The Basketball Hall of Fame announced on Monday that they will be inducting Gary Payton, Bernard King, Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Pitino into its ranks this September. Though earlier on Monday we lamented the Hall of Fame’s insipid exclusion of Spencer Haywood, each of the particulars revealed in this class are more than deserving of the honor. International star Oscar Schmidt and ABA legend Roger Brown were also given the honor, bestowed by their respective committees, and the veterans committee also elected Richie Guerin to the Hall. Hall of Famer Magic Johnson was awarded the Mannie Jackson Award for his charity work off the court, as was longtime Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit.
Click the jump for a brief look at each of the more NBA-tinged inductees. And once again, we should remind that longer, more thorough tributes to each of the inductees will go up at Ball Don’t Lie this summer, during the week of the Hall of Fame ceremonies.
Gary Payton was the best of both worlds. A non-stop talker that backed up his verbiage with sterling on-court production. A flashy player that still rarely dunked and did most of his damage on the defensive end. A lightning-quick point guard that still ranked as one of the top post-up point guards of all time. And after years of standout play as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics, Payton thankfully lost his title as one of the greatest players never to win a championship ring by working his way toward a ring as a reserve on the 2005-06 Miami Heat.
Payton made nine NBA All-Star teams. He won the Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 (leading the NBA in steals that year). He led the NBA in total assists in 1999-00, and three-point makes in the same season. Remarkably, as a lead guard he averaged over 40 minutes per game five times in his career, and played every game of the regular season ten times in his 17-year career.
Since his retirement in 2007, Payton has done work for NBA TV while continuing to lend his support toward re-establishing an NBA franchise in the city of Seattle.
When the New York Knicks dealt drug-addled (but since recovered) guard Michael Ray Richardson for Bernard King during the 1982 exhibition season, the franchise was in a bit of a panic. The team had pinned its hopes on Michael Ray leading them back to respectability, but Richardson’s personal woes got in the way of him seeking out his true potential, and a deal for King (who had suffered through his own troubles with the drug) was probably seen as a letdown as King joined his fourth NBA team in five years.
The Fort Greene native responded by turning the city on its ear, turning into a league-leading scorer (at nearly 33 points per game) just three years into his time with the Knicks, while making the league’s centerpiece franchise a tough out under withering coach Hubie Brown. Famously, and sadly, King then tore the ACL in his right knee late in the 1984-85 season -- an injury that was once a death knell for NBA players.
Bernard missed the entirety of the 1985-86 season, and only returned for a handful of games late in 1986-87 – a two year window that showcases just how significant an injury this was for NBA players in the mid-1980s. Remarkably, though, King returned to All-Star status as a member of the Washington Bullets in 1991, and he set the precedent for all major sports when it came to treating an ACL tear as a roadblock, rather than a career-ender.
It’s a little surprising Guerin wasn’t given the Hall of Fame nod until this year, as he was one of the league’s first batch of stars while working out of a media capital in New York. Guerin was a six-time All-Star for the Knicks, and one of the league’s last player-coaches as a member of the St. Louis and then Atlanta Hawks. A precursor to Jerry West, Guerin once averaged 29.5 points per game in his top year in New York, while contributing five rebounds and five assists per game in his 13-year playing career.
Pitino’s time spent in the NBA, coaching two of the more prouder franchises in New York and Boston, could be charitably described as “star-crossed.” Pitino attempted to turn his NBA teams into check-cashing versions of his more fearsome college squads at Providence and Kentucky, all-out pressing on defense with plenty of three-pointers to go around on defense, but that sort of style just didn’t fly for a league that needs to pace itself while entertaining over 82 games from October to April.
And when it came time for Pitino to work in Boston, Rick the GM got in the way of Rick the coach. It’s true that current Memphis Grizzlies executive Chris Wallace was technically the Boston personnel boss when Pitino took to the C’s in 1997, but Pitino was the strongest voice behind a series of deals (sometimes including players Pitino had just signed, in the case of Chris Mills, dealing them before they’d even played a game for Boston) that proved that Rick just did not have the patience to slowly build an NBA franchise from the ground up.
Pitino, to his credit, admitted as much in the years following his step away from the NBA in 2001. Playing for the NCAA championship tonight as the head coach at Louisville, the coach seems right at home in the college game that he seems best suited for. Literally, because the man dresses damn well, and figuratively.
Jerry Tarkanian’s NBA career didn’t last long – just 20 games spent coaching a young but very good San Antonio Spurs roster in 1992-93, and Tark was fired after posting a 9-11 record. He’s coached scads of NBA players throughout his time at UNLV (including Reggie Theus, pictured above) and Fresno State, with an irreverent and at times NCAA-illegal touch. A touch that endeared “Tark the Shark” to many that love to stick it to the NCAA’s stuffed-shirt culture.
The late Roger Brown should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago, and only the NBA’s continued distaste for all things ABA-related (all things that don’t earn them revenue based off of throwback jersey sales, of course) kept the rugged scoring forward out. Brown was the go-to player on perhaps the greatest pro basketball team never to play in the NBA, the early-1970s Indiana Pacers. Why it took the Hall until now to induct Roger Brown, and as an ABA committee vote-in to boot, speaks to the continued irrelevancy of the Basketball Hall of Fame.