Thirteen people will be enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, expanding the membership of what is already one of pro sports’ most inclusive Halls. However, even with the annual additions of more and more players, coaches, executives and contributors, some worthy candidates have been left waiting for their orange blazers and time in the spotlight in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Our writers attempted to right some of those wrongs, picking people from all walks of basketball whom they’d enshrine alongside the likes of Ray Allen, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash if they had the power to do so.
Ainge wasn’t a Hall of Fame player, though he won the John R. Wooden Award for national college player of the Year at Brigham Young and played a key role on two Celtics title teams. Ainge wasn’t a Hall of Fame coach, though a .602 win percentage in three-plus seasons in Phoenix is nothing to sneeze at.
He might very well be a Hall of Fame executive, particularly if Boston’s current core adds to the team’s collection of Larry O’Brien trophies in the coming years. But even if it doesn’t, there has to be a spot for Ainge for his cumulative accomplishments in every role he has filled in the game. Plus, he’s never getting into Cooperstown with that .220 career batting average.
— Chris Forsberg
Nathaniel S. Butler
To capture a sport such as basketball — one whose best moments more often than not come from a fury of aerial maneuvering — on a still camera is akin to reaching into a raging river and coming up with a fistful of water. NBA Entertainment photographer Nathaniel S. Butler has been pulling off the feat for more than three decades, entering the league back in 1984 with the likes of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. While MJ and Chuck have long since put their kicks to rest, you’ll still see Butler in an NBA arena in 2018 climbing up a ladder hours before tipoff to set up remote cameras on the backboard, preparing his equipment to add iconic images to his prestigious portfolio.
With Butler’s colleague, Andrew D. Bernstein, making his way into Springfield this September, it is only right for Nat to join him next year. From the Dream Team in Barcelona to Jordan’s series-winning shot in Utah to LeBron James‘ Finals streak, Butler has been there for all of it, giving back to the game by providing fans with photos they’ll never forget. It’s time for the Hall of Fame to make sure it honors Butler’s career forever.
— Dave McMenamin
The Jackie Robinsons of the NBA arrived during the 1950-51 season, when Boston Celtics forward Cooper, Washington Capitols center Earl Lloyd and New York Knicks forward Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton became the league’s first three African-American players. Lloyd was the first to play on Oct. 31, 1950, due to a scheduling quirk. But Cooper was the first of the trio to be drafted. Celtics owner Walter Brown said he didn’t care if the former Duquesne star was “polka dot” as he selected Cooper with the 14th overall pick.
The 6-foot-5, 209-pounder averaged 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 409 games with Boston over four seasons, before playing two more years with the Milwaukee Hawks and the Fort Wayne Pistons. Considering his place in history with two Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers in Lloyd and Clifton, it makes no sense that the third pioneer is not a member as well. Lloyd, Clifton and Cooper endured racism and created a blueprint that made it easier for the fellow African-American likes of Bill Russell, Al Attles, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain to adapt to the NBA on and off the court. Cooper, Lloyd and Clifton arrived into the NBA together, and these three late pioneers should be in the Hall of Fame together as well.
— Marc Spears
There are 1,106 reasons that Bill Fitch has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, despite strong support from the National Basketball Coaches Association. That’s how many games Fitch lost as an NBA head coach, the second-most in league history, finishing his career with a .460 win percentage.
Now, let’s put those numbers in the proper context. That’s a necessity to evaluate the candidacy of a man who won an NBA title, took another team to the Finals and twice earned the league’s Coach of the Year honors, all while pioneering use of video in scouting and preparation and producing a coaching tree of champions, including Phil Jackson, Rudy Tomjanovich and Rick Carlisle.
Fitch, who ranks 10th in NBA history with 944 wins, took over massive rebuilding projects in all five of his NBA stops. He was in charge of the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers in his first NBA job and inherited teams that had a combined win percentage of .293 in the seasons immediately prior to his arrival with the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Fitch took all five teams to the playoffs, in which he had a 55-54 record, winning the 1981 title with the Celtics and taking the Rockets to the Finals five years later. Sure, Fitch benefited from having Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon as the foundation pieces of those rebuilding projects, but there is a reason Bird has repeatedly referred to Fitch as the best coach he ever played for.
— Tim MacMahon
It says something that Spike Lee models Jesus after your life.
Lee used Marbury, a Coney Island high school phenom, as his muse for the 1998 film “He Got Game,” which focused on a high school basketball star being wooed by every school in the country. Indeed, Marbury’s star was so bright at Lincoln High School that the 18-year-old basically rewrote the recruiting book. He turned a one-year stint at Georgia Tech into a launchpad for an NBA career that was highlighted by two All-Star selections, an Olympic medal and playoff runs with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.
A nice career, but it’s perhaps on the fringes of the Hall of Fame. Enter China.
Marbury’s post-NBA career affirmed his case for the Hall of Fame as a contributor. Marbury won three Chinese Basketball Association titles for the Beijing Ducks and entrenched himself as a bona fide legend in the nation’s capital. True, other Americans played in China before him, but most were on tired legs with dwindling skills. Marbury went to China still in his prime. His success demonstrated the kind of lucrative career not previously considered by NBA players. With the impact that Hall of Fame contributor Yao Ming had, the world’s most populous country has become of the highest priority for the NBA, and Marbury has had a major part in that development. His personality of the vulnerable superstar built lasting rapport with the Chinese audience. In this sense, Marbury’s contributions to basketball have been nothing short of global in impact.
— Michael Huang
I originally made the case for Sikma three years ago, and little has changed since then. Only one eligible player not in the Hall of Fame has as many or more All-Star selections than Sikma’s seven: 1950s center Larry Foust, who made eight appearances in an era when there were typically more than twice as many spots on the All-Star roster (20) as teams (eight). Sikma also ranks among the all-time leaders in win shares and other advanced metrics as yet unselected to the Hall of Fame.
Yet there remains little momentum for Sikma’s candidacy; he has been nominated the past several years but has yet to be chosen a finalist. As a longtime member of the Seattle SuperSonics, now in Oklahoma City — he helped lead the Sonics to their only championship in 1979, spending his first nine seasons in Seattle before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, with whom he finished his career — Sikma has no NBA organization to lead the charge for his selection. Nonetheless, his resumé deserves a second look from the Hall of Fame’s committee.
— Kevin Pelton
Tomjanovich’s combination of wins and win percentage as a coach would put him toward the low end of Hall of Famers in that category. Ditto for his 13,000 points and five All-Star appearances as an NBA player. (Those numbers would surely be higher if not for one infamous punch, though Tomjanovich made one All-Star appearance after Kermit Washington nearly killed him during a 1977 brawl.) But there should be some allowance for those who excelled across both areas, those who embedded themselves into the fabric of the game over decades.
Every coach who won multiple NBA titles is either in or still coaching, though two — K.C. Jones and Bill Russell — got in only as players. Tomjanovich guided the Rockets to back-to-back titles during the Jordan interregnum behind an ahead-of-its-time 3-point barrage, and he remains one of the greatest players in the history of the University of Michigan. Lesser players are in. It’s time to put Rudy T in Springfield.
— Zach Lowe
The Contributors wing at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame has increasingly become a place to reward lifetime .250 hitters, accumulators of years and jobs, and the politically connected. Fewer and fewer have impacted dramatic change on the game, and almost none has shaped the future of basketball in the way that John Paul Vincent (Sonny) Vaccaro did.
Basketball has been marketed and popularized through sneakers, and Vaccaro executed the biggest, boldest idea of all: signing Michael Jordan to Nike, launching the Air Jordan campaign and the beginning of a shoe empire. He had the idea to recruit college basketball coaches to shoe endorsement deals, and he founded the Dapper Dan Classic and ABCD Camp, discovering and transforming high school players into national phenoms. He was a prospector, forever mining the terrain for gold and oil.
Vaccaro changed the modern basketball marketplace, made richer NBA stars and the college structure, and yet always advocated — long before it was politically popular — that NCAA players share in the immense revenue they generated as walking billboards on television.
Vaccaro has never been one of the blue bloods whom the establishment wants to recognize, never mind honor. He was a provocateur, a maverick and a hustler. Vaccaro changed basketball. Most of the modern coaching and playing stars in the Hall of Fame can thank him for the billions of dollars that he imagined for them. He should be rewarded with enshrinement as a contributor into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.
— Adrian Wojnarowski
Webber is one of the most versatile and talented power forwards the game has ever seen, with a peak at the turn of the century that, along with Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, began to redefine the skill set of the position altogether.
A five-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA team member, the former No. 1 overall pick is tied with Tim Hardaway, who faces his own set of tricky dynamics with voters, as the only players with a handful of nods each to not be in the Hall of Fame. Webber is arguably the greatest player not yet inducted. The 6-foot-10 former Kings star finished in the top 10 for MVP voting in each of those All-NBA seasons, finishing as high as fourth in 2001.
However, Webber’s accomplishments in two seasons at Michigan — leading the “Fab Five” to 56 combined wins and back-to-back Finals appearances — have been clouded since they were officially vacated by the NCAA more than 15 years ago. Webber allegedly received nearly $280,000 in cash and gifts from 1988 to 1993, throughout his high school and college run. The scandal is perhaps the biggest roadblock to his enshrinement, despite his undeniable on-court play throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
— Nick DePaula