The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame celebrated the 124th anniversary of the birth of basketball on Monday by announcing the nominees for induction into the Hall's Class of 2016. As expected, the full ballot — which features more than 160 entrants nominated by six different committees — is headlined by three larger-than-life figures from the game's recent past.
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Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson stand as the three highest-profile players to hit the ballot for the first time. The two 7-footers became eligible due to the Hall's recent decision to reduce the waiting period for consideration from five years after retirement to four years, while 6-foot scoring titan Iverson became eligible after the Hall elected to disregard the 10 professional games he played in Turkey in 2010. They're joined on the ballot by several other notable fellow first-timers, including Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player/three-time Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes.
Others making their first appearance on the ballot include longtime Harlem Globetrotter Hubert "Geese" Ausbie; former Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers stalwart Bobby Jones, who made 11 All-Defensive teams and five All-Star teams in a 12-year career spent in both the ABA and NBA; Milwaukee Bucks swingman turned Wendy's magnate Junior Bridgeman; Pearl Moore, far and away the highest-scoring player of women's college basketball's pre-NCAA era; referees Darell Garretson and Hugh Evans (who join Irv Brown as the officials on this year's ballot); and prep coaching legends Steve Smith of Oak Hill Academy and Gary McKnight of Mater Dei High School. (John McLendon, the first African American head coach in any professional sport, was enshrined as a contributor in 1979, but now appears on the ballot as a coach for the first time, too.)
With four NBA championships, one Most Valuable Player award (plus seven more top-five finishes in MVP voting), three NBA Finals MVP trophies, 14 All-NBA appearances (including eight First Team nods), gold medals in the 1994 FIBA World Championship and 1996 Summer Olympics, and two NBA scoring titles, Shaq is a stone-cold lead-pipe lock to make it on his first try. Iverson might not be — I think his seven All-NBA selections, 11 All-Star berths, four scoring titles, one MVP, placement in the top 25 in NBA history in per-game scoring and total points, and overall impact on the culture of the game should get him there, but as SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted back in September, the "secretive voting body in charge of the Hall" might not be as excited about ushering A.I. into Springfield as those of us who grew up on his game.
Yao presents an interesting case in his own right. His resume includes five All-NBA appearances (two Second Team, three Third Team) in nine NBA seasons, with four shortened by injuries (he played just five games in 2010-11 before retiring) and one (2009-10) in which he didn't play at all; one Chinese Basketball Association championship and MVP award; three FIBA Asia Championships and MVP awards; and quarterfinal appearances with the Chinese national team during the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. In terms of pure NBA on-court accomplishments in the NBA, Basketball-Reference.com's Hall of Fame Probability Index rates Yao's chances of inclusion at slightly better than a coin flip — 52.59 percent, just below Maurice Cheeks (who hasn't been enshrined) and just above Dennis Johnson (who was inducted in 2010).
As NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper notes, though, Yao's candidacy won't be judged solely based on his NBA bona fides:
Yao Ming's path to the Hall of Fame became a little easier when it was revealed Monday that the former Rockets center was nominated through the International committee, a category that requires only one round of balloting and will not put him in direct competition with most candidates from the NBA and ABA.
Yao's eight NBA seasons at 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and six All-Star appearances, plus a ninth campaign lost to injury, will be weighed with five years in the Chinese Basketball Association and three Olympics with China. He also could have been nominated years ago as a Contributor, but turned that opportunity down in favor of being judged as a player -- not for a unique role in the history of the sport as a driving force in the NBA's rise to popularity and riches in the most-populous nation in the world. Choosing the International path in the end rather than the tougher North American committee, with two rounds of voting and big names from the pros and U.S. colleges on the same ballot, is a compromise that allows Yao to still be graded for his work on the court while also retaining more of a connection to China than if he went through the North American group.
Yao's the only first-timer in the International Committee's nominations. Other nominees include former NBA players Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja, all of whom starred for the Yugoslavian national team in the late 1980s; legendary Greek point guard Nick Galis; and FIBA greats Amaury Pasos, Aldo Ossola and Manuel "Lolo" Sainz, among others.
Other players joining O'Neal and Iverson among North American nominees include Cheeks, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Kevin Johnson, Marques Johnson, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, A.C. Green, Sidney Moncrief, Swen Nater, Mark Price, Jack Sikma, Reggie Theus and Paul Westphal. George McGinnis, who spent four stellar years with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and made three NBA All-Star teams in seven post-merger seasons, will also be considered by the North American committee, following the Hall's decision to eliminate the special direct-election committee for candidates whose resumes skewed toward the ABA days. Several other ABA luminaries, such as Zelmo Beatty, Ron Boone, Mack Calvin and Freddie Lewis, will be routed through the Veterans Committee, and will face just one round of voting rather than the two rounds of balloting in the North American and Women's Committees.
Coaches joining Izzo on the list include NBA bench bosses Bill Fitch, Dick Motta, Rudy Tomjanovich — three of our top five NBA coaches not in the HoF — Cotton Fitzsimmons, Del Harris and longtime Los Angeles Lakers assistant Bill Bertka; college coaches Lefty Driesell, Eddie Sutton, Gene Keady, Rollie Massimino, Danny Miles, Glenn Robinson and the newly retired Bo Ryan; and Texas high-school legend Robert Hughes.
You can read the full list of nominees, including those from the Women’s, Early African-American Pioneers, Contributor and Veterans committees, here. Hall of Fame finalists will be announced during NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto in February. Those who make the final cut for enshrinement will be unveiled April 4 in Houston, on the day of the NCAA men's championship game. The induction ceremony for 2016 honorees are scheduled for Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield, Mass.
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