The updated rankings, following last week’s release of the nominees for the Class of 2013 in Springfield, Mass., includes one stretch and one asterisk pick, but the premise is the same as the standings from last April in the wake of the election for the Class of 2012: The order of most deserving among candidates on the ballot with NBA or ABA ties.
The fine print is important. This list does not weigh cases from the amateur and women’s game or most from the International, Early African-American Pioneers and Veterans categories. It’s NBA and ABA. And, it’s people under consideration by voters, not anyone deserving of induction. Gregg Popovich and David Stern, among others, have made it clear they do not yet want to be nominated, just as Jerry Sloan held out for years before finally agreeing in 2009 to undergo the discomfort of friends and peers saying nice things about him.
There is obviously a new No. 1 that creates a domino effect, now that Gary Payton is under consideration, and also alterations lower on the list after the inclusion of other new and renewed nominees or simply a change of thinking. Plus, Mark Jackson is off the Hall ballot after failing to get a single vote from nine panelists in three consecutive years. (Jackson was always a long shot for enshrinement – consistently good, never great – but No. 3 on the career assist list has to at least get someone away from 0 for 27.)
The outcome of the first round of voting for the North American committee, which handles most nominees with an NBA background, will be announced at All-Star weekend, with the survivors then advancing to a final layer of balloting before inductees are revealed at the Final Four. Candidates via the ABA committee face a single ballot before a maximum of one winner is named at All-Star.
1. Payton, North American committee: The Glove was selected first-team All-Defense by coaches nine consecutive times in the 1990s and 2000s, All-NBA twice and Defensive Player of the Year once as chosen by the media, and part of two Olympic golds and one NBA championship. The anonymous Hall voters have been hard lately on first-ballot nominees – Dennis Rodman went from not making finalist in 2010 all the way to being elected in ’11 and Reggie Miller had the same bounce back from 2011 to ’12 – but giving Payton the same rookie hazing would generate the largest outcry yet.
2. Bernard King, North American: He averaged 22.5 points despite two serious knee injuries, finished better than 20 a game in 11 different seasons and was also a scoring star at Tennessee, an important consideration in a process where college achievements count. King was first-team All-NBA only twice and second-team once, but he played at the same time Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Dominique Wilkins were working forwards.
3. Jerry Krause, Contributor: From April 2012, despite a drop in the rankings with the Payton addition: “He put together the Bulls championship era. Period. Michael Jordan was already there when Krause took over as head of basketball operations, but Krause traded for Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley, Krause signed Ron Harper, John Paxson, Scott Williams, Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington, Krause drafted Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, B.J. Armstrong and Will Perdue, Krause hired Phil Jackson as coach.”
4. Tim Hardaway, North American: Hardaway made All-NBA five times, five All-Star teams, won a gold medal in the Olympics and another in the world championships with a versatility few point guards could equal. He scored even on Golden State and Miami teams with other stars and passed as a talented playmaker.
5. Mitch Richmond, North American: Richmond wasn’t just elected an All-Star six times. He was elected an All-Star six times off bad Kings teams. Talk about a platform statement from coaches for a Hall candidacy. Richmond was second- or third-team All-NBA five times in an era with Jordan, John Stockton, Payton and Hardaway.
6. Jerry Tarkanian, North American: The stretch, because Tark’s NBA connection is all of 20 games as Spurs coach in 1992-93 before being fired and returning to the college ranks. But a return to the ballot as a re-activated candidate is particularly welcome to his many admirers as Tarkanian struggles with health issues. It wouldn’t be a sympathy vote, either. He has one national title, four Final Fours and a .790 winning percentage in Division I.
7. George McGinnis, ABA: As a Pacers rookie in 1971-72, McGinnis averaged 16.9 points. The next three seasons were 27.6, 25.9 and a league-leading 29.8, the latter while being named co-MVP of the rebel league. He was a major part of two ABA titles. Candidates are supposed to be judged on merits in this category alone, but just in case voters get wandering eyes, there is also McGinnis’ NBA resume of three All-Star appearances in seven seasons and at least 21 points a game seven consecutive seasons in the two leagues combined.
8. Maurice Cheeks, North American: When he retired in 1993, Cheeks was No. 5 on the all-time assist list and No. 1 in steals, to be passed since by Stockton, Jordan, Jason Kidd and Payton. There will be an obvious hit because Cheeks never put up glittery numbers in scoring or assists, getting to fifth on the career rankings through longevity and steady play, but he was an integral part of a championship team (Philadelphia in 1983) and a four-time selection to the All-Defense squad by coaches.
9. Bob “Slick” Leonard, ABA: He won 529 games and three titles as Pacers coach. That’s a worthy election campaign right there. But the former Indiana University star also has the major intangible of being known as one of the key factors in keeping professional basketball in the state when it once appeared the Pacers could be moving.
10. Vlade Divac, International: Divac was a centerpiece of the national team in the former Yugoslavia that won two Olympic silver medals along with two golds and one bronze in the world championships, giving him a rare standing in international competition. He was a leader and one of the best passing centers in NBA history. The move to North America led to Divac being named to one All-Star team and becoming the first player born and trained in Europe to play 1,000 games in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki later became the second.
The asterisk: Sarunas Marciulionis: Marciulionis is nominated via the International committee and has a credible case thanks to his leading role as the Soviet Union won gold in 1988 and bronze with Lithuania in 1992 shortly after his native country declared independence from the crumbling USSR. But his real path should be as a Contributor. He decided to break from the Soviet system and come to the NBA in 1989 at more personal risk than most who didn’t live in that environment can comprehend. And his role in keeping the Lithuanian program going, just to reach the ’92 Games with the tie-dyed backing of the Grateful Dead, is the stuff of legends.
Marciulionis easily makes the list as a Contributor. But players almost always prefer to be judged as players, not for what in his case is a historic role in the game off the court. So, until he requests a change, he will be voted on through the International category.
It is important to keep in mind that this is not a prediction of the best chances for induction. One candidate from among 14 possibilities in the ABA section will jump the line and be elected, part of an initiative by the Hall the last few years to re-evaluate candidates who may have fallen from public view. A Contributor will be enshrined, so former NBA executive Russ Granik, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf or ex-NCAA executive Tom Jernstedt, a driving force in the evolution of March Madness, could make it while credible nominees from the North American field do not.