It's Time For an NBA Hall of Fame, in L.A.
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With the recent enshrinement of the greatest basketball Hall of Fame class ever, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is something of a joke, and that it’s well past time to build an NBA Hall of Fame, which we believe should be located in the emerging L.A. Live entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles, which is centered around Staples Center.
OK, let’s go through and explain each of the why’s which caused us to write the previous sentence.
1. From an NBA perspective, the inductees are ridiculous.
We’ll start by noting that we’re certainly not the first to suggest this concept. John Hollinger skewered the institution while floating the same idea in 2005, when Dominique Wilkins was denied entry for the likes of this class: Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Sue Ginter, Hubie Brown and Hortencia.
And then he did so again in 2007, when the class consisted of Phil Jackson, a college coach (Roy Williams), a college team (Texas Western ’66), a women’s coach (Van Chancellor), two international coaches (Mirko Novosel and Pedro Ferrandiz), one referee (Mendy Rudolph), and ZERO players, as Adrian Dantley and his 23,177 professional points were left to wait for another year.
One of Hollinger’s digs was to refer to the Hall as the "College Coaches Hall of Fame". As he wrote in 2005:
- Compare the list of college coaches in the Hall with the list of pro players and coaches. The NBA is a higher, more difficult level than college hoops, as countless Tim Floyds and Rick Pitinos prove every year, but you'd never know that from a trip to Springfield.
Included among the Pantheon are a plethora of NCAA coaches who never got near the national title game, let alone won it. But if you're an NBA coach, winning a title is the minimum standard, and even then it's no guarantee (just ask Bill Fitch or Dick Motta). [Between 1997 and 2005], exactly five pro coaches [were] elected into the Hall of Fame, one of whom (Larry Brown) probably would have been stiffed if he hadn't also won an NCAA title. In that same span, the Hall honored 16 NCAA coaches – nine from the men's game and seven from the women's game.
While it was at it, the selection committee opened the doors to two foreign coaches, and even a high school coach. Including this year's class, there are 74 coaches in the Hall, of whom exactly 10 did the majority of their work in the NBA. [Note: Updated numbers through 2009 are 85 coaches/13 from the NBA.] Can you imagine going to Cooperstown and seeing that Triple-A managers outnumbered their major-league counterparts by six to one? Yet that's effectively what the Basketball Hall of Fame has done.
As he wrote: "[T]hey've inducted only 14 NBA players in that decade ... and 20 college coaches. They've inducted John Chaney ahead of Dick Motta, Roy Williams ahead of Adrian Dantley, and Dave Gavitt (commissioner of the Big East) ahead of David Stern (commissioner who saved the NBA)."
- Regarding players specifically, the idea that performance in both pro and college is taken into consideration makes the precedents rather bizarre when looking at upcoming candidates.
Here are some of the people who are inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as players:
Bill Bradley: NBA career averages: 12.4 pts, 3.2 reb, 3.4 ast; scored 9217 career points; career PER: 12.2; was a one-time All-Star and never made an All-NBA team. He did win 2 championships for the Knicks, though he was about the fourth wheel. Bradley is in for his celebrated collegiate career at Princeton, and for being on a celebrated Knicks team.
K.C. Jones: NBA career averages: 7.4 pts, 3.5 reb, 4.3 ast; scored 5011 career points; career PER: 10.4; never was an All-Star/on an All-NBA team. Yeah, he was an excellent defender, and yes, he won 8 NBA titles in 9 years, and two dominant NCAA championships with USF, but c’mon, a 0-time All-Star who averaged 7 points per game? Really?
Bob Houbregs: NBA career averages: 9.3 pts, 5.5 reb, 1.8 ast; scored 2611 career points in 5 seasons; never was an All-Star/on an All-NBA team. It hurts me to write this, considering Bob went to high school about a mile away from where I’m writing this, but he is in only for his exploits as a college player – he was an All-American who led Washington to the Final Four in 1953.
Tom Gola: NBA career averages: 11.3 pts, 7.8 reb, 4.2 ast; scored 7871 career points; career PER: 14.0. Gola was a 5-time NBA All-Star, did make an All-NBA 2nd team in 1958, and did win an NBA title with Philadelphia in his rookie season. But those credentials make him a borderline HOF candidate at best. Gola is in because he was a 4-time NCAA All-American who won the MOP award for leading LaSalle to the 1954 NCAA title and the Player of the Year award in 1955, when Bill Russell’s games at USF apparently didn’t make it on the telly very often in the East.
David Thompson: NBA/ABA career averages: 22.7 pts, 4.1 reb, 3.3 ast; scored 13422 career points; career PER: 19.9. Thompson was a 5-time NBA/ABA All-Star who made two All-NBA 1st teams and 1 All-ABA 2nd team, but never won a championship. The average numbers look good, but this was a pro basketball career lost to injuries and drugs – Skywalker was out of the NBA by age 29. Being a legendary NCAA player (3-time All-American/2-time Player of the Year/1974 Final Four MOP & NCAA Champion) is what puts Thompson over the top.
The point is this: by the standards set by these players, guys like Christian Laettner, Danny Manning, Glen Rice and Grant Hill should unquestionably receive strong consideration for the Hall, and Tyler Hansbrough and Joakim Noah already have a leg up on their candidacies.
- We’d also take it a step further and note that the whole hoop Hall experience is way too college-focused. Check out this post from 2008 on how the induction of college announcer Dick Vitale dwarfed that of Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing in terms of coverage.
Also consider that each year’s class is announced at the Final Four, in a press conference hosted by Jim Nantz, who clearly disdains the NBA, and… just… no. The entire process just doesn’t speak to the NBA fan.
- Considering international players has been another area in which the Hall of Fame has shown absolutely zero foresight in terms of the precedents they were setting. From 2002-2004, they inducted one male international player per year – Drazen Petrovic, Dino Meneghin, and Drazen Dalipagic, respectively. All are clear legends of international basketball, and we respect them.
However, by these standards, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Sarunas Marciulionis and Sarunas Jasikevicius, among others, are all Hall of Famers. It's as if absolutely no thought was put into what it would mean to start enshrining international players in an era when they were entering the NBA en masse.
2. Separating the Halls into NBA and NCAA is logical.
A key event which I think has opened the door to an NBA Hall of Fame was the 2007 opening of the College Basketball Experience in Kansas City, which includes the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Beautiful. There’s a place to specifically honor the best in college basketball. Good on ya. Say hi to Billy Packer for us. Now, let’s just create somewhere to do the same for NBA basketball.
(Note that I richly enjoyed this explanation on the College Basketball Experience web site: "The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame… will complement the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame by enshrining great coaches, players and teams who deserve recognition but may be omitted from Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame." Yes, because the Naismith is really screwing you over. Whatever.)
There is a Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and a College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana, which induct distinct classes each year, and celebrate each game specifically, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have the same split for basketball.
Christian Laettner should absolutely be featured at a college basketball Hall of Fame. And he should absolutely have nothing to do with an NBA Hall of Fame. Both things are fine, and frankly, we'd be happy to visit both.
In basketball, not only is there now a college Hall of Fame in Kansas City, but there’s also a FIBA Hall of Fame in Madrid, a women’s Hall of Fame in Knoxville, and even an MTV Rock 'n' Jock Hall of Fame at Loyola Marymount in L.A. (OK, that last one’s a joke.) C’mon, say it with me everyone: there should be an NBA Hall of Fame!
3. On top of everything else, the current Hall of Fame is not very well run.
Stories from earlier this year noted that the Naismith Hall of Fame was in severe financial distress.
Frankly, my opinion is that visiting the Naismith Hall is something of an underwhelming experience for a basketball fan. Many exhibits feel like random collections of artifacts more than a definitive walk through the hallowed hall of the game. Walking through the honor roll of inductees – the centerpiece of any Hall of Fame – is truly odd in Springfield, with so many unfamiliar names mixed in that it’s something of a relief to finally spot a Russell, Chamberlain, Bird or Jordan among the riff-raff.
The voting process for each year’s class of inductees is notoriously opaque. As Matt Steinmetz wrote in April on AOL Fanhouse, in a post titled "Who Is Doing Hall of Fame Voting?":
- Every time I hear of a Basketball Hall of Fame vote, I actually get annoyed. I don't want to get annoyed, but I get annoyed.
I'd like nothing more than to stroll down memory lane, reliving some of the good times of the past. Maybe even have an argument or two over who deserved to get in and who didn't.
But you can't even begin to get into any kind of discussion about Basketball Hall of Fame voting because you can't get past one fact:
WE DON'T KNOW WHO VOTES.
4. The new NBA Hall of Fame should be in Los Angeles.
Certainly, New York and Boston have a lot of pro basketball history, and quite knowledgeable fan bases, for sure. But New York is a Yankees town, first and foremost, and Boston is a Red Sox town, first and foremost. In both cities, the NFL also takes precedence over the NBA. (Any argument for Chicago follows the same lines.)
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is a Lakers town, period. The Lakers are unquestionably the pre-eminent sports franchise in the city. Among cities which also have NFL and/or MLB, I don’t think there’s another city in which the NBA is definitively the most followed team in town, other than Phoenix, probably. Of course, not having an NFL team helps, but that’s part of the point: L.A. is an NBA city. I believe it can go toe-to-toe with New York and Boston in terms of NBA history, certainly with the honor roll of superstar players who have continually seemed to grace the Lakers roster.
Yes, the atmosphere at Staples Center can be decidedly less than electric, but I believe there is a depth of support to the Lakers fan base, many of whom are likely priced out of attending games. I believe Lakers fans are rabid and knowledgeable about the pro game. Whenever I visit L.A., I’m just struck by how many people want to talk NBA. In New York and Boston, Yankees and Red Sox seem to be on the tip of the tongue in the way the Lakers are in L.A.
And hey, even the Clippers have drawn good crowds when they’ve assembled teams that were fun to watch, a couple times in the last decade. If they ever get new ownership which gives them some hope, I believe they could sell out Staples with an audience largely distinct from Lakers fans.
As noted earlier, I believe that the growing L.A. Live entertainment district would be a great location for an NBA Hall of Fame. An otherwise forgotten piece of downtown L.A. was brought to life starting with the opening of Staples in 1999, and is increasingly becoming a major center of American entertainment.
The nearby Nokia Theatre is home to the Emmys and the American Idol finale. ESPN’s newly-opened L.A. operations are based there. The Grammy Museum recently opened there, among other buildings in development.
The L.A. Live district just seems like a logical place for an NBA Hall of Fame. Fans could stop by before games, there could be a small basketball court attached to the Hall for events of all kinds, and perhaps even include a mini-version of an NBA Jam Session, the kid-friendly participatory basketball theme park, for lack of a better term, which appears at each All-Star Weekend.
L.A. draws plenty of tourists, of course, who could build a Hall trip into a vacation, and there’s strong support for the NBA regionally, whether in northern California or Phoenix, which could also help make an NBA Hall in Los Angeles a good draw.
Make it happen, easy Dave: let’s announce an NBA Hall of Fame class each year at All-Star Weekend in a press conference hosted by Marv, and let’s induct them into a gleaming NBA Hall of Fame in Los Angeles that’s worthy of the game of professional basketball, and worthy of the greatest athletes on Earth.
Also on The Painted Area today:
Eurobasket 2009 Analysis: Qualifying Round Sunday