2019 Hall of Fame

Defense gets its due among 2019 Basketball Hall of Fame Finalists

All-Defensive stalwarts wearing down long-established barriers

CHARLOTTE — Sidney Moncrief took wicked delight in making life as miserable as possible for the men he guarded across 11 NBA seasons. With magician’s hands, dancer’s feet and bony elbows and knees that could come in handy in the clinches, the longtime Milwaukee Bucks guard would lock in on his matchup and make like a politician caught up in a tabloid scandal: Deny, deny, deny.

And then Moncrief’s Bucks would head to Philadelphia or welcome the 76ers to their house, the colorfully floored MECCA Arena, and the script would flip. Hunter became hunted, defender became defended, because Moncrief would see Bobby Jones a foot or two away, locked in on him.

“I couldn’t do anything against him. I was a 20-plus points [per game] scorer, but Bobby was 6-9, long, quick. Scary defensively,” Moncrief said Friday, after he and his Sixers nemesis became two of the 13 finalists for the Class of 2019 headed toward the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

There was a defensive bent to the finalists announced Friday at the Spectrum Center, during this annual tradition at All-Star Weekend. The group of 13 will be cut down at the NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis on April 6 when the 2019 Hall inductees are named, then enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Sept. 6. They will be joined by direct-elect selections from the Early African-American Pioneers, International, Veterans, Contributor and Women’s Veterans committees.

Beside Moncrief and Jones, former Detroit Pistons big man Ben Wallace and WNBA star Teresa Weatherspoon excelled at the defensive end. But just like the All-Star Game itself, offense seems supreme at the Hall — and for most of the NBA’s annual awards.

“They should honor defense more,” said Moncrief, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award the first two seasons (1983, 1984) it was presented. “Typically, the Hall of Fame has a lot to do with championships and points, and players like Bobby Jones, myself and Ben Wallace really played the game on both ends. Everybody says it’s important, but when it comes time to pay people or give awards, normally they don’t.”

Actually, players who won 24 of the first 25 DPOY awards are Hall eligible –- Metta World Peace (2004) did not retire till 2017 –- and seven of them, with a total of 13 DPOY awards, have been enshrined. Only Marcus Camby and Mark Eaton, with one DPOY trophy each and among the Hall’s list of first-time nominees this year, have missed, along with Moncrief.

Of those enshrined, most were considered formidable two-way players. Only Dikembe Mutombo (four DPOYs) and Dennis Rodman (two) were known on the court primarily for their defense.

It was a topic Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo had given thought to this winter.

“Flying down to Dallas for our committee meeting, I was thinking about what the process is all about,” Colangelo said after Friday’s ceremony. “We give credit for all-NBA teams, All-Star, statistics and awards, but not much about defense. On the plane, I came up with a point system [based on] first team all-defense, second team, Defensive Player of the Year. That’s as big as making first team all-league.

“All of a sudden, a couple of guys really rose: Bobby Jones, Ben Wallace. Moncrief was as good a two-way player as we’ve had. The point is, defense is a big part of the game.”

Paul Westphal, another former NBA great chosen as a Hall finalist, wasn’t known for his defense — he peaked as a 25-ppg scorer (51.6 FG%) in 1977-78. But he knew when he had to face it. “Great offense will always overcome great defense,” Westphal said. “But great defense can find your weakness and shut you down. These guys getting recognized for their defense were phenomenal.”

Wallace, who helped Detroit to its 2004 NBA championship, won four DPOY awards. Moncrief was selected four times to NBA All-Defensive teams. Remarkably, Jones never was named Defensive Player of the Year, but he was a regular on the All-Defensive squads, appearing eight times.

Other NBA players names as Hall finalists Friday included Marques Johnson, Jack Sikma and Chris Webber. Coach Bill Fitch will be considered for the Class of 2019, as will referee Hugh Evans. The other finalists were coaches at the high school or college level, including Eddie Sutton, Leta Andrews and Barbara Stevens.

Another connection for a subset of the finalists is Milwaukee. Moncrief, Johnson and Sikma all played for the Bucks, and Del Harris -– one of the co-winners of the illustrious John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award -– coached there. The 1980s Bucks, coached by Don Nelson and eventually Harris, are considered one of the best teams never to reach a Finals.

“That makes my heart smile,” Moncrief said, of the Bucks flavor Friday. “It shows you how good we were. But it also shows you how good Philadelphia and Boston were, along with the Lakers. We had some good teams, but we were just not quite as good as those teams.”

The other Bunn award winner with Harris was Portland’s Harry Glickman, long considered the “father” of Trail Blazers basketball. The annual Curt Gowdy Media Awards went to Marc Stein in the print category -– Stein has covered the NBA for ESPN and most recently the New York Times for more than 20 years – and the Clippers’ legendary Ralph Lawler in the broadcast category. Lawler has worked for the Clippers for 37 years, calling more than 3,100 games.

None of the other first-time nominees with NBA connections advanced to the finalist round. Among them: players Camby, Eaton and Dale Ellis, along with coaches Rick Adelman and George Karl.

Holdovers or returning nominees familiar to NBA fans who did not qualify as finalists included players Mark Aguirre, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson, as well as coaches Rudy Tomjanovich, Dick Motta and Cotton Fitzsimmons, and referee Jake O’Donnell.

A number of the NBA’s biggest names appeared on stage for the televised news conference, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Rick Barry, Alex English, Spencer Haywood and David Thompson; fellow Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman and exec Rick Welts also participated.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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