The NBA Corner: Hall of Fame Class of 2012
Back in February, the Naismith Hall of Fame class announced the election of five members of the class of 2012, all of whom were, “directly elected by distinguished committees focused on preserving all areas from the game of basketball.” Those five were Mel Daniels, Don Barskdale, Lidia Alexeeva, Chet Walker, and Phil Knight. On Monday, it was announced that Reggie Miller, Don Nelson, Jamaal Wilkes, Ralph Sampson, and Hank Nichols had also been elected, rounding out the total number of 2012 inductees to ten. While all ten certainly deserve their induction – remember it’s a basketball hall of fame, not just the NBA – I’m most interested in Nelson, Sampson, Miller, and Knight.
Don Nelson spent 48 consecutive years in the NBA, 14 as a player and 34 as a coach. In his playing days, Nelson averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds per game for his career, won five NBA championships as a member of the Boston Celtics, and even had his jersey retired. In his second career as a head coach, Nelson was at the forefront of the up-tempo, run-and-gun style that would become popular in later years. He was named Coach of the Year three times, and he introduced the concept of Hack-A-Shaq to the NBA but his teams never made it to the NBA Finals, losing in the Conference Finals four times and the Conference Semifinals 11 more times. His teams were consistently good, but never good enough. He finished with a career coaching record of 1335 – 1063 (.557), but was only 75 – 91 (.452) in the postseason. Despite his playoff disappointments, Nelson deserves his bust in Springfield.
Ralph Sampson presents a fascinating case. He made the Hall of Fame based on his collegiate career. He was one of the greatest college basketball players of the past 40 years, winning the Naismith College Player of the Year award three years in a row, but his skills never fully translated to the next level resulting in a disappointing NBA career. It’s hard to categorize Sampson’s pro career as a bust – he was the 1984 NBA Rookie of the Year, was named to the All-NBA Second Team in 1985, and was a four-time NBA All-Star – but he never came close to fulfilling the promise of his heroics at the University of Virginia, particularly after injuring his knee. His career was one of the biggest disappointments in modern NBA history and his career still stirs up emotions in legions of basketball fans, most notably Chuck Klosterman: “This is a ridiculous statement, but it’s true: Sampson was too good. He was too big to be that skilled. His superiority seemed natural and therefore unearned. And while people don’t necessarily hate that kind of greatness, they inevitably find it annoying. It plays into their insecurities about themselves and the inescapable unfairness of being human. Sampson’s unobtrusive facade only made this phenomenon worse—his cool, quiet demeanor made him seem uninterested in his own aptitude. Unlike [Tony] Mandarich, he did nothing to make anyone dislike him. But when you’re naturally better than everyone else, and when that talent is so utterly obvious, being quiet doesn’t translate as humble. It translates as boredom. He seemed like a bored genius.” Much like Christian Laettner and Lew Alcindor, Ralph Sampson would have deserved to have HOF next to his name had he never played a minute of ball in the NBA. However, it’s impossible not to wonder what he could have been.
Reggie Miller played 18 seasons for the Indiana Pacers, was a five-time NBA All-Star, won an Olympic gold medal, played in an NBA Finals, and finished his career with the most career three pointers in NBA history (a record since broken). While impressive, all of that is secondary to one stretch of time that lasted less than ten seconds of game time. On May 7, 1995, the New York Knicks led the Pacers 105 – 99 with 18.7 seconds remaining in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he created one of the most memorable sequences in history. Miller caught the side inbounds pass and hit a fading three with John Starks in his face, cutting New York’s lead to three. The Knicks had trouble getting the ball in against Indiana’s press and Derrick Harper fell, allowing Miller to steal the inbounds pass, take one dribble behind the arc and hit a turnaround three to tie the game. On the ensuing possession, Starks missed two free throws, Patrick Ewing missed a putback, Miller snagged the rebound, and was immediately fouled. He hit both free throws and the Pacers escaped with an improbable win. Miller’s heroics against the Knicks were so legendary that ESPN made a documentary about it. For all of his big shots in big moments, Miller actually wasn’t as good as we remember. He only made five All-Star teams in 18 years, never won a championship (though he did average 24 ppg in his lone Finals appearance), and was a one-dimensional player that couldn’t really create his own shot, often needing multiple screens to free him. However, that doesn’t mean his election is unwarranted. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Reggie Miller stepped up when it counted most and while his career numbers on their own may have been enough for his inclusion, his playoff heroics (against the team playing in the Media Capital of the World, no less) are more than enough to guarantee it.
It’s possible that Phil Knight will be the most polarizing figure in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And he never picked up a basketball in college, let alone the NBA. There is little argument that he and his company changed the way basketball is not only played, but also marketed and followed, but at what cost? He is worth approximately $14.4 billion, yet he has been blamed for making his money from sweatshop labor, as well as trying to make his athletes less involved in social issues, from Charles Barkley declaring, “I am not a role model,” to Michael Jordan answering a question as to why he wasn’t supporting a local black Democrat by saying, “Republicans buy sneakers too.” Thanks to Knight and Nike, athletes make more money off the court than on, guys at the Y can dress like their favorite players, and high school kids don’t have to worry about their Chuck Taylors splitting on a fast break. If Knight had not taken the torch, someone else would have and while David Stern is credited with uplifting the NBA from rock bottom, he couldn’t have done it without players or without Knight (and later others) branding those players. Jordan made Nike cool, but Nike made Jordan cool just the same. Leaving Knight out of Springfield would have been akin to ignoring basketball’s rise in global popularity over the past 25 years since the two are not mutually exclusive.
Steve Nash created a buzz last week when he said that when his contract expires after this season, he will not re-sign with the Phoenix Suns unless the roster is dramatically improved. He then went on to answer whether he would be interested in joining the Miami Heat: “I would listen…[LeBron James] is phenomenal. I love what [the Heat are] doing there. A lot of people don’t like them because they put all that talent there. But they’re professional, they play hard, they play together. Their coaching staff has done a great job, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for them.”
While nearly everyone is already considering Nash-to-Miami to be a foregone conclusion, I’m more interested in the logistics of the move. Would the Heat trio of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh benefit from a pass-first veteran point guard that is leading the NBA in assists even at the age of 38? Of course. It’s a no-brainer, right?
Nash worked best while running a pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire and having Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion sprint down the court to fill the lanes on fast breaks. Miami doesn’t really play pick-and-roll and while they are a fast break team, the lane fillers are also the ball handlers. The closest comparison we have to LeBron & Wade is Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen. (I suppose you could make the Bosh – Dennis Rodman comparison but Bosh is far more of a scorer and not nearly as strong of a defender as Rodman.) Those Jordan/Pippen Bulls teams had LeBron’s point forward predecessor in Pippen and the guy that Wade (and Kobe and everyone else) want to be playing off the ball. Look at the PG’s for those Bulls teams – John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr – were spot-up shooters that rarely ran the offense. When Phil Jackson wanted a bigger backcourt, he went with Ron Harper, a physical presence that played defense and hit the occasional jumpshot, but never penetrated and dished the way Nash does so effortlessly. The more I think about this, the more I think that Steve Nash may not be the best fit in South Beach. He should probably take his talents elsewhere.
Ever wonder what players go through when they get dealt at the trade deadline? If so, you should check out this interesting Grantland column that revolves around players changing teams at the deadline: “The reactions also run the full spectrum. It may be one of the first times in his life that a player is told that his talent, the thing that has gotten him everywhere, is no longer wanted in a place where he has carved out his home. Most players say that the first trade is the hardest. Numbness sets in with each subsequent trade.” We as fans almost always view trades with a detached reaction, rationalizing the moves for all sorts of reasons, whether bench depth of salary cap flexibility, but we rarely think about how it affects the actual people. Of course, that is part of the social contract that comes along with professional athletics, but thinking about those things does bring a human element that is often missing in the major sports.
Channing Frye is smart…
...Omer Asik is not.
Even when Kobe Bryant is bad, he’s still kinda clutch. “Bryant threatened Tim Hardaway's league record of 17 consecutive misses to start a game by missing his first 15,” but he made it when it counted, hitting the eventual game winning 3 with 20.2 seconds remaining. Bryant finished the game a putrid 3-for-21 but shooters shoot and if Kobe is 0-for-150, he’ll still take the last shot and wholeheartedly believe that he’ll make it. This season, he’s shooting 44% from the field, which is almost identical to his career average (45%), but he’s shooting only 29% from behind the arc, the third-worst percentage of his career even as he’s averaging the fourth-most attempts from three per game (5.1) since he entered the league. There’s no doubt that Kobe can shoot a team into a win, but it’s becoming more and more familiar to see him shoot a team out of a win too. Of course, he thinks that talk of his demise is premature: “The amount of idiots that live out here after 16 years is baffling…I guess people just get dumber over the years.” Well said, Kob.
If Rajon Rondo played every game on national television, would he be Oscar Robertson? Rondo played big on the big stage again over the weekend, putting together an impressive 16/14/11 triple-double against one of the league’s best defenses in the Celtics’ rout of Miami. It was Rondo’s fifth triple-double of the season (no one else in the Association has more than one) and, more incredibly, 14 of his career 18 triple-doubles have come in front of a national TV audience. If the Celtics were smart, they would do everything they can to get every single one of their games on ABC. Who knows, maybe Rondo will become the fifth player in NBA history to record a quadruple-double…or the first to give us a quintuple-double. He loves the spotlight.
Finally, Kentucky would not beat an NBA team. They wouldn’t beat the Washington Wizards or the Charlotte Bobcats. It would not happen. End of discussion.
Pierzy writes a weekly NBA column during the season, as well as columns revolving around other sports, hip-hop, movies, TV shows, food, beer, marriage, (impending) fatherhood, and a variety of other topics. You can follow him on Twitter here.