By Jack McCallum
April 07, 2008 caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum to talk about Monday's Hall of Fame announcement. Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley and Pat Riley were among seven selected for the Class of 2008, while Don Nelson and Chris Mullin were denied again. Last year you lamented the fact that no NBA players were elected to the Hall of Fame. Given that, what's your reaction to a 2008 class headlined by Ewing, Olajuwon and Dantley?

McCallum: No visitor goes up to the Hall of Fame to see a coach. They might learn about the guy who created the fast break in the early 1900s, but by and large, they identity with the players; the Hall should be about the players. Getting three seminal players from the 1980s and '90s is a really great thing. Olajuwon and Ewing are the headliners of this class. What comes to mind when you reflect on their careers?

McCallum: With Olajuwon, his athleticism, footwork and versatility -- I don't think there's ever been anyone like him. He was this magically gifted guy who was more nimble-footed at center than anyone I could think of. And for all his shot-blocking and scoring with those great post moves, what was equally impressive was his ability to reach around and get steals. He was so good at that skill. Most people don't think of it right away, but he's among the top 10 all time in steals [Olajuwon ranks seventh].

With Ewing, he was just such an important player in the NBA. He came out of Georgetown with so much fanfare. He was the first pick in the first draft lottery -- that was a huge story. To do what he did in New York, with the pressure on him, as a guy who never bended -- he was a very strong-minded person -- was impressive. I'm not sure any 7-footer in history could hit a 20-foot shot like that guy. It was unbelievable how good he got at that shot. You have some vivid memories of dealing with Olajuwon and Ewing during your time at SI.

McCallum: I did a story on the Rockets in [February] 1986 before they made their run to the NBA Finals. The first half of the story was mostly about Ralph Sampson's feud with coach Bill Fitch, and the second half was all about Olajuwon. A couple weeks later Olajuwon sees me and shows me the first part of the article -- Sampson had torn it out of the magazine and marked all the stuff with Fitch. Olajuwon never saw the second half of the article; he thought that was the entire thing. I can still see Olajuwon holding up this thing with all these red marks on it, wondering what the deal was. And Ewing?

McCallum: The first time I met him was in August 1981 for a story about the the National Sports Festival. It was a showcase featuring three marquee big men headed to college: Ewing of Georgetown, Greg Dreiling of Wichita State and Stuart Gray of UCLA. I wrote about all the skills Gray had and how he outplayed Ewing -- who was unbelievably raw -- and how Gray was better at that moment. Then about seven months later, I'm covering Georgetown and they're going to the Final Four. [Coach] John Thompson sees me and says, "Hey, there's the guy who thought Patrick couldn't play." Do you think the Heat's miserable season, during which Riley has skipped games to scout college talent, affects his legacy at all?

McCallum: That's an excellent question, but I'm not the one to say it. I can't help it, I still associate him with the '80s Lakers. I associate him as the most successful coach in what was probably the greatest era of the NBA. Managing the talent and egos on the Lakers -- that's where I still see him. I understand there are a lot of people who don't begin with him until his Knicks days, when he played those slug-it-out games and made the game ugly. Even then, if your view of him starts there, he managed to win it again [in 2006 with the Heat] when nobody thought they were going to do it. This was Dantley's seven year as a finalist. Why the long wait, and why did he finally get in now?

McCallum: I voted for him one year when I was part of the process. He's probably gotten overlooked a lot of times because of the lack of playoff success and the way he moved around in his career [seven teams in 15 seasons]. He was on some bad teams, and was considered a little bit of a gunner and selfish player. He was traded by the Pistons a few months before they won the 1989 title, because Isiah Thomas wanted to play with his buddy Mark Aguirre instead of Dantley. But if you look at his body of work, for a non-center or big forward, he may be the greatest back-to-the-basket scorer there ever was. He was a scoring machine. Don Nelson is the second-winningest coach of all time. Are you surprised he was bypassed again?

McCallum: I'm a little surprised. When you mention the game's innovators among current coaches, you hear his name more than anybody else's. Perhaps the voters wanted him to win a championship, which he hasn't done. Maybe there are too many defensive-oriented voters. I would say Nellie is the type of guy who could get in the next time. And Mullin? He missed out last year as well.

McCallum: I think it's just easier for him to get lost a bit. People think of him more as a college immortal [at St. John's] than as an NBA immortal, and people do seem to define Hall of Fame credentials in large part by a player's NBA career. Some people might forget that he was on the first Dream Team [in 1992] -- he was just overshadowed by all of his great teammates, because he wasn't anywhere near as spectacular. But you think about it now, on a latter-day Dream Team, he would be like the first guy picked. He would be so valuable now on a team that needed his outside shooting.

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