The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame needs to consistently expand and develop an NBA focus or be augmented by a separate NBA sponsored Professional Basketball Hall of Fame.
I have generally felt this way for several years but the elections this year cement that position for me. 2005, 2007 and now 2011 have all been awful. (Mercifully, 2009 was so obvious it couldn’t be screwed up with Jordan, Robinson and Stockton all getting in.) Part of the problem seems to be the attempt to use HoF voting as a method for separating the immortals of the game from the merely worthy. Baseball thinks having an ultra-exclusive Hall translates to more majesty for it. For that sports HoF to be a staid, limiting, judgmental institution is somewhat appropriate for a game that illustrates those same qualities to an unhelpful degree.
But basketball is dramatically different. Basketball is about art, passion, creativity, expanding, redefining and breaking limits while erasing barriers. Lots of people do basketball in incredibly different ways; that’s part of why basketball has become the American sport that clearly translates best to the rest of the world. Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade can dominate a game just as surely as Yao Ming and Dwight Howard do. The variety of skills and talents that can lead to success in basketball should be mirrored in its HoF.
There is a clear hierarchy in the world of basketball and the NBA is unquestionably at the top. The best players, coaches and executives in the world aim for the League. Consider that Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski is consistently asked if he will leave his top level college job for an NBA job. I have never heard anyone suggest that Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson might leave his top level NBA job for a college job. Never. Former NBA All-Stars Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson have recently played outside the US and everyone feels sorry for them because they have fallen so far. Meanwhile, players like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili continue to leave their countries to play in the NBA because they want the chance to play with the best in the world. I don’t believe the HoF should eliminate the number of contributors, coaches, women and international players. What it should do is recognize the hierarchy everyone else does and give more credit to the players at the highest level. That seems natural and fair.
Lots of individuals would benefit from this expansion but current and future fans will benefit more. There will be more people to celebrate, more accomplishments to note and more exceptions to the rules. Isn’t that what we want from sports? And what we often get from basketball?
This year’s elections of Artis Gilmore and Dennis Rodman fix two glaring oversights but there are probably a dozen other players that should be in the Hall but aren’t. Every time I start making a list it saddens me. Maybe I’ll do that later.