Hall of Fame: Class of 2023

Hall of Fame Class of 2023: Full of 1st-ballot potential among the finalists

Jerry Colangelo: 'It’s unusual when somebody makes it on 1st ballot. This class is going to be unique. There could be 4 or 5.'

2023 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Finalists Pau Gasol and Dwyane Wade revisit their NBA journeys.

SALT LAKE CITY – One-and-done isn’t just for the young guys starting out in their professional careers. It can relate to a select few near the back end, when there really is but one hoops accolade remaining.

Some players and coaches have done so much over 15 seasons, 20 seasons or longer that their call to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame seems almost a formality. First-ballot types, they’re called. Slam dunks. One, and done.

No fewer than five of the men announced Friday as finalists for the Hall’s Class of 2023 are going through this electoral process for the first time. There likely won’t be a second for the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Gregg Popovich.

“It’s unusual when somebody makes it on the first ballot,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Hall who acknowledged it’s a “loaded” field. “This is unique in that we have a lot of first-time people. But this is going to be that unique a class. There could be four or five first-timers.”

The thing is, folks sometimes forget how high the walls of Springfield can be to scale. The list of nominees released in December — and whittled down to the 12 finalists announced in an afternoon news conference at Vivint Arena — included a great many household names who unsuccessfully had gone through this before. Players like Chauncey Billups, Tom Chambers, Michael Cooper, Michael Finley, Mark Jackson, Marques Johnson, Maurice Lucas and Shawn Marion – terrific hoopers all, and that was just from the first half of the alphabet.

Sometimes it takes years, going through the process two or three times for a player or coach to land the invitation. Occasionally it takes decades, with players as accomplished as Spencer Haywood, Artis Gilmore, Paul Westphal, Jack Sikma, Sidney Moncrief and dozens others having to wait. In the 2022 class, for instance, Tim Hardaway and Lou Hudson both had been long-retired, their resumes unchanged, when the Hall door finally swung open.

But the four players who hit the ballot together Friday all wrapped up their NBA careers in 2019. They also hit that sweet spot between the game’s Mt. Rushmore types – think Jordan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Russell, James and only a couple more – and the outstanding performers who frequent All-Star Games and win annual awards, yet still require multiple assessments.

As a group, Nowitzki, Wade, Gasol and Parker amassed 39 All-Star appearances, 28 All-NBA selections and eight championship rings. Their hardware ranged from Rookie of the Year (Gasol) to MVP (Nowitzki) and Finals MVP (Nowitzki, Wade and Parker).

In 11 of the 12 postseasons from 2003-14, one or more of the four reached the Finals.

The NBA coach finally up for a vote this year is a Rushmore-level talent in his category. He worked in five of those 11 Finals, along with San Antonio’s championship run in 1999. Popovich years ago met the qualification for active coaches to be considered (25 years as a coach or assistant at any level) but he reportedly was disinclined to be honored while still working the Spurs sidelines.

This time, with Parker up for the Hall to complete the trio of San Antonio greats who anchored the franchise’s most recent four NBA championships, Popovich apparently relented. Tim Duncan became a Hall of Famer in 2020, Manu Ginobili was elected last year. With Parker, Popovich and women’s nominee Becky Hammon – a pioneer when she joined the Spurs as an assistant coach – the enshrinement weekend of Aug. 11-12 could have a noticeable silver-and-black motif.

Gasol, who spent the final three of his 18 seasons with San Antonio too, traced his NBA inspiration to watching the Dream Team in 1992. He was a 12-year-old growing up in Barcelona, Spain, when the Olympics and that uber-elite USA Basketball squad hit town.

“I was like, ‘Wow, these guys are incredible. I want to do that,’” recalled Gasol, who was at the news conference with Wade.

Now, so many years later, the skilled 7-footer said he hopes fans will remember this game thusly: “Played the right way. Played to win. Played to make the right decisions on the court, and made my teammates better. I didn’t care about scoring points. I just cared about making the right play and giving myself and my team the best chance to win.”

Wade was asked what the young player he was, out of Robbins, Illinois, and Marquette, back at the start of his glorious career, would have thought about this Hall finalist announcement.

“A young Dwyane Wade would have never felt this moment would be here,” he said. “Sometimes when you acknowledge you have a dream, a lot of people don’t believe in your dreams.

“But I’d be lying if I were to say I didn’t [think about] that dream many times. To be here, I’ve had many nights throughout this journey when I had visions of that orange jacket. So I’m one step closer.”

That’s correct: The actual Class of 2023 won’t be announced until April 1 at the NCAA men’s Final Four in Houston. Inductees will have needed at least 18 votes from the cloaked 24-member selection panel.

Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame acknowledges it's a “loaded” field of finalists in the Class of 2023.

Also up for consideration are seven other players and coaches nominated by the North American or Women’s committees. Remember, the Naismith Hall honors basketball at all levels, not just NBA.

Hammon, Jennifer Azzi, Gary Blair and Marian Washington will be on the ballot for their achievements in the women’s game in college, Olympic and WNBA. Gene Keady, David Hixon and Gene Bess are up for election for their work on the sidelines in Division I, Division III and junior college basketball.

Longtime scout Tom Konchalski was named the 2023 winner of the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, billed as the sport’s most prestigious honor short of actual Hall induction.

The winners of the Hall’s annual Curt Gowdy Media awards were announced, with ESPN contributor Marc Spears (print), ESPN analyst Holly Rowe (broadcast) and CBS Sports college basketball coverage (“transformative media”) all honored.

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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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