They played the same position (point guard) at the same time (late-1980s to early-2000s) at the same high level (All-Star appearances) and were teammates for a summer, so it’s easy to see the 24 anonymous voters stacking Tim Hardaway against Kevin Johnson among the Class of 2014 decisions, even if it isn’t actually a balloting one-on-one. Both could make it to Springfield, Mass., or both could miss. Neither outcome would be a surprise in a year with the opening of several credible candidates — but no automatic — among the eight finalists from the North American committee.
Johnson, on the ballot since 2011, made it out of the initial round of voting for the first time, forward progress that can equal optimism for candidates in the search for hints in a secret election process. Hardaway, meanwhile, can find hope in the sustained support of being a finalist for the second year in a row.
But head-to-head, as part of the analysis by the 24 voters?
Johnson: Played 1987-88 through 1999-2000 with the Cavaliers and Suns, with 1998-99 spent in retirement. Averaged 17.9 points, 9.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds. Finished in the top five in assists four times, the top 10 six times. Second-team All-NBA four times, third-team once. All-Star three times. No NBA titles, 105 playoff games. Most Improved Player in 1988-89. Won a gold medal with the United States at the 1994 world championships.
Hardaway: Played 1989-90 through 2002-03 with the Warriors, Heat, Mavericks, Nuggets and Pacers. Averaged 17.7 points, 8.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds. Finished in the top five in assists four times, the top 10 eight times. First-team All-NBA once, second-team three times, third-team once. All-Star five times. No NBA titles, 56 playoff games. First-team all-rookie. Won a gold medal with the United States at the 2000 Olympics and the 1994 world championships.
Johnson: Sixth all-time in assists per game. The five ahead of him are either in the Hall of Fame now (Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas) or will be (Chris Paul). Among the rest of the top 10, No. 8 Jason Kidd and No. 9 Steve Nash also will be, with No. 7 Deron Williams needing a big turnaround and No. 10 Rajon Rondo needing more time. Hardaway is 12th. That is a big boost to the KJ campaign, with the counterweight that Mark Jackson was third in total career assists and received so little support three years in a row that he dropped off the ballot.
Hardaway: In a historic time in NBA history for guards — Michael Jordan, Magic, Stockton, Gary Payton, with Kidd coming fast — Hardaway was the only one to get a first-team All-NBA. That was 1996-97, when he joined Jordan at the top, with Payton and Mitch Richmond, another finalist this year, second-team and Stockton and Penny Hardaway on the third tier. The one time they both made the honor role, 1992-92, Tim Hardaway was second-team, Kevin Johnson third-team. (The three years before that, KJ made second when the only guards ahead of him where Magic and Jordan. Ranking high on the Best of the Rest level in that era has always been one of the unique selling points for Kevin Johnson in the Hall.)
Same position and same era — that’s a great compare and contrast for the Hall panelists heading toward the April 7 announcement of inductees, with 18 of 24 needed to join David Stern (Contributor), Sarunas Marciulionis (International), Bob Leonard (ABA), Guy Rodgers (Veterans) and Nat Clifton (Early African American Pioneers) as previously disclosed members of the Class of 2014. Spencer Haywood, Alonzo Mourning, Richmond and college coaches Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams are the other finalists from the North American committee.