The Basketball Hall of Fame is welcoming a truly transcendent class this season. You have one of the most versatile centers of all time, one of the game's most creative point guards, a rugged forward who became an even more rugged coach, a woman who helped guide women's college basketball out of its 300-fan-per-game obscurity and into a game that, at some schools, rivals the men's game in popularity...and then there's that guy that used to do commercials with Mars Blackmon. A few observations about the ceremony and the Hall of Fame itself:
1. Why Now?
It seems like a very odd time for basketball to be holding its Hall of Fame inductions. College football is getting truly ramped up, the NFL is opening, baseball is barreling down the stretch, and some people are still focused on the US Open. Exactly what relevance does September have to the NBA, anyway?
The NFL's inductions serve as the symbolic kickoff to each preseason. MLB's inductions come right in midseason, sure, but what better time to honor the best of the "boys of summer?"
Springfield needs to take a note and move these inductions to one of two times of year.
Option #1 is to do it on All-Star Friday, the day before the NBA stops to show off the skills and swagger that have become synonymous with the game.
Option #2 is to do it right before the NBA Finals, when the game is garnering its most attention. Many Hall of Famers have great Finals moments in their highlight reels, so this would be a complete natural.
Either way, if Michael Jordan wasn't getting inducted, this year's ceremony would be completely drowned out by USC/Ohio State and Troy Polamalu getting bitten by the Madden Curse. Move it. Now.
2. The Three-Man Weave From Hell
Seriously, if you wanted to pick a three-on-three team from anyone in the Hall of Fame, you couldn't do a whole lot better than David Robinson, John Stockton, and Michael Jordan. Compare these guys to any other class, and they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all of them.
Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West in 1980 is the only class I'd put against these three with any confidence. MAYBE Dan Issel, Julius Erving, and Calvin Murphy from 1993. Note the big maybe.
Adrian Dantley, Patrick Ewing, and Hakeem Olajuwon from last year would overwhelm with size, but Dantley would get routinely victimized trying to bring the ball up against Stockton and Jordan.
3. A Woman In Full
C. Vivian Stringer doesn't have the championship hardware that her more celebrated peers (and now Hall of Fame compatriots), Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma, have. She's the only women's coach to take three women's teams to the Final Four, which is in itself an accomplishment.
But Summitt and Auriemma, through the force of their own personalities and the occasional childish ego trip, often threaten to overshadow their players and the game they play.
Stringer, whose emotional speech traced a journey that would leave movie audiences misty, has left a different legacy. She's conducted herself with grace over the length of her career, and has done her best to ensure that that is also instilled in her players.
Her Rutgers team's measured and collected response to Don Imus's "nappy-headed hos" remarks two years ago serves as a fitting case in point. Someone who's dealt with the kinds of emotional blows that Stringer has seen is able to understand that the game is just a game, but sometimes the game can be one's greatest salvation.
4. The Original Bull Falls Behind the Ultimate Bull...Again
Jerry Sloan just can't get away from Michael Jordan. Jerry was one of the Bulls' most beloved players, until Jordan came along and took the team to heights unprecedented in their history. With the Jazz, Sloan got two shots at the Bulls in the Finals, coming up with two losses. Now, Jerry gets called to the Hall of Fame, and here's Jordan, ensuring that no one else gets a whole lot of ink.
Much like Vivian Stringer, Sloan has everything you want in your Hall of Fame coaches, except that championship ring. His teams have always played hard, and have usually played smart. His 1136 wins say he should have gotten in a long time ago...and if it wasn't for a fortuitous push on Bryon Russell, Sloan might have had the ring to get him in the door sooner.
5. The Last of Number 23?
The Chicago Sun-Times made note of a commentary from Rick Reilly on this morning's SportsCenter opining that Michael Jordan's number 23 should be retired league-wide. I love me some Mike and all, but...no.
Jackie Robinson changed the entire landscape of baseball and heralded an enormous change in society at large. For that, his number's league-wide retirement was highly deserved.
Wayne Gretzky's #99 was retired not only due to his transcendent skills, but also the fact that it was a highly unusual number to which no one else would ever be able to do further justice. Gretzky is also still the only hockey player who Joe from Nebraska would be able to name, and this is over a decade after his retirement. Middle America doesn't know about Gordie Howe or Mario Lemieux or Patrick Roy, but they know about Wayne Gretzky. Kind of like how all they know of soccer is Pele.
Michael Jordan played the game at a level above anyone he shared the court with, and was probably the greatest offensive force not named Chamberlain. His marketing clout made him the most recognizable athlete in the world.
But did he CHANGE the world, like Jackie did? No. In fact, Michael has actively avoided any greater statements aside from "Buy Wheaties and wear Hanes."
Is he still the only face of his game, like Gretzky? No. The world knows Wilt and Dr. J and Magic and Larry, and now Kobe and LeBron. Michael made it possible for LeBron to try to take over the world today, but that pales in comparison with carrying an entire sport on one's shoulders, let alone one's entire race.
Springfield may not have the aura of Canton or Cooperstown, but for this year, the Hall of Fame welcomed some fresh Air. It'll be hard to top this class next year, but with the possibility of Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone in 2010, it'll at least seem somewhat familiar.