Whenever the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame begins its process of selecting its newest nominees, there is a cringe-induced shiver down the spines of those who understand a very real yet unspoken truth.
The Basketball Hall of Fame is trash.
Basketball is arguably the best sport in the world, other than soccer. The impact it has on sports and culture is second to no other sport, other than soccer. It transcends race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and any other perceived barrier of understanding. Its athletes are some of the most explosively talented beings on planet Earth, doing things the average human body can only dream of accomplishing.
And yet, the Basketball Hall of Fame is trash.
But it doesn’t have to be. The Basketball Hall of Fame would only need to make one very simple change in order to regain its standing among the highest honors within the major sports. And that is simply to eradicate the all-inclusive nature of the Hall and separate it into two very distinct honors — one for the NBA and the other for basketball as a whole.
The NBA is the only major sports league without its own Hall. Its worldwide reach and global status as one of the preeminent sports on the planet backfires in honoring the greats in the game because it turns into an Oprah episode.
“You get in the Hall! You get in the Hall! Everyone gets in the Hall!”
And then, when players who would be automatics in an NBA-only Hall come up empty on their first or second tries, it further dilutes the meaning behind such a beautiful career milestone.
Voting in players like Yao Ming due to their international impact on the sport sounds nice until you realize that his NBA career alone was a good one but not one that should be immortalized in Springfield.
And yet, the real issue is how the growing confusion as to what makes a Hall of Famer has bled into the voting in ways that has almost neutered the distinction as a whole. It is disheartening and sad to see true superstars missing out on first-ballot enshrinement, while lesser players get in over them due to league politics, media arrogance, and an appalling lack of awareness of who were truly the greats in the game.
Yes, the receipts are coming.
The day it was announced in 2005 that Dominique Wilkins — who retired with 26,668 points (formerly ninth all-time), 24.8 points per game career scoring average, and nine All-Star game selections — would not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer was the day all questioning of the selection committee began in true earnest. How this occurred is still baffling. Must have been the same people who had the audacity to leave Wilkins off of the 50 greatest players of all time list in 1996.
But I digress.
If Wilkins is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, then the Hall needs to start over and try again. He was the lone superstar on consistently competitive, 50-win Atlanta Hawks teams in a loaded Eastern Conference with teams featuring multiple All-Stars and Hall of Famers, yet the Hawks consistently were one of the toughest outs for any team during that era. And the primary reason was Wilkins.
Ask Larry Bird whether or not Wilkins was a Hall of Famer.
In 2005, four coaches — including two from the college ranks — went into the Hall. If the NBA had their own Hall of Fame, there would be no excuse to not put Wilkins in the first time around. Yes, he got in the second time and went in with a strong class headed by Charles Barkley. But the notion that athletes should be happy about getting in whenever they get in is naive at the least, stupid at the most. The true superstars, the true legends, the true Hall of Famers should not be debated about. There should be no question as to their inclusion among the greatest to ever play. If there is debate, then there are flaws in the system.
The Basketball Hall of Fame has brought this on itself. Due to allowing good but not great résumés to get in, they have then allowed for more arguments to be made for guys who could make a claim for the Hall of Very Good but not the Hall of Fame.
Tracy McGrady was a great player in his time. But he won nothing and was hurt a lot. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. For him to have that distinction while Wilkins does not lose credibility within the Hall. McGrady did not have a better career than Wilkins. Not that McGrady wasn’t great. But his first-ballot status continues a hypocritical, confusing, yet avoidable trend among voters.
Chris Webber would not go into a true Hall of Fame, but since the current Hall is the Hall of Very Good, he is more than worthy of enshrinement. And therein lies the problem. Webber would not be in a true Hall. But the current one? He deserves to be in. Webber was very good but not one of the greatest to play. But he played it better than a bunch of dudes currently enshrined.
Webber’s omission is an awesome case study due to his association with the Fab Five at Michigan. College years can be included in the argument for players to get into the Hall. Webber had a two-year stretch with Michigan that changed the game forever. His college impact plus his NBA credentials (five-time All-Star, 20+ points and 9+ rebounds per game) make for a solid résumé. But he has the NCAA violations at Michigan and a reputation for shrinking in big moments. All this has kept one of the best power forwards in an era of dominant power forwards still sitting back. He is still waiting for his name to be called to Springfield.
This is only a problem because of who the current Hall of Fame has let in its doors. It would not be as much of a problem for a Hall more reminiscent of the NFL. Now that is how a Hall of Fame is done. Only the true giants in the game get in over there. Well, unless you’re Terrell Owens and the voters have an ax to grind.
But I digress.
Years like the one coming up with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Chris Bosh all shoo-ins to be elected their first time around make these decisions easier. There is no debate as to whether or not these four players belong. But you will always have moments where the Hall will make you scratch your head. It will make you wonder what league the voters are actually watching.
Then you realize, the NBA isn’t the only league they are watching. And that explains everything.
Start an NBA-only Hall of Fame before it’s too late. Start it over from scratch. Bill Simmons has already given the league a starting point with his Hall of Fame pyramid. There needs to be something done in order to truly illuminate the greatness that is one of our truly great sports. More importantly, a great league. It deserves better.
Just ask Dominique Wilkins.