NBA / Apr 7, 2010 / 2:14 pm

Basketball Hall of Fame needs one more tweak

Although Jeff Van Gundy can be the most entertaining and humorous national-network NBA announcer working right now, too often he drifts into territory where it’s like watching a game with a hyperactive 9-year-old: “Why? … How come? … When are they gonna? … You know what? … I wanna …”

JVG was most recently doing his child-like act during Spurs/Lakers last Sunday, when talk turned to the incoming 2010 Basketball Hall of Fame class and he asked why coaches don’t have to wait five years after retirement to get H.O.F. consideration, but players do. (Although it did set up a great moment when he said, “Kobe Bryant should be in the Hall of Fame right now. Tim Duncan should be in right now,” and then Sasha Vujacic threw up an airball as the announce crew fell into an awkward silence.)

Nobody wanted to tell Van Gundy that coaches — who can get inducted after 25 years active on the bench, but if they retire before that have the same five-year waiting period — get the special treatment because, honestly, a lot of them would die or become ill during that five-year gap, since they coach for so long and don’t retire until they’re in their 70s.

Another factor: Players need to be evaluated after a significant “Settle down” period. If we could vote guys into the Hall while they were still playing, overzealous voters would have already put LeBron James in, Grant Hill would have gone in before he busted his ankle, and Chauncey Billups would have been voted in last year during that stretch where everybody seemed to wake up at the same time and realize how great he’s been under the radar. And not to say those players won’t eventually get into the Hall when it’s their time, but you need a waiting period to accurately judge their careers when you’re not swept up in a wave of appreciation/hype while the accomplishments are still fresh.

Look at Kurt Warner. The NFL quarterback retired this year, and everyone jumped on the “Hall of Famer” bandwagon immediately. Yes, Warner put up some crazy numbers, but seven of his 12 NFL seasons could be classified anywhere from “mediocre” to “awful.” Right now when his career is fresh he might seem like a Hall of Famer, but give it five years and see if it feels the same.

Because the basketball Hall already has the five-year waiting period for players and retired coaches, their system only needs one minor tweak: A five-year waiting period after a candidate dies.

Now, before you jump on me and say I’m disrespecting Dennis Johnson, I promise I’m not. But even the biggest Celtics/DJ fan has to admit that Johnson’s death in 2007 played a role in his H.O.F. induction this year. When DJ died, career retrospectives were made and a new push enacted to get him into the Hall. Voters who had been snubbing him for years were reminded of how good he was. And again, I’m not saying DJ isn’t Hall-worthy. But he retired in 1990. If he hadn’t been getting in during the 15 or so years he was eligible before now, what changed?

Players who don’t get into the Hall of Fame during their first couple years of eligibility usually need something to spark a renewed interest in their resume and build up a swell of public — and more importantly, media — support. And sometimes, yes, a death is the thing that sparks that process.

The same thing happens in music and pop culture. Ray Charles is undeniably one of the greatest to ever stroke a piano and sing a note, but how many people were really thinking about him in the years before he died? When he did pass, the biopic starring Jamie Foxx blew up, his posthumous album got a swell of Grammy support, and everybody was all about Ray Charles. Same goes for every artist from Michael Jackson to Pimp C. One time I was interviewing an up-and-coming rapper and asked him who were his biggest hip-hop influences. Almost like a script, dude rattled off 2Pac, Biggie, Big Pun and Big L. Really? It’s like nobody wants to disrespect the dead, so they go too far the other way.

Not that it happens in the Naismith H.O.F. too often. Drazen Petrovic was inducted in 2002, almost a decade after his untimely passing. And while his NBA career was more “All-Star” than “Hall of Fame” caliber, Petrovic’s international career definitely put him among the greats. Likewise, most other inductees in the major sports who pass before their Hall inductions are unquestionably deserving. But with a guy who was already borderline like Dennis Johnson, I’m always going to wonder. It’s unfortunate now that when I think of DJ getting his Hall of Fame nod, part of me will have to ask if he was one of the guys who got in as part of an appreciation wave after he died.

And I would imagine even DJ wouldn’t want it that way. I’d imagine he’d want to be 100% judged on his body of work on the court, and not put in based on a wave of nostalgia or sense of duty because he’s no longer with us.

What do you think? Should the Hall of Fame have another “waiting period” for candidates who pass away?

– Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206
– Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag

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  • Gnasche

    In this era of digital storage and top ten lists, why do we even need a Hall of Fame? In 50 years, when ESPN6 makes a “Best Passing PG’s of All Time” list, viewers will be able to queue up any Nash, Kidd or Johnson game they want. I say, end HOF inductions and open the unabridged NBA Archive.

    As far as the ACTUAL topic, I don’t see a problem with borderline HOFers getting in on sentimentality. Their stories will still be intriguing to future generations. A person dying before their time is universally dramatic.

  • two times

    I couldn’t disagree more. Why should there be an additional caveat for when some passes away, especially when the five years after their retirement has already elapsed? DJ is a perfect example of a great, HOF-worthy player, who may not have gotten the prudent consideration he deserved because he played fourth-fiddle to the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics. Having had strong personal experiences with death and dying, sometimes it takes an acute moment of sentimentality to be reminded of the miracle of life and the invaluable contributions provided by “role-player” types like DJ. HOF players are worthy BECAUSE of a human element and not just stats.

  • Promoman

    The HOF system needs some degree of reform. There’s too much cronyism and other forms of politics involved and that’s not just regarding the NBA. Kurt Warner does deserve HOF consideration. Those 7 mediocre years were marred by injury, lack of playing time, and scapegoating. When he took the Cardinals the Super Bowl and and deep into last season’s playoffs, he shed the label that kept him from being taken seriously: system player. The man made one of the doormats of American pro sports relevant and without the array of talent around him that he had with the Rams.

  • sh!tfaced

    Couldn’t agree more. As great as an actor Heath Ledger was, you have to admit that his sudden death played a major role in his winning an oscar.

  • http://dimemag.com Austin Burton

    @Promoman — Warner deserves consideration, but you can’t ignore that for literally the majority of his career (7 out of 12 years) he was far from HOF worthy. He only really had 5 good/great years, which is the same you would say for Penny Hardaway.

  • danocasa

    @ two times

    Was it just a coincidence that DJ was voted in the year after he passed, and not any of the fifteen years before? That the voters simply “forgot” about him? As much of a tradgey it was that he passed, i guarantee that it swayed the voters in his favor. I doubt they went back and reevaluated his body of work and decided he was good enough now.

    Career stats:

    PPG: 14.1
    RPG: 3.9
    APG: 5.0
    FG: 45%
    FT: 80%

    Best Year:
    1981-82; PPG-19.5, RPG-4.6, APG-5.1

    If i were to show you those stats, and not tell you that they were DJ’s, would you consider those to belong to someone who deserves the hall?

    For example:
    T-Mac: 21.6, 6.0, 4.7
    Grant Hill: 17.9, 6.5, 4.5
    Vince Carter: 22.9, 5.3, 4.2
    Jeff Hornacek: 14.5, 3.4, 4.9

    Any of those guys making it to the hall? Nope. Just because DJ played with Bird, Mchale, and Parrish, doesnt mean he is on par with those guys. Just because Perkins won a championship with Ray Ray, Pierce, and KG, doesnt make Perkins a HOFer. (I mean, come on, Jeff Hornacek?!)

    (And yes I may be bored enough at work to look up all those stats.)

  • John B


    Agree completely with your point that sentimentality had a large role in DJ making it, and agree that it shouldn’t. BUT, you can’t just go by stats either. When you do you lost DJ’s two most impressive traits, lockdown D and huevos so big he practically had to do the Cassell Testicle Dance just to get down the court.

    The dude was CLUTCH and he consistently shut down the other teams best guard. So yeah, DJ should have been voted in a long time ago, but was definitely voted in cause he passed on.

  • danocasa

    ah shit youre right i totally forgot about his defense…damn. o well, but i still think that the requirements to get into the hall have been diminished.

  • Heckler

    if you wanna help the HOF voting criteria, remove the media from voting. sports writers SHOULD NOT HAVE A VOTE.

    they are MORE BIASED than fans.
    and there is no way you can convince me that a sports writer in Atlanta has any idea what the hell is going on in Seattle. or a writer in Philly knows anything about Texas. or a NY writer knowing about a players career in Phoenix. and so on and so on. their NOT in the locker rooms. their NOT at practice. and their NOT at the games.

    so how can people or persons nowhere to be found be given the authority to vote?!!?…especially on something as defining as the hall of fame?

  • Wolves Fan #1

    if Bill Walton’s in the hall (let alone 50 greatest at 50 years), why not Warner? he may not have been the model of consistency, but for those few years both had hall-of-fame talent, and not borderline.

  • http://dimemag.com/2010/01/daily-fantasy-diagnosis-1-20/#more-30658 Mike

    Well everybody says DJ played with the 80’s Celtics & dats y he won chips but remember he was the finals MVP with the Sonics