Time For The Hall of Fame To Reevaluate ItselfPosted by nvr1983 on April 12th, 2011
A little over a week ago, the Naismith Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2011 during the NCAA Final Four festivities in Houston. Chris Mullin, Dennis Rodman, and Arvydas Sabonis were among the individuals selected to join the list of luminaries in Springfield, Massachusetts in August. We would have a difficult time arguing against any of the individuals selected this year or previous years, but when we looked at the list of those currently enshrined in the Hall of Fame we were shocked to see which players the HOF voting committee (done anonymously) left out. Cases can certainly be made for at least a dozen individuals who have not already been inducted to the Hall, with many of them being some of the African-American pioneers of the game who played in less well-recognized venues and leagues, but the two who stand out for us — Ralph Sampson and Christian Laettner — do not fall into that group by any measure.
Both players already meet the Naismith Hall of Fame’s requirement of being retired for five years, so they are eligible for selection. There will be some who will argue that neither player had a great NBA career, and we will not even try to argue that because there is little debate that both had disappointing pro careers although both had their moments. But that misses the point of the Hall of Fame. It is not solely a forum to recognize achievement at the professional level. As its own site states, since 1959 it has “honored and celebrated the game’s greatest moments and brightest stars.” There is nothing on its website stating that it is specifically for professional basketball either at the NBA level or overseas. Another argument you will hear is that both Sampson and Laettner were exceptional college basketball players who already have been honored at the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Missouri in the past two years. Once again, that misses the point, as there are multiple coaches in both Halls of Fame, including Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, and Lute Olson, none of whom ever coached at the professional level. The fact that neither player has been selected yet is simply a travesty and raises questions about the utility of the Naismith Hall of Fame when two of the greatest college basketball players of all-time (probably both in the top ten on most lists) are not included.
For most of you, there is no need for us to provide a refresher on the college career of either player, but reviewing their achievements makes the decision by Naismith Hall of Fame voters even more absurd. During Sampson’s four years at Virginia he received the following accolades:
- Three-time USBWA, Naismith, and Rupp National Player of the Year (Bill Walton is the only other three-time winner)
- Two-time Wooden Award National Player of the Year (no other player has won two Wooden Awards)
- A NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an Elite Eight appearance in 1983
- Featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated six times in his college career
Although Sampson never won a NCAA title and never fulfilled his promise as a NBA player (partially due to knee injuries), during his time at Virginia he was a dynamic force who threatened to revolutionize the game. He was a 7’4″ center who could play on the perimeter, drive to the basket, bang with the big guys inside, and was an intimidating force on the inside (look at his career stats where he averaged nearly five blocks a game as a freshman). The clip below demonstrates Sampson’s versatility and gives you an idea of what kind of player he was at his peak, but doesn’t even begin to explain how intimidating he was to college opponents.
Laettner is probably more clearly remembered by the casual basketball fan, not only because he played nearly a decade after Sampson, but also because he played for Duke with its current media marketing machine. And he won back-to-back titles. His individual accolades don’t quite match-up with Sampson’s, but his post-season achievements might lead many to claim that he was, in fact, the better college player. Here is a quick list of Laettner’s college achievements:
- 1992 National Player of the Year (he essentially won every major award that year)
- 1991 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
- Two-time NCAA champion (the best player on the first back-to-back championship team since UCLA in 1973)
- NCAA Tournament record for Final Fours played in (4), points scored (407), free throws made (142), free throws attempted (167), and games played (23)
- Only non-professional player selected to The Dream Team (there is only one; every other member of that team has been inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame individually)
What Sampson lacks in defining moments as a collegiate athlete, Laettner has in spades, with not one but two game-winning shots in the Elite Eight. Along with his famous shot against Kentucky in 1992 (a game in which he was 10-10 from the field and 10-10 from the FT line for 31 points), Laettner also hit a similar shot against Connecticut in 1990 to get Duke to the Final Four. He may not have put up huge numbers like some all-time greats did, but his efficiency as a college player is stunning. Perhaps the strongest testament to Laettner’s greatness is that it was his game (and personality) more than anything else that turned Duke from a lovable underdog to perhaps the most hated team in all of American sports.
We do not want to take anything away from any of the inductees into the Naismith Hall of Fame, but until these two are inducted, the institution is flawed and is failing to accomplish what a Hall of Fame is meant to do — tell the history of the game. If telling the history of the game involves not including two of the greatest players of all-time, maybe it is time to rethink what the NHOF is and how it selects its inductees. It is quite possible that these two will get in the near future, but that they are not already in as sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famers is baffling.