For the legend who owns 11 rings, or the phenom still looking for his first, the NBA Finals is our favorite time to define one’s career. And while the 2011 version has put the legacies of LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd on the line, nobody has more to gain than Shawn Marion.
Win or lose, the superstars in this series—LeBron, Dirk, D-Wade and J-Kidd—are locks for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Each will go down in history as one of the greatest at his respective position. Marion is another story. Generally considered a good player throughout his NBA run, Marion can potentially elevate to “great” with a championship. Shining in the shadows has been the story of Marion’s life, but a ring would focus a new light on a career that belongs up for Hall of Fame debate.
Marion is one of the most effectively versatile players in NBA history. He ranks in the top 100 all-time in rebounds (52nd), steals (36th) and blocks (69th). “The Matrix” also ranks 114th in scoring, his 15,151 points trumping Hall of Famers such as Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, David Thompson and Willis Reed. Among his modern-era peers at small forward, Marion’s career averages of 16.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks are comparable to Scottie Pippen, James Worthy and Chris Mullin, all certified Hall of Famers.
Still, despite four All-Star and two All-NBA nods, Marion remains underrated. He struggles to crack the top five on the current Mavs marquee—his name sitting far below Nowitzki and Kidd, often below Jason Terry, sometimes below Tyson Chandler and even J.J. Barea, not to mention Mark Cuban.
But that's not as insulting as what Marion faced in his prime Phoenix: the long-standing misconception that he was only as good as Steve Nash made him look. Never mind that Marion had already made one All-Star team and three USA Basketball rosters before Nash arrived. Never mind that the most valuable parts of Marion’s game—rebounding and defense—had nothing to do with Nash. Never mind that Marion was just as important to those title-contending Suns teams, like the offensive line who bolstered Nash’s quarterbacking. But because his best seasons coincided with Nash’s MVP seasons, many still believe Marion was more lucky than good, a glorified system player.
Winning a ring with Dallas would legitimize Marion’s resume. Aside from Nowitzki, nobody on the Mavs is as valuable right now as Marion. After helping neutralize Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in the previous playoff rounds, Marion is now the primary defender assigned to LeBron. He is one of the few guys in Dallas’ rotation creating his own shots in the post. His ability to run the floor, rebound and finish are also crucial to Dallas’ game plan against Miami. This isn’t an aging vet along for the ride; Dallas will not win if Marion doesn’t play well. As much as this series has become the story of LeBron performing another so-called choke, almost everybody is ignoring the fact that Marion is the guy with his hands wrapped around James' neck.
In 12 pro seasons, Marion has never been a superstar. But the Hall of Fame isn’t just for superstars. The Hall has room for the "secondary" and "complementary" players, great teammates if not great team leaders. But whether it’s Bill Bradley and K.C. Jones now, or Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol later, the constant is that those guys won rings. Getting his in 2011 might make Marion part of the club.