Hall of an Argument: Debating the Future of Springfield
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Thanks to an infectious amount of push notifications, the headline popped up on my iPhone, even though the device was seemingly "sleeping": "Chris Bosh among 18 active players likely to make Hall," it read.
The article was amongst those listed by Sports Illustrated Extra as having been "PICKED FOR YOU." Despite doubting that anyone over in the SI HQ actually ever mumbled the phrase "Hmmm...I'll bet Kurtz digs this convo," the topic grabbed my attention, and I scrolled through.
As the latest entry in Ian Thomsen's "NBA MAILBAG," the man described as a "Sports Illustrated Senior Writer" proceeded to list various pro hoops ballers, evaluating the likelihood that their names will one day be listed amongst the all-time greats in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: Ian Thomsen knows more about hoops than I do. When he joined SI, I was a college sophomore. He's already forgotten more about the NBA than I'll likely ever know. That said, I didn't see any harm in responding and reacting to his article, in the interest of basketball banter, and friendly fodder. In light of the fact that his piece of prose was a response to something he'd heard muttered elsewhere, consider my write-up a tertiary answer to the original quote uttered by the Heat's third-best player:
"I've been a Hall of Famer like four years ago. And I say that very serious, though. I've talked about it before with my friends."
Thomsen's article begins by listing six active players who've all won at least one MVP:
The Sports Illustrated hoops scribe indicates that securing the NBA's highest annual individual honor guarantees a place in the Hall of Fame. It's a solid statement, and I take no issue with it, for the most part.
Kobe is the type of player for which the Hall of Fame was created. Possibly the second best player of all-time (and no worse than top five) Bryant is as automatic as it gets. Did you hear that? That was the book slamming shut. Case closed, re: Bryant.
Same goes for Tim Duncan, perhaps the greatest forward ever to position himself in the paint.
LeBron James is a beast of a man, a mismatch every time he pulls on his Nikes. Guys that big aren't supposed to be that athletic. Guys that fluid and skilled, aren't supposed to be so strong. With more killer instinct he'd be even better, but I'm not going to split hairs (he's already receding as it is, so, that just wouldn't be very nice).
As a two-time MVP from Santa Clara by way of Canada, Steve Nash is another no-doubter. He makes those around him better, and has a game twice as large as his rather diminutive stature. He's in.
Having recently shaken the "soft" label, and finally reached the pinnacle of the sport, I'm good with Dirk Nowitzki. Another mismatch, he has guard game in a big-man body, and belongs on a list with the greatest European players ever.
I have a sour taste in my mouth about "KG," because he's seemingly taken on a "punkish" type of behavior during his later years. But factoring in everything he did as a young stud in Minnesota, and then as a key veteran, and leader, in Boston, he's there too.
Thomsen notes that "every player who has won the NBA's highest individual award has been elected to the Hall of Fame, and these six stars are certain to follow them to Springfield." I can't disagree.
The next grouping he focuses on are those that have won an NBA title, plus additional personal awards. In his eyes, these seven are also secured a spot in Springfield. It's this list which causes my first objection:
- Dwyane Wade
- Paul Pierce
- Jason Kidd
- Ray Allen
- Tony Parker
- Pau Gasol
- Manu Ginobili
I have no question about Wade. He's phenomenal. At times he's more important to Miami than James, he won a ring without him, plays with a fearless intensity, and is at his best on the biggest stage.
Somewhere along the way, Paul Pierce went from being a really, really good player, to a guy people viewed as one of the best in the game. This transition - in my eyes - happened when they won their title, over the Lakers in 2008, and he got hurt, came back in, yada, yada, yada...
I personally never realized he was universally believed to be on this level. He followed his first NBA crown by claiming he was the best player in the game, better even than Bryant. It was this comment that convinced me he had drunk far too much of his own Celtic-green Kool-Aid.
But since he's been so very good, for so very long, and all with one team, I've come to accept his inclusion amongst the game's greats. With the Celtics reemergence as a power during the final tier of his career (after Boston supported him with Garnett and Allen), I think he's pushed his way in there. At the very least, he's far from the biggest problem I have with the list.
Ray Allen and Jason Kidd are longevity guys. Great players, and leaders, for a long time. Each were stars on various teams initially (Kidd in NJ, where he led the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and Allen in Milwaukee, and Seattle) and then became great team guys who understood their roles, excelled in them, and were key factors in greater successes.
I'm okay with both of them, especially in light of the fact that Allen has gone on to become the most-prolific three-point shooter of all-time, and Kidd is still "handlin' it" (as Jay-Z writes on "You're Only A Customer") while nearing his 40th birthday.
To me, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are in the same boat. Key cogs on dominant Spurs team that featured Duncan, one of the all-time best. I never thought either guy was good enough to be the star of a given franchise. Parker can score at will, and is as quick as they come (how he messed up that Eva Longoria marriage is beyond me, however.)
Manu, meanwhile, is tough as nails, can shoot it, and take it to the rim. Excellent players, but guys whose career benefited tremendously from the organization they landed in. Credit right here to the Spurs international scouting unit!
Pau Gasol? Honestly. I have no idea how he landed on this list. He's a very good player. As I've heard people say, if there's a "Hall of Very Good," he'd be in. And believe me, having lived in Madrid during college (about a year after Thomsen started at SI,) and minoring in Spanish, I always give the benefit of the doubt to anything Espanol.
But Gasol is soft, and desperately needs a shave and a haircut. That has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame, obviously, but it irks me nonetheless. He's not an NBA Hall of Famer. Had he never suited up alongside Kobe Bryant, he'd be just a few scraggly hairs more-respected than his brother, Marc.
Thomsen's next gang is entitled "Likely Risers," players he describes by saying: "Unless something changes to alter the trend, these five stars in their 20s are on their way to becoming Hall of Famers."
For this team, he suits up:
If Durant and Rose keep on going, they'll be in. No argument here. Durant is amazing, can score at will, and has a freakish skill-set to go with his freakish body (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible).
Rose has more work to do, but seemingly has the overall game to be one of the greats. If he responds well from injury, he'll have the chance to be the second-best Bulls player ever.
Chris Paul also has some more meat on the bone, so to speak. He's a fantastic point guard, the model for the current generation of score-first "1's." His 61-point performance in high school to honor his late grandfather is the stuff of legends, and he was so good during his two seasons at Wake Forest, he had the Winston-Salem faithful forgetting about Randolph Childress. If he continues at the current pace, he'll cross-over his way right into the Hall of Fame.
Chris Bosh? Absurd. Just, simply, absurd. He's Pau Gasol-level absurd. More so. He's the biggest problem on this list. He's more overrated than sliced bread (anyone ever heard of a wrap?) When Bosh and LeBron joined Wade in Miami to create the "Big 3," I thought of it more as the "Big 2, plus another guy."
He was fantastic in Toronto, but they were never that good, and he was all the Raptors had, so his numbers feel inflated. Having him on this list is crazy. The fact that he thinks he earned his spot "like four years ago" (before he even joined the Heat) suggests his mind is so delusional he ought to just move in with Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia right now.
In my mind, Dwight Howard has really hurt his legacy in the last two years, effectively weaseling his way out of Orlando, chucking his coach under the team bus in the process, and incessantly flapping his gums all the while.
In a turn of events that should really surprise no one, he and Kobe haven't exactly become the best of pals in Los Angeles. Yes, Howard is a dominant defender and rebounder and can easily average double-digits on "clean-up" buckets alone.
But he can't shoot free-throws (to be fair, neither could Wilt or Shaq) and can't create his own shot, which means you can't run an offense through him. In my opinion, he's not yet a Hall of Famer, but has the potential to become one depending upon how the rest of his career plays out.
The final section of Thomsen's post is described as "On the bubble," where he sites "five stars [that] have a chance."
- Carmelo Anthony
- Vince Carter
- Amar'e Stoudemire
- Chauncey Billups
- Grant Hill
It surprises me that Melo is listed as on the bubble, especially in light of the fact that Gasol and Bosh are deemed to be in. True, Anthony never led his Denver team further than the opening round of the playoffs, and he's been extremely inconsistent in New York. But the guy can just flat-out play, and has the ability to take over at will.
His shot has unlimited range, he can create off the dribble, take it to the tin, and score from any distance. He's fairly one-dimensional, in that he doesn't do a whole lot more than score. And, he's a guy who needs the ball a lot, requires many touches. But in this era, he's routinely one of the best on the court. If Bosh and Gasol are in, so too should be Anthony.
Vince Carter is an interesting case. His career has been defined by moments of brilliance, and times of frustration. In his high-flying early days, he was a star with Toronto. However somewhere along the way he fell in love with the three-point shot, moving away from the electric athleticism that initially served him so well.
There were injuries, and lapses, and controversies (he once missed a playoff game to go back to North Carolina for graduation). Defining him as being "on the bubble" is probably perfect.
Amar'e Stoudemire? His first year with the Knicks had people saying "Wow, I never realized how good a player he was." And he is a very good player. If the Knicks accomplish more, and his career becomes more impressive, he may have a chance. But I don't think he's there. At this point, he's a solid candidate for the "Hall of Very, Very Good."
Chauncey Billups is not a Hall of Famer. He just doesn't have enough game. It's a discriminating club (and it has to be) because it's about being the best ever.
He was the unquestioned leader on a Pistons group that made six straight Conference Finals. He was selfless, and humble. He was clutch, he was productive, and he was reliable. And he was a team-guy in an era of me-first prima donnas. I feel badly for "Mr. Big Shot," but he just doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer.
As for Grant Hill, I feel as though we'll all mostly look back and say "What if?"... "What if he'd been healthy, and hadn't missed so much time during his prime?"
What he's done to stay in the league, reinventing himself over time, has been nothing short of impressive. I'm just not sure he's had what you'd call a Hall of Fame career. I credit him for making the best of the hand he was dealt. But if I'm laying my cards on the table, he has to fold.
In addition to Thomsen's list of 18, I'd add Tracy McGrady. A two-time scoring leader, "T-Mac" was often times the most-gifted player on the floor. Not unlike Carter, he never quite got to the level we might have expected. But he was often sensational and unstoppable. I'm not saying he's an automatic "In," but based upon others appearing on this list, McGrady's at least in the conversation.
At the very least, Thomsen's article served to stir up some debate, and I credit him for an assist, as without his post, I'd never have been inspired to write my own.
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