Let’s disqualify, for the moment, those who have been on the ballot and didn’t make it last time around. It was a relatively weak class that went in Sunday, so those that didn’t make the cut, don’t have a great argument for enshrinement a year later.
Also, for the sake of the discussion, we shall focus on the NBA players, not foreigners, women, officials or dignitaries. Honestly, I can’t state with any level of expertise why or why not any of them belong in the Hall.
Let’s look at the newly eligible.
Any good cook knows you have to trim the fat when you butcher the meat (friendly tip from Iron Chef Brighters: don’t always do that because fat can lead to flavor).
The fat, in this case is Damon Stoudamire, Bo Outlaw, P.J. Brown, Eddie Jones, Steve Francis, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Sam Cassell. Some have better claims than others in that group, some (sorry, Bo) have no claim, but no matter what, none of these players deserves realistic consideration.
That leaves us with four new candidates open for debate.
The man who is still probably most famous for the phantom timeout in the NCAA Championship had an incredibly productive professional career.
Webber’s 15-year career may not have put him in a mortal lock category for the Hall of Fame, but he deserves to go.
He averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game over his career. Those first two numbers are very good and the assists number for a big man is very, very good.
Webber made five All-Star games and five All-NBA teams, including one first team, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times. In a 15-year career, that doesn’t look sterling, but you have to delve a little deeper.
Webber played in the era of Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki at the power forward spot. Those three are all-time greats, and, no, Webber is not one for the ages, but to rattle off those accomplishments, five times is not a joke. With incredibly stiff competition, Webber distinguished himself.
He led the renaissance in Sacramento basketball and, sure, those Kings teams probably could’ve played in at least one NBA Finals to cement Webber’s legacy, but the San Antonio Spurs were a dynasty and the Los Angeles Lakers were close to one.
These aren’t brought up as excuses to justify Webber’s small number of appearances in laudatory devices. Nor is his injury history. It’s just to showcase that Webber may not have been immortal, but he was awfully good and made the postseason 10 times. In most of those trips, he was the best player on the team.
Webber had a great amateur career, marred not just by an ill-fated crossing of his hands in a “T” formation, but also by a plea arrangement for lying to a grand jury about taking money while in college.
There are plenty of bad guys in the Hall of Fame.
It all adds up to enough. Webber’s the type of guy who voters might make wait a year.
Full disclosure – in researching Mourning’s case, early on, it seemed like an easy yes.
For the first eight seasons of his career, Mourning averaged 20.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 3.1 blocked shots per game, which is a towering number (his career numbers are lower thanks to stints as a bench player).
During that time, Mourning made five All-Star games (he made two more after he was a freak of nature force), All-NBA twice, including a first-team nod, and All-Defensive first team twice, and won Defensive Player of the Year in back- to-back years. Those two years, Mourning finished second and third in MVP voting.
That’s pretty awesome.
Is eight years enough to make the Hall of Fame? Probably not, although his ninth and 10th seasons were strong, just not epic.
Throw in the NBA championship, an Olympic gold medal and being a three-time All-American at Georgetown, it’s enough for Mourning.
Again, much like Webber, he’s no gimme. He was great, but never dominant short of those two seasons. Mourning might not get first-ballot love, but he’s a Hall of Famer.
If you didn’t buy Mourning’s argument with a small, early sample size, you might as well scroll down now.
After bursting on the NBA scene with comparisons to Magic Johnson in one hand, and Chris Rock commercials in the other, Hardaway played basically nine true full seasons due to a myriad of injuries.
In the first six healthy seasons, Lil Penny had averages of 18.6 ppg, 6.1 apg and 1.9 steals per game. Hardaway made four All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams, including two first-team nods, and had two top-10 finishes in MVP voting.
Hardaway’s career flew out of the gate, but his knee halted it quickly.
The body of work just isn’t there for Penny to make the Hall of Fame.
He didn’t make a single All-Star team. Never got a vote for MVP, nor did he ever sniff an All-NBA team.
So why is Horry under Hall of Fame consideration?
There are six players in the history of the sport who have won more NBA titles than Horry’s seven. All six are in the Hall of Fame (to be fair, Tom “Satch” Sanders is in as a contributor, not a player). In fact, Horry and Jim Loscutoff are the only players with at least six titles not in the Hall of Fame.
Horry was a critical member of each of those championship squads. You don’t get the moniker “Big Shot” Bob for being a mop-up guy at the end of the bench. Horry hit several humongous 3-point shots during his tenure with the Lakers and Spurs (he was in his first two seasons when the Houston Rockets won, but Horry started for both teams).
Is that enough?
Probably not, but it’s a fun debate. If winning is the true barometer of greatness, then Horry merits a conversation. Was he as important as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan? Duh, of course not, but he was a top-five contributor.
Problem for Horry is precedent.
Loscutoff was a member of Bill Russell’s 1960s Boston Celtics teams. He was not a huge star and his seven rings weren’t enough to warrant selection.
Guys like Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis from the Showtime Lakers aren’t in the Hall. Neither are Ron Harper or Steve Kerr from more modern times. Role players, no matter how many big shots drained, are not welcome.
And Horry was a role player with a knack for the moment. Sorry, Big Shot.
Jim Brighters is NBA Editor for The Sports Network.