Posted Aug 18 2011 8:53AM
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The next Hall of Fame class could look a lot like the current Hall of Fame class. Not actual look, in a Dennis Rodman sort of way. A lot of people sigh a "Thank goodness" about that.
But similar in its rewarding of those who have waited for their turn. A lot of people cheer an "About time" for that.
If 2011 was defined as a superstar-less induction -- Rodman had the most accolades, but was never better than the third-best player on a championship team -- 2012 will extend that into the bridge years, plural, between the dominating figures of the last generation and the first sightings of recent headliners. For the next couple of years, at least, there will be no new first-ballot inductee as a player, almost certainly no No. 1 option from a title squad. This is a slow period before the next automatic (Gary Payton in '13) and the next great debates (Alonzo Mourning and Chris Webber in '14, and maybe some Robert Horry).
Next year, like this one, will be about reassessing previous "No" votes. It will be about continuing the 2010-11 initiative from Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo to guarantee representation from the ABA and those from the Early African-American Pioneers of the Game category, the paths that just delivered Artis Gilmore and Goose Tatum, respectively. It will be about the lack of star power creating enough of a vacuum to turn a string of previous election disappointments into renewed hope, as recent inductees Chris Mullin and Tex Winter can attest.
This bodes particularly well for Reggie Miller, who seemed to be a credible candidate for election last year, only to be voted down before even becoming a finalist. That would ordinarily signal a long climb ahead, except that Rodman was on the ballot for the first time the year before that, failed to reach finalist, and then in 2011 had enough support to zoom all the way to Springfield. The possibility of the anonymous voters being extra tough on first-ballot nominees should not be overlooked.
Reading Don Nelson's chances, meanwhile, has officially become impossible. He is the winningest coach in league history ... and he is going backward, reaching the finalist stage several times only to fall short of that benchmark last season. If he doesn't get in despite re-energizing the Warriors in 2006-07, if he doesn't get in upon ascending to No. 1 on the victory list, it seems illogical he would suddenly have the support in what could become a second season of retirement.
Bernard King will, deservedly, get votes. Jamaal Wilkes, too, especially because college careers get consideration. Ralph Sampson (again: college stardom means something) and Maurice Cheeks were both finalists last time. Mark Jackson didn't make finalist but he is third all-time in assists.
The second year of selecting from the ABA category will likely become a choice among Louie Dampier, Mel Daniels, Bobby Jones, Slick Leonard and George McGinnis. The ABA committee, along with the African-American Pioneers, has the power to directly elect one selection, without needing to go through a finalists voting stage.
The 2012 election will be one in which the Contributor category is watched like never before. Yao Ming helped to popularize the NBA in China, so he could make it immediately, rather than waiting five years to be considered as a player. His impact off the court is undeniable. But others could be nominated who have waited longer, something voters would likely weigh, and election in this way would be unprecedented for a former player. Yao is not an automatic.
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