Commentary

Though feeling slighted by Springfield hall, NBA won't start its own shrine

Originally Published: September 6, 2007
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The NBA's dwindling representation in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the growing frustration in response have prompted increasing calls for the league to break away and start its own Hall of Fame.

But that's not David Stern's answer.

Stern himself voiced pointed displeasure earlier this year with the downward trend but has shown no interest in an NBA-only Hall. The league's commissioner prefers to push for a revamped and more "transparent" selection process with the 48-year-old Basketball Hall of Fame based in Springfield, Mass., which will induct a 2007 class this weekend that features no NBA players and only two honorees with NBA ties: Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and legendary referee Mendy Rudolph.

Hall of Fame
AP Photo/Nancy PalmieriGetting in here is proving hard for NBA types.

"We have always been supportive of the Hall of Fame," Stern told ESPN.com. "Among the constituent groups, we are its largest financial backer. We were persuaded early on that an all-encompassing Hall of Fame was good for our sport -- men, women, high school, college, pro, international and media."

Questions about a selection process that has historically favored college coaches have grown louder over the past three years, starting in 2005 when neither Joe Dumars (a former NBA Finals MVP who has won championships as a player and executive with the Detroit Pistons) nor Dominique Wilkins (the NBA's ninth all-time leading scorer) was selected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Longtime coach and television analyst Hubie Brown was the only NBA representative in a 2005 class that featured college coaching titans Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun, former LSU women's coach Sue Gunter and Hortencia Marcari, who is considered Brazil's best-ever female player.

Dumars and Wilkins joined first-ballot inductee Charles Barkley in 2006, but the 2007 class continued a 10-year pattern of NBA slights, with Adrian Dantley and Chris Mullin among the players nominated but not selected. Joining Jackson and Randolph in Friday night's ceremony are North Carolina coach Roy Williams, four-time WNBA championship coach Van Chancellor, two international coaches (Spain's Pedro Ferrandiz and Mirko Novosel from the former Yugoslavia) and the 1966 Texas Western team that beat Kentucky to become the first school to win the NCAA title by starting five African-American players.

In the past decade, 25 coaches and nine contributors have been inducted into the Hall of Fame compared to only 20 players … and only four of those 25 coaches were from the NBA. In the same span that Jackson, Larry Brown, Alex Hannum and Bill Sharman were selected, Springfield has inducted eight NCAA women's coaches, four international coaches and one high school coach. Of the 20 players chosen in that span, only 14 were NBA alumni.

Frustrated by the repeated snubbing of Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson, who won five rings as a player with the Boston Celtics and ranks third all-time in coaching victories with 1,232, Stern told the New York Daily News in May: "It's absolutely unacceptable, the [selection] process. It's troublesome. It doesn't even bring the NBA in in a rational way."

Perhaps the biggest source of contention in that process is the fact that Springfield inductees are chosen by committee as opposed to, say, a vote of tenured media members as seen in baseball.

In basketball, there are four separate committees that screen and nominate candidates, one each for North American candidates, females, veterans who have been retired for at least 35 years before being nominated and internationals. NBA players and coaches can thus qualify in only the first of those four categories, giving women and international candidates an advantage because their pools are much smaller on the first step to enshrinement.

Once candidates are successfully nominated into one of those four categories, they need 18 of 24 votes from their respective committees for induction. Each committee features 12 independent voters and a group of 12 that sits on all four committees.

Yet while voters can include Hall of Famers, basketball executives, media members and other contributors to the game, the identities and credentials of the voters -- and who they've voted for -- are never revealed.

The process is clouded further by the absence of the statistical benchmarks that are so prevalent in baseball. No one in basketball has clearly identified a measuring-stick equivalent to the virtually automatic enshrinement bestowed on pitchers who win 300-plus games or hitters with 500-plus home runs. Even winning an NBA title as a coach has not been enough for the likes of Bill Fitch and Dick Motta.

"There are no black and white criteria," Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame president John Doleva told ESPN.com in February. "Decisions are based as much on quality as on quantity. Players aren't voted in because they played for this many NCAA champions or participated in two NBA Finals or any set criteria."

Yet Stern reiterated Thursday that the NBA has no plans to open its own Hall. The irony there is that, as of October when the new College Basketball Hall of Fame opens in Kansas City, Stern's league will be one of the last constituencies served by Springfield that doesn't have its own.

The College Basketball Hall of Fame will join the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the FIBA Basketball Hall of Fame (run by the sport's international governing body) as institutions separate from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"[It's] obviously a troubling state of affairs," Stern said of the increasing struggles for NBA candidates to earn Springfield enshrinement. "But it remains our preference to promote cooperation among all members of the basketball community."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics