After numerous leaks, rumors and subtle confirmations over the past week, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 2014 class of inductees on Monday.
Former All-Star center Alonzo Mourning, shooting guard Mitch Richmond and college coaches Nolan Richardson and Gary Williams are among the notable names. NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper noted that they had all previously been leaked as having made the Hall:
Hall of Fame makes it official: Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams elected. All had been previously disclosed.— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) April 7, 2014
The foursome joins the five previously announced direct-elect inductees—individuals who have had an especially profound impact on the game. This group was highlighted by former NBA commissioner David Stern, who received the honor just two weeks following his retirement.
Former Pacers coach and announcer Bob Leonard, legendary African American pioneer Nat Clifton, Lithuanian standout Sarunas Marciulionis and four-time All-Star Guy Rodgers were the other men directly elected by their respective committees.
Immaculata University's women's basketball team was also honored by the Hall, leaving five finalists who missed the cut, via Howard-Cooper:
Also now official: Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Johnson, Eddie Sutton, Harley Redin (Women’s committee) miss. Needed 18 of 24 votes.— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) April 7, 2014
The class of players will undoubtedly be remembered most for Mourning, a seven-time All-Star and one of the most inspirational players of his generation. Drafted No. 2 overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1992, Mourning was an instant star but didn't become a household name until a trade to the Miami Heat in 1995.
Across 15 seasons, more than a decade of which was spent in Miami, the 7-footer averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He was widely considered one of the best defensive centers of his time, leading the league in blocks in both 1998-99 and 1999-2000 and winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in both seasons.
Arguably, Mourning's most lasting contribution came in a battle he waged off the court. Diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disease, Mourning missed the entire 2002-03 NBA season and retired just 12 games into the following season.
After undergoing a successful kidney transplant, he returned to the game during the 2004-05 season but was never quite the same player. After a brief stint with the then-New Jersey Nets, Mourning orchestrated his way back to Miami, where he played out his final three-plus seasons primarily as a role player. He won his only ring in 2006, backing up Shaquille O'Neal throughout most of the team's playoff run.
While Mourning's caliber of play regressed after the kidney transplant, he's had an indelible effect in Miami. Players like Udonis Haslem. who were around during the twilight of Mourning's career, speak glowingly about his profound impact, per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
He has taught me so much about this game and about professionalism and what it takes to be a part of this organization. Without a doubt, without him being a mentor of mine, and things I learned from him early on in my career, there’s no way I’d be here today with my accomplishments and doing what I’ve been able to do.
While Mourning, who currently works in the Heat front office, landed in the Hall on his first try, the wait was much longer for Richmond. One of the most prolific shooters of his generation, Richmond was slightly ahead of his time. In today's NBA, it's nothing for a player to attempt five or six threes per game. When Richmond was doing it in the mid-1990s in Sacramento, though, it was almost alien.
Richmond was among the league leaders in three-point attempts throughout his prime, but many fail to remember his varied offensive game. He scored more than 20 points per game for his first decade in the league, making six All-Star appearances and being named to five All-NBA teams in total.
"I couldn't be more honored, excited and overjoyed to be a part of the Hall of Fame," Richmond wrote on his blog. "Words cannot really express how I truly feel right now. I don't think it's really hit me quite yet, and it's hard to even tell you how I feel to tell you the truth."
Richmond's long-term legacy has been damaged mostly because he reached individual heights on a series of bad Kings teams. Sacramento made the playoffs exactly once in his tenure, losing in the first round to the Seattle SuperSonics. Richmond capped off his career by securing a ring with the Lakers in 2002, contributing in a limited role off the bench.
On the coaching side, it's hard to imagine a man with a more varied resume than Richardson. He started his career in 1968 at a Texas high school. Over the next half-century, Richardson would coach at levels ranging from the NJCAA to high-level Division I to the WNBA to international basketball. Even though it's been 12 years since his departure from his last major collegiate gig, Richardson has rarely left the spotlight.
Although it was a contentious and ugly departure—featuring numerous accusations of racism—Richardson and Arkansas will be forever linked. The Razorbacks became a national power under the oft-brash coach, playing in back-to-back national championship games in 1994 and 1995 and winning it all in '94.
The team's trajectory varied wildly after that, with Richardson only once leading his team to the second weekend again. He was ultimately let go by Arkansas in 2002 following a 17-year run. Prior to arriving in Fayetteville, he spent five seasons as the coach at Tulsa, leading the team to three NCAA tournament appearances.
Overall, Richardson compiled a 508-206 career record in college. He went to three Final Fours, won the 1994 Naismith Coach of the Year award and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. Since his departure from Arkansas, Richardson coached both the Panamanian and Mexican national teams, and was also head coach of the WNBA's Tulsa Shock from 2009 to 2011.
The Forth Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill provided a quote from Richardson, who was typically candid:
An excited Nolan Richardson on the Naismith Hall of Fame: there is nothing left but heaven— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) April 7, 2014
In many ways, only the last decade of Richardson's career separates his trajectory from that of Williams. Also starting out at the high school level, Williams gradually worked his way up to Division I and eventually became the most decorated coach in Maryland basketball history.
Landing in College Park after two short stints with Boston College and Ohio State, Williams spent 22 seasons building the Terrapins into a powerhouse that competed with North Carolina and Duke atop the ACC. Although March was often the time Williams-led teams went downhill, Maryland went to back-to-back Final Fours in 2001 and 2002, winning the title in a brilliant '02 campaign.
Williams retired following the 2010-11 season and now serves as special assistant to the athletics director at Maryland. He compiled a 668-380 lifetime record in college and was selected to the National Collegiate Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Mike Wise of The Washington Post noted that his election has been a long time coming:
Gary Williams finally gets his due, elected into the Hall of Fame. He looks happy on the dais.— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) April 7, 2014
Find any [Hall of Fame] coach who did what he did at a university and had the start that he had Maryland was as low as it possibly could be and as broken as a university as you'd ever want to get. Not only did he withstand that, but he won at a high level, back-to-back Final Fours and a national championship, and he would've won a second straight national championship if Chris Wilcox had come back to school [in 2002-03].
Taken as a whole, the 2014 Hall of Fame class doesn't have a big-name inductee to prop it up. Mourning is well respected and beloved by those closest to him, but younger fans likely remember him as a backup big in Miami. Richmond's career, even to yours truly, has mostly been chopped into YouTube clips of old games and old NBATV classics.
That said, there's no bigger plaque in the Hall of Fame for levels of notoriety. Everyone enshrined is on an equal playing field, and all of these candidates are deserving of their respective selections.
The official enshrinement ceremony is set for Friday, Aug. 8 at the Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
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