When I make this column, as I do every year, I go through the usual flip side. Do we really need a Hall of Fame? Is there anyone who should be included in a Hall of Fame for the NBA that is not or will not be in the Naismith? Is recognition in the Naismith not enough accomplishment? Is there really the demand to satisfy fans desire to attend a NBA-only Hall? What’s the problem?
The problem is not that Reggie Miller, Don Nelson, and Ralph Sampson are being inducted tonight alongside people whose accomplishments were not in the NBA. That’s not it at all. I’m not arguing for the elimination of the Naismith Hall, if anything, I want there to be a higher level of regard to those who have genuinely contributed to the sport, not just the league. But to lump the NBA in with every other organized basketball entity on the planet is to insult both sides. The NBA is its own creature, far removed from Europe’s basketball cultural evolution, profoundly different from the NCAA’s particular brand of madness, and not at all truly entwined with international competition.
It’s its own thing.
And it’s a big thing.
When you think of basketball, you’re either going to think of the NCAA tournament or the NBA. I’m not here to try and inflate the importance of pro basketball over college. March Madness is a wonderful entity and should have its own recognition of greatness.
Funny thing. It does.
College gets to celebrate its wonderful moments and players, the people who form the tapestry of its rich and legendary history. Why doesn’t the NBA? Why should the NBA run cover for all forms of basketball? Again, I don’t mind the association of the NBA with the Hall. It’s good that the NBA brings some attention which gets drawn to the other inductees whose accomplishments may not be as well known but are often equal or greater to those of the millionaire superstars molded to statue.
But it’s the lack of a Hall for the NBA, without the ability to recognize people who clearly belong, but likely won’t because the Naismith is trying to cram in all of basketball. What winds up happening is worthy people from outside of the NBA who would go overlooked otherwise get in, while completely worthy people from the ranks of the NBA are excluded.
I’ll admit it, I love Bill Simmons’ Pyramid idea for the Hall. It’s innovative, and it serves two purposes at once. It allows us to induct those who are worthy of enshrinement, but not next to the greatest of the greats, while providing an opportunity to set those players aside.
Reggie Miller is entering the Hall alongside Phil Knight, for crying out loud. I don’t have an issue with Knight being inducted, You can’t argue the impact he’s had on the game. He belongs in the Naismith. But Reggie freaking Miller deserves to enter enshrinement alongside Nelson and Sampson, Wilkes and Daniels, by themselves. Their contributions to the sport of basketball may be equal, but not to the NBA.
I’ve long held that the best thing about the NBA is that you can’t take it too seriously. This is a league of tape-delay Finals, coked out history, flopping franchises, lottery conspiracy theories, trade vetoes and Planet Lovetron. That’s what makes this league so great. The sheer absurdity of it. But you can’t have all that without also recognizing the greatness and history of the playoffs and Finals. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kareem, Wilt, Olajuwon, Russell, Moses, Walton, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Dirk, LeBron, Wade. That’s a whole other level of basketball greatness and that’s just scratching the surface. The league has been around for over 60 years. It’s got a story to tell, and it deserves a building to tell it in. It deserves to recognize the best of the best, and the great players and people who contributed to what it has become.
The NBA having its own Hall won’t lead to total destruction of the Naismith. Basketball culture won’t crumble into a sponsored dystopia. (Though you can bet the league will make a huge profit on it that way — and hey, maybe that way we can avoid another lockout!) Everything will be fine if we recognize the accomplishments of those to the sport of basketball, and those specifically to the National Basketball Association. We lose nothing, we gain a lot.
We live in a world where stories are told in more volume and with more accessibility than at any time in our history as a species. We’re not fighting for bandwidth. There’s room in the basketball collective consciousness for both the Naismith Hall and the NBA Hall.
The league too often has deferred throughout its history, has shied away from flexing its muscle (unless it’s in a labor dispute). It’s time. The NBA’s worthy of its own Hall of Fame.
Let’s build it.