Posted Feb 13 2010 1:09AM
Not to get melodramatic about this or anything, but there was a poignant moment Friday morning when Magic Johnson talked about the 1992 "Dream Team'' and its just-announced nomination to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. "A bittersweet moment,'' Johnson said, that the coach of that team, Chuck Daly, wasn't around to enjoy the honor.
Never mind that Daly, the great Detroit Pistons coach who died last May, already had been enshrined in Hall back in 1994. Or that several others from that most famous of U.S. Olympic basketball squads have been as well (rendering the nomination for the team a little redundant, don't you think?).
Johnson's point was that sometimes a lifetime achievement like Hall of Fame recognition can come too late. Which made it all too easy for me to connect the dots with Artis Gilmore, the dominating NBA/ABA center whose induction is way, way overdue. In a recent conversation with Gilmore, he said he had resigned himself to never making it to Springfield, Mass., certainly "not in my lifetime.''
That would make it way, way, way overdue. Frankly, Gilmore should have been in years ago.
Gilmore wasn't on the list of 19 finalists for the Class of 2010 released Friday. A whole bunch of deserving folks were -- Karl Malone, Don Nelson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Johnson and Cynthia Cooper among them -- but Gilmore wasn't, Dennis Rodman wasn't and Mark Jackson wasn't. There were others, of course, who didn't get thumbs-up from the Hall's selection process, fed by four different committees (North America, International, Women's and Veterans'), but it says here that overlooking Gilmore doesn't snub him as much as it embarrasses the process.
Let's put this in perspective:
• Gilmore ranks 20th in NBA/ABA history in scoring. Pretty good, right? Consider that the 19 players ahead of him on that list either are in the Hall or will be soon after they become eligible. Consider, too, that the 14 players behind Gilmore also are either in the Hall already or will be soon after they become eligible.
• Gilmore, who primarily played for Kentucky in the ABA and Chicago and San Antonio in the NBA, ranks fifth all-time in rebounding. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar grabbed more.
• For those who favor more new-fangled stats, Gilmore ranks sixth all-time in "win shares,'' which attempt to measure a player's role in team success. On that list, only Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and John Stockton outrank him.
• No one in NBA history ever was more accurate from start to finish than Gilmore's career .599 field-goal percentage. No one in NBA/ABA history either (.5819).
Lest anyone quibble about Gilmore's split career -- five seasons in the ABA, 12 in the NBA -- remember that we're talking about the Naismith shrine, which embraces all levels and permutations of the game. Frankly, it ought to weigh in Gilmore's favor that he was a major force in college and in two U.S. pro leagues and, at the end, even added a little Euro flavor with a season in Italy.
After learning the disappointing news Friday, the courtly Gilmore took the high road, fitting for someone 7-foot-2.
"I wouldn't have any idea how to respond to it,'' he said. "I don't know what I could possibly say. I was not expecting anything. It would have been, really, extraordinarily nice to have been on the list ... It is what it is.''
If Gilmore wouldn't beat the drum for himself, others on the All-Star scene Friday would:
• Hall of Fame center and rival Bill Walton: "If I were in charge, things would be different. Artis was not the best player that I played against -- that was Kareem -- but Artis was the toughest player I played against. He was so difficult to guard. The biggest, strongest, most powerful player. And I'm not sure if Artis read the rule book. I'm not in charge here. My heart goes out to him. As did my support -- I wrote in support of Artis' nomination.''
• Denver coach George Karl, working the Western Conference sideline Sunday and a former ABA opponent of Gilmore: "A force. He was that Shaq-like force, a Wilt Chamberlain-force. And they had many good years [with him in the NBA] in San Antonio, but the Lakers were always a little better.''
• Dominique Wilkins, the Atlanta Hawks star who felt snubbed by having to wait till the second ballot for his Hall pass in 2006: "Artis Gilmore was a monster. The strongest man I have ever seen in this game, ever. And one of the highest percentage shooters in the history of the league.''
• Stan Love, a former ABA player and father of Minnesota forward Kevin Love: "Are you kidding me? Of course he should be in.'' (Love recalled a basketball trip to Japan that he took in the 1970s with Gilmore and still has a photo of people there gathered in awe around the giant towering above them.)
If there was a glimmer of hope for Gilmore -- eventually, maybe, some day -- it came when Jerry Colangelo, the Hall's chairman, talked of similar omissions. "I have an opinion that certain people, teams, have slipped through the cracks,'' he said. "And some how, some way, we need to address the process ... to give some of these people another bite at the apple, another opportunity to be in that elite membership.''
Asked specifically about Gilmore, Colangelo said: "[He] is a good example of the kind of people that need to have re-consideration. Some of them have been nominated in the past, but after being nominated so many consecutive times, you kind of slip away.''
A fresh start for the selection process is encouraging. Less so was Colangelo's apparent view of "transparency.'' With baseball, voting results are made public. Both Cooperstown (baseball) and Canton (pro football) have systems in which voters' names are easy enough to learn, which helps with accountability. But Colangelo, despite talking about wanting "fan'' input as part of the process, wasn't interested in full disclosure.
"In order to have a process that's clean, you can't have people know who's on the committee, because you don't want people soliciting votes,'' he said. "I think that's really unhealthy. I'll know who's on the committee and it will be my judgment how we get the kind of transparency I believe we need.''
So things might change in Gilmore's favor or they might not. We might know why, though we probably won't.
If there is transparency, it might happen. If there's justice, it will. In 2011.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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