SPRINGFIELD, MASS. -- Was on the phone with a friend yesterday afternoon, talking about life and death and the Basketball Hall of Fame induction press conference I had just attended.
"So who are the honorees?" he asked.
"Oh, it's an interesting class," I replied.
I proceeded to run off the names, one by one.
"Well, that makes sense."
"He won a lot of games ..."
"What the ..."
"Who in the world ..."
The All American Red Heads.
Indeed, the Basketball Hall of Fame is like no other of its genre, both in location (As a student at Western New England University mock-bragged to me, "We're the 17th most dangerous city in America! But we're aiming for 16th!") and the -- how to say this? -- quirky, funkadelic, nonsensical nature of its inductees. Or, to put thusly: The Hall of Fame website has a page devoted to the election process. It includes a very detailed explanation of how certain folks are selected -- and, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Some players (like Daniels) are "direct elects" from the ABA committee. Others, like Barksdale, get in via the "Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee." (I am hoping that one day, with the inevitable formation of the "Gangly Jewish Sportswriters Who Once Spent a Week as Their High School Basketball Team's 12th Man Committee," I'll have a shot.) There's something about a packet, five of seven votes, "appropriate review," blah, blah. Really, it's Tolstoy in French sorta stuff.
Whether this is righteous or wrongheaded, the Basketball Hall of Fame seems to apply absolutely zero rhyme or reason to who gets in and who doesn't. Daniels, for example, was a seven-time ABA All-Star who twice won the league's MVP award. He was a dynamic rebounder (14.9 boards per game doesn't lie) whose Pacers won three titles.
He boasts the same credentials now as when he retired -- 36 years ago.
Sampson, one of the great college studs of all time, was a woefully disappointing NBA player whose fleeting career was damned by injury and inconsistency (in baseball speak, he's Gregg Jefferies). Barksdale, a star forward at UCLA who, in 1947, became the first African-American All-America and, a year later, was the first African-American on the Olympic basketball team, was regarded as one of the most important hoops pioneers decades back. That he was finally inducted now, 19 years after his death, is embarrassing and, for the Hall, shameful. As Nelson noted during an eloquent moment with the press, "that should have happened a long time ago."
Wilkes won four NBA titles and two NCAA crowns at UCLA. He was a smooth, silky, wonderful player who served as the third option on the Showtime Lakers of the early 1980s. "He could score 25 and you wouldn't even know it," says Michael Cooper, his former teammate. "A quiet killer." And yet ... does his 17.7 ppg career average warrant a Hall nod? Was he a better player than, say, Bernard King, a non-Hall member who scored 22.5 ppg and, in his heyday as a Knick, was borderline unstoppable? I don't actually know the answer. No one does, it seems.
And so it goes with this Hall. Sampson enters, genuine superstars like King and Spencer Haywood watch from afar. Daniels waits 3 ½ decades while Michael Jordan and Alex English and many others walk in ASAP. Do tragic stars like Hank Gathers or Len Bias deserve a nod? How about Mark Jackson, a brilliant passer? Can we go quirky? Yinka Dare was awfully tall. Ex-Knick Ken (Animal) Bannister hung rubber bands from his face.
Hell, beginning next year the Hall will (egad) incorporate fan voting into the process. Or, as Yahoo's Eric Freeman rightly notes, "Yes, the same people who voted Vince Carter to the All-Star game well past his sell-by date will now get to have a say in who's displayed forever in Springfield."
On the down side, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
On the bright side, Jawann Oldham is calling all his friends.