SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Let the debate begin?
Too late. It already started. It started years ago, before the clock had even started on the waiting period for Hall of Fame consideration — back when they were still playing and legacies were being critiqued before they had been finalized.
Alonzo Mourning, Chris Webber and Robert Horry could all go on the ballot in the winter for the Class of 2014, as the Hall transitions from the Sunday enshrinement of Gary Payton as an obvious inductee to a new group that may possibly generate more debate than any set of first-time candidates in the Hall’s history.
Webber and Mourning would have been good point-counterpoint no matter what. Then add in Horry, an extreme longshot … except enough people are making a case that the NBA’s Forrest Gump has such a unique role in league history that his case for the Hall allows one to disregard his career averages of 7.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg. Throw in the recent trend of the North American committee judges hazing newcomers and the Webber-Mourning induction gets increasingly interesting.
Dennis Rodman did not make it to the finalist stage in 2010 and a year later suddenly had enough support to be elected. Reggie Miller followed the same route, failing to get out of the first round of voting in 2011 and the next time through going completely across the finish line. It was just impossible to make Payton — nine-time All-Star, nine consecutive spots on the All-Defense team, one championship, two Olympic gold medals — to wait.
Now comes the challenge of putting Webber, Mourning and Horry in a historical perspective as potential first-timers while still considering several credible players among the holdovers from the 2013 ballot — most notably Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Spencer Haywood. There could also be new options from the coaching ranks with NBA or ABA ties, if George Karl or maybe Rick Adelman are nominated, just as the players must be nominated before they are officially under consideration. (David Stern will probably go on the ballot in either the upcoming cycle or the one that begins in winter ’14, now that he has decided to retire this season, but he will be in the Contributor category and have no impact on voting on players.)
Webber should be a first-ballot threat after nearly averaging a career 20-10, along with five All-Star games, a Rookie of the Year and an All-America season in college. But he generated such mixed emotions. Informal polls in recent years regarding C-Webb and the Hall, in conversations with long-time basketball insiders similar in background to those who comprise the anonymous voters, have shown a split that match his career as a lightning rod. Troubles connected to his time at Michigan could be taken into consideration.
Mourning will get a serious push as a two-time winner of Defensive Player of the Year, a seven-time All-Star, a college star for three years and the intangible of the image that lives on of a fierce competitor. But he was first-team All-NBA just once, as voted by the media, and first-team All-Defense, as voted by coaches, twice — the same two years he was DPOY. Even finishing in the top five in blocks on nine occasions while averaging 20 points in six seasons does not give ‘Zo a clear path.
Whatever chance Horry has will not, of course, be built on statistics — his career bests in a season were 12 points and 6.3 rebounds. His only individual achievement was second-team All-Rookie. Horry, himself, has always been the first to say he does not rate as a Hall of Famer, and yet he has heard for years, back to late in his career, that seven championships and changing history big shot after big shot does deserve the ultimate salute. It will be interesting to see, if, in fact, a nomination comes this year, whether he at least makes the first cut by receiving seven of nine votes. Getting to the next round, the finalist stage, would add to a Class of 2014 debate that should be compelling no matter what.