She also was an inaugural inductee to the Women’s Hall.

Knight built Nike into an omnipresent international brand. However, his company also makes footwear, apparel and equipment for football, baseball, track and just about every other sport. Does that make him eligible for those Halls as well? Perhaps he belongs in the American National Business Hall of Fame, which opened in 1972 and boasts Ray Kroc, Walt Disney and Sam Walton as members.

The mere fact that the college, women’s and international games each have opened a Hall of Fame in the last generation illustrates the need to honor those whose greatness, while undeniable, does not transcend the sport at its highest level.

That is the NBA, whose players and coaches continue to be evaluated alongside these inductees, rather than above them.

Is that elitist? If it isn’t, it should be. Today more than ever, the NBA towers above all other levels of the game in both skill and scope. Its players have never been better and its global reach has never been greater. It is folly to compare any achievement in any other level of basketball to the accomplishments of NBA players, coaches, executives and administrators.

Instead of implementing a hard salary cap or lowering the age limit on the Olympics, this should be David Stern’s coda as commissioner. Forget the money pits of the NBA Store, WNBA and international offices and instead smartly fund, plan and construct a shrine whose exclusivity befits basketball’s sole stratosphere.

A place that doesn’t value a sneaker salesman above Sidney Moncrief.

Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Kidk says

    The Basketball Hall of Fame should be the story of basketball, from invention to modern day. How can you tell that story without demonstrating the global impact the game has had, or the great global players and builders?
    NBA teams retire the numbers of their greats and maybe that’s the best measure of greatness for those who play the game. Having a way to celebrate those players would probably make you, me and a lot of other people happy, too.

  2. Jim says

    I totally agree, great article.

    And what if in year 1 they just let in the NBA All-Time top 50 that was voted on years back to catch up? This way Michael Jordan would get a second chance to give a classy enshrinement speech.

  3. Dave says

    Wholeheartedly agree, thanks for putting it out there, Chris. As a sports fan in general, but more specifically of the NBA, one of the frustrating issues (of many) I see is that it is difficult to quantify exactly what makes a HOFer from the NBA. On one hand, baseball has measurables, some of which have been diminished over time, however there’s still a clear association that runs with the accomplishment of 3000+ hits, 500+ hr’s, etc. Basketball is a bit more difficult to measure. Obviously, the stats that a guy like Jason Kidd has put up leave little doubt, however someone who’s more questionable (ie, Chris Webber–from an NBA only perspective) are a bit harder to define. Still, the Basketball Hall of Fame is without question a poor attempt at this. In my opinion, the level of achievement that accompanies induction to Springfield is nowhere close to that of Canton or Cooperstown, and I can’t help but think, in part, it’s because the writers and the public have no real clue what it means to make it into the Basketball HOF. I think there should be an NBA HOF. The Bill Simmons book from a few years back kinda suggested this, although I disagree w/ the pyramid concept that he suggested…that felt like better sports talk argument than anything. I do think that there should be an NBA HOF, which should begin with induction of anyone who recieves 75% higher approval, baseball style. This may lead to an enormous first few classes (because honestly, one could name at least 10 per decade who are no brainers), however after the first few, there could be standards of selection required. This would likely separate the Mark Jacksons and Mitch Richmonds from the deserving. The big thing is, there is something important (iconic) about the Cooperstown plaque, or the yellow jacket. For the NBA, the only thing I can even think of is MJ’s spiteful speech.

    • Chris says

      I have no problem with the first few classes inducting a dozen or so each year. How else do you catch up? There would still be arguments and disagreements, but at least apples would be compared to apples. I really feel like the NFL is the most restrictive – and in turn, the most prestigious. Thanks for reading.

  4. A.J. says

    It’s apropos that a museum that honors Dennis Rodman would also honor tall ugly lesbians.
    There should also be a special hairpiece wing to honor the Rick Barrys, Danny Schayes and Bill Selfs of the world. They could also induct Andre Agassi into that wing. I know he didn’t play excellent basketball, but neither did 80% of the inductees in that building.

  5. Pennerhoops says

    I also never understood why broadcasters, writers, GM’s and even a few PR people get enshrined into the various halls of fame. The Hall of Fame should be just for players and coaches only.

  6. Ugh says

    Because it’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the Basketball Hall of Players and Coaches. Marv Albert is more famous than Jack Vaughn or Carl Herrera to basketball fans.

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