Hall of Fame

Mutombo tops first-time Hall candidates


VIDEO: Basketball Without Borders: Africa

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The look-ahead at the candidates with NBA ties eligible for the first time for the Hall of Fame’s potential Class of 2015 requires no squinting into the distance. It does not require looking at all, come to think of it.

That voice. No one mistakes the sound, part thunder, part Cookie Monster, often accompanied by a fog horn of a laugh.

The visual is so unique, though. No need to see the face, in smile or the scowl of an intimidating defender, or the imposing 7-foot-2, 265-pound frame or the signature No. 55 that followed him through 18 seasons and six teams. Only one form of ID is necessary.

A finger.

An index finger poked into the sky, wagging back and forth a few times, a windshield-wiper admonishment to whatever foolish, naïve opponent with an obvious need to be embarrassed tried to take the ball to the rim against Dikembe Mutombo.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Star and college standout at Georgetown is not only the leading candidate for enshrinement among players eligible for the first time to be nominated, he is the only candidate. Not officially, of course, because the likes of Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry are among candidates beginning with the Class of 2015. But realistically, there is Mutombo alone among peers who last played in 2008-09.

Sitting in the audience Friday night at Symphony Hall as longtime friend Alonzo Mourning was inducted — along with, among others, former commissioner David Stern, a prominent supporter of Mutombo’s years of humanitarian work — may also have been Mutombo getting an advance look around. At the very least, he should breeze through the first round of voting, with results scheduled to be announced at All-Star weekend in New York, before an additional second balloting necessary for candidates in the North America and Women’s categories.

Several NBA carryover contenders will have strong cases, most notably Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Spencer Haywood. Bowen, Barry, Bobby Jackson, Matt Harpring, Tyronn Lue, Mark Madsen and others are now options. And Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and Robert Horry could join the field after not being nominated for 2014 enshrinement despite being eligible. Mutombo, though, is the only new name with a chance to make it all the way to Springfield at the earliest opportunity, finger in tow.

 

Hall of Fame inducts unique group


VIDEO: David Stern’s Hall of Fame speech

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – They made for an eclectic group: two players who came from long distances to make their true legacy impacts, Alonzo Mourning and Sarunas Marciulionis; two non-players who never went anywhere, David Stern and Bob Leonard; and one player, Mitch Richmond, who uniquely rode a bad team into the Hall of Fame.

The Class of 2014 was officially enshrined Friday night inside Symphony Hall, and the newest living Hall members with NBA ties framed so much about the league and the game.

Mourning was the toughness. That would have been the case anyway, Zo and tenacity having become close acquaintances long before, but he retired, played again, and played well. After a kidney transplant. Briefly choking up early in his acceptance speech, Zo, also someone who goes way back with strong emotions, changed nothing.

Marciulionis was the globalization. Once named one of the 50 greatest players in FIBA history for leading roles with the national teams of the Soviet Union and his native Lithuania, he reached the Hall through the International Committee. But he reached a new level by refusing to back down from his dream of the NBA and became one of the symbols of expansion. What he fought through showed he could do the toughness thing, too.

Leonard and Richmond were the local ties, the grassroots feel of the league even as it grew into a conglomerate, Leonard home-spun Indiana as coach of the ABA and NBA Pacers and then a team broadcaster to this day, Richmond one of the reasons the link between the small-market Kings and the fans remained strong from one losing season to the next. Far from the bright lights, with Indy literally trying to save its pro basketball life and Sacramento screaming itself hoarse every home game with little payback in the standings, they were reason for optimism in hard times.

It’s like Leonard said in concluding his acceptance speech: “The only thing left to say is I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the state of Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. And they’ve been very supportive. It’s a love affair that has gone on for years, since I was [a player] at Indiana University. And I wish that it could last forever. But I know better than that. So as I look around this room, the Lord has had His hand on my shoulder. Here’s what I hope for all of you: That the Lord puts His hand on your shoulder and He blesses you all the years of your life. Thank you.”

Stern was pretty much everything, of course. Like Leonard, he was a constant, in Stern’s case as commissioner through the days drenched in money falling from the sky to the tumultuous moments that also define his rule from 1984 until 2014. And the swagger. There had to be a grand display because Stern could be so good at brash.

So display of power it shall be. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and other all-time greats appeared in the video introduction. Then five tall, bar-stool chairs were lined up on stage. Bill Russell sat in one, a few feet off Stern’s left shoulder. Magic Johnson sat next to Russell. Russ Granik, Stern’s former No. 2, sat next to Johnson. Larry Bird sat next to Granik. Bob Lanier sat next to Bird.

Some people get big names. Stern gets Mt. Olympus.

“You’ve got to love the game,” he told the crowd. “Everything we do is always about the game. Always about the game. When [wife] Dianne and I were in China, we had a guide that told us she was a big fan of the Red Oxen. Of course, she was corrected. She meant Bulls. When we were in Lithuania, the head of the Communist party of Kaunas, Sarunas’ hometown, wanted to argue with me. It was 1988. Didn’t I think the NBA salary cap was un-American because there was no room for Portland to sign [Arvydas] Sabonis. We were all over. When I was in Paris, I was sitting with the prime minister of France at a game. He said because it was the Bulls, could he go into the locker room? I thought, here it comes. Michael Jordan. He said, ‘I’d like to meet Dennis Rodman.’ It’s always about the game.”

There is a different feel to every induction class, and the 2014 group that also included the Immaculata women’s teams of the 1970s, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams, the late Nat Clifton and the late Guy Rodgers was every angle, and sometimes every unusual angle, to the point of being comprehensive. They touched a lot of what makes the game special. They framed the league.

Team USA planning Paul George tribute

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Team USA will keep Paul George on the roster for the 2016 Olympics and is looking into options for a salute when the World Cup begins later this month, even if it means pushing for a change in international rules, the managing director of USA Basketball said.

While dismissing the possibility of the ultimate tribute of keeping George on the active roster for Spain and letting him likely win a medal without playing, saying each of the 12 spots are too valuable, especially with the United States thin on the front court, Jerry Colangelo said there are plans to make sure the injured star is a visible presence in Spain. Wanting to add to George’s motivation during the comeback from a broken right leg, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also already made it clear to the Pacers small forward that he is expected to be in the lineup in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“We’ve told him we have a spot for him in ’16,” Colangelo told NBA.com at festivities Thursday in advance of the Friday enshrinement of the Hall of Fame class.

Without seeing how he comes back?

“Right,” said Colangelo, also the Hall chairman. “That’s what we told him.

“We thought it’s the right thing to do,” Colangelo said. “That’s it…. We didn’t give thought to all the detail. Just that when a guy goes down and all these things, the circumstances, his career passes before him, he’s out for a year, a year-plus, he’s not able to participate now with us — we wanted to throw that out and say, ‘We’re counting on you. You’ve got a spot in ’16.’ “

Making George feel part of the team in Spain is more challenging. USA Basketball has looked into a uniform patch with his initials or jersey number, and adopting the NBA tradition of writing a message on shoes, but the rules of FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, prohibit altering uniforms. So USAB may move to change the rules.

“As far as the players are concerned, this is a rallying point in terms of what happened to Paul,” Colangelo said. “We just want to take some steps that are yet to be determined that we’re talking about to bring attention to Paul George and what his contribution has been.”

Other developments as part of three days of events highlighted by the enshrinement of the Class of 2014 …

  • The final list was released for the presenters on Friday night, the current Hall of Famers who will accompany the newest inductees to the stage Friday night but have no responsibility beyond standing to the side during a speech. Mitch Richmond picked Chris Mullin and Ralph Sampson, Bob Leonard picked Mel Daniels and Larry Bird, the family of the late Guy Rodgers picked Earl Monroe, Sarunas Marciulionis picked Mullin, Alonzo Mourning picked Pat Riley and John Thompson, and David Stern picked Bird, Magic Johnson, Bob Lanier and Russ Granik.
  • Among the Class of 2014 without NBA ties, Nolan Richardson picked Thompson and Nate Archibald, the Immaculata women’s team of the 1970s will be represented by Cathy Rush, the late Nat Clifton by Meadowlark Lemon, and Gary Williams picked Billy Cunningham.
  • While Marciulionis is happy to be in the same class as long-time friend and former teammate Richmond, he is especially pleased to note the timing of being inducted with Stern, the former commissioner who turned international players making the jump to the NBA from experiment to commonplace. “He helped European basketball, our basketball, so much by opening those gates with the Soviet Union,” Marciulionis said. “I remember him in ’86 when he arrived in Moscow and we had those Atlanta Hawks games. To be in the same line with him is a great, great honor. It’s destiny. Unbelievable.”
  • Mourning: “I’m truly excited about this enshrinement. There’s no other place to go from here but heaven, to tell you the truth. The beauty of it all is this. You wait all your life, you put your heart and soul into the game of basketball, truly put your heart and soul in. For some instances for me, I put blood, sweat and tears into it. This is the reward for your passion for the game and playing the game the right way and contributing to the game. This is the reward for doing that. I’m excited about celebrating.”
  • Near-perfect weather is forecast for Friday night and the outdoor red-carpet arrival, before moving inside for the actual enshrinement.

Stern, Mourning, Richmond lead 2014 Naismith Hall of Fame class


VIDEO: The 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class is announced

From NBA.com staff reports

Former NBA commissoner David Stern is only a few weeks removed from his 30 years on the job, but he’s got a new award for his mantle: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.

Stern is joined in the Hall of Fame by two players who were stars in the NBA during the 1990s: ex-Sacramento Kings All-Star Mitch Richmond and former Miami Heat All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Alonzo Mourning. That trio leads a 2014 Hall of Fame class that was announced today in Dallas, Texas.

Richmond and Mourning are joined by Richmond’s former Golden State teammate, Sarunas Marciulionis, who was voted in partially on the merits of his play as an international star in the Soviet Union and Lithuania.

Rounding out the class were former Pacers coach and current team broadcaster Bob “Slick” Leonard, the ground-breaking Immaculata University women’s basketball team from 1972-74 and a pair of national championship-winning coaches: ex-University of Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and former University of Maryland coach Gary Williams.

Honored posthumously are Nate “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract, and Guy Rodgers, one of the NBA’s first league leaders in assists.

Some other notable award winners Monday afternoon:

  • The Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award (given to the top point guard in men’s college basketball) — UConn’s Shabazz Napier
  • The Nancy Lieberman Point Guard of the Year Award (given to the top point guard in women’s college basketball) — Baylor’s Odyssey Sims
  • The Mannie Jackson Basketball’s Human Spirit Award: Former NBA referee crew chief Bob Delaney and former owner and founder of the Charlotte Bobcats Robert L. Johnson

‘Run TMC’ crew in rarefied HOF air

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: ‘Run TMC’ takes a closer look at one of Golden State’s magical eras

They were together just three seasons. It seems like they ganged up on opponents for longer, but, no, just three seasons of sending scoreboard operators to the injured list with finger and hand disorders, before a trade brought things to an abrupt end, followed by a lifetime of wondering what could have been if Golden State’s Run TMC era had remained intact.

There was always something forever about the Warriors of T(im Hardaway), M(itch Richmond) and C(hris Mullin) and Don Nelson the mad-scientist coach, encouraging, not merely allowing, Manute Bol to fling 3-pointers from about the back of his neck. Now there officially is.

The Hall of Fame is expected to reveal Monday that Richmond, along with Alonzo Mourning, will be part of the Class of 2014. This comes after the February announcement that favorite TMC sidekick, Sarunas Marciulionis, will also be enshrined this summer. He’ll join Mullin (a 2011 Hall of Famer) and Nelson (2012) in Springfield, Mass.

Three players and the coach from the Warriors of 1989-90 and 1990-91 will be in the Hall. It is the kind of rarified air usually reserved for the Lakers and Celtics, with a strong case to be made that the point guard Hardaway could be the fourth player to go with the shooting guard (Richmond), small forward (Mullin) and reserve swingman (Marciulionis). Even better for Golden State? This party will include former coach and current community ambassador Al Attles, as beloved within the organization as any person is with any franchise in the league. He’ll be there to receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor from the basketball museum short of enshrinement.

For all the historical significance, those Warriors who tried to lure opponents into track meets and cause trouble with freakish matchups — 6-foot-7 Tom Tolbert on 7-foot-1 David Robinson, anyone? –went just 37-45 and 44-38 and won one playoff series. The defense, or what passed for one, wasn’t going to allow any long postseason runs, a common theme for years to come in Oakland. But what has turned into a near-annual statement from the anonymous Hall voters suddenly puts the Dubs of the late-80s/early-90s into a unique stratosphere.

“It’s a hotbed of basketball,” Mullin said of the Bay Area. “It really is. It’s great for the fans because a lot of nights and a lot of years, they cheered us on unconditionally. I would say this, though. That wasn’t a bad culture after all. You hear about ‘New culture, new culture.’ That wasn’t too shabby. Mitch hopefully is in. I’m sure Tim’s going to get in through this process. That’s not a bad culture. I think that’s a very proud franchise through the years, from Wilt Chamberlain to Nate Thurmond to Al Attles, to Rick Barry, Tom Meschery. You talk about the last championship, it was Al Attles (as coach). Let’s not forget that. The guy’s still there. So it’s a rich, proud franchise. I think we should praise what’s going on now. But it wasn’t too shabby.”

Just Mullin saying hello to Joe Lacob.

Lacob bought the team in 2010 with declarations about a fresh start, comments Mullin understandably took personal since he had been the general manager who put together most of the Warriors of the time. Lacob was talking about the management team led by predecessor Chris Cohan and the annual disappointment in the standings. But Lacob also had frequent references to building a roster around toughness and defense while getting away from the run-and-gun crew from Mullin’s days as basketball operations boss. So point taken. There was never a shot at the history of the franchise and, in fact, it was Lacob who provided the long-overdue honor of retiring Mullin’s jersey No. 17.

But three players and the coach from the same team in the Hall of Fame is a rare sighting, even if Marciulionis is there for his international play with the Soviet Union and Lithuania. The part about the basketball hotbed is about the Bay Area as a whole, from the youth leagues to the pros, a history underlined in Springfield as well: enshrinement for Richmond, Marciulionis and former Philadelphia and San Francisco Warrior Guy Rodgers this year.

Oakland native Gary Payton (2013), Nelson, former Warrior Jamaal Wilkes and Berkeley native Don Barksdale (2012), and Mullin and Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDereveer (2011). And that doesn’t count Mullin as part of the collective Dream Team induction (2010) or ex-Warriors Ralph Sampson and Bernard King.

Moving forward, Hardaway will be high on the rankings for most deserving in the next election, along with Kevin Johnson, who played practically next door to Oakland at the University of California, and, if someone nominates him, ex-Warrior Chris Webber. Jason Kidd, an Oakland native who also played at Cal, will get his ceremony in 2018, barring unexpected developments.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond reflects on his Golden State days

Hall of Fame debate: Mitch Richmond

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Nicknamed 'The Rock', Mitch Richmond

Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, Mitch Richmond posted 21 ppg in 14 NBA seasons.

Mitch Richmond is a finalist for the Hall of Fame and solid candidate for Springfield, Mass., when inductees from the North American committee, the group that handles most candidates with NBA ties, are announced April 7 at the Final Four. But his name and career does not resonate today the same as contemporaries on the ballot, Alonzo Mourning as likely the leading candidate, former Warriors teammate Tim Hardaway with the perception advantage of starring with high-octane Golden State plus the glam of Miami, and Kevin Johnson with the boost of recent years in the news as mayor while partnering with David Stern to save professional basketball in Sacramento.

The Richmond legacy, meanwhile? As the M (Mitch) partnering with Hardaway and Chris Mullin, good friends to this day, in the Run TMC scoring festival in Golden State. That’s the image.

The Richmond truth? He was a Warrior only three seasons, the same time he spent in Washington and far behind the seven campaigns of running marathons on broken glass in bare feet with the Kings. Sacramento was his real career home base.

Sacramento was also where his Hall candidacy received his greatest boost, strange as it sounds with those three seasons of less than 30 wins and the four others of no more than 39. Never touching .500 or better than fifth place in the seven-team Pacific Division, it turns out decades later, has become one of the selling points for enshrinement.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond quickly became a household name as a member of the Warriors

Seven losing teams, seven chances for opponents to pull out the familiar refrain that the run of averaging 22 or 23 points a game was simply putting up big numbers on a bad team, and they cared not at all. Six times in those seven seasons, coaches put him on the All-Star team would it would have been easily understandable to run from anything connected to the Kings of the 1990s, not embrace it. Coaches putting him on that pedestal is a very loud statement.

Seven losing teams, seven chances for the media to pelt Richmond with the verbal stones of a supposed star getting Sacramento to the playoffs just once, the 39-43 Kings of 1995-96 that lost 3-1 to the SuperSonics in the first round, and still massive appreciation. He made second-team All-NBA in 1993-94 (on a 28-54 club), 1994-95 (39-43) and 1996-97 (34-48) and third-team in 1995-96 and 1997-98 (27-55).

Richmond averaged 21 points a game in 14 seasons with the Warriors, Kings, Bullets and Lakers, even with the 4.1 of the closing act of 2001-02 in Los Angeles, and had 10 years in a row of at least 21.9. He was a star as a junior and senior at Kansas State — college careers are weighed as well — and won gold (1996) and bronze (1988) with the U.S. Olympic team. There was also the 2002 NBA championship with the Lakers while Richmond logged 11.1 minutes in the regular season and four total minutes in two appearances in the playoffs.

“When I played with Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Run TMC, Sarunas Marciulionis, it was easy to play,” Richmond said. “I still got my points, but I played with players that made the game easier. It’s harder to play on a team that’s not winning and to try to keep that going when you know every guy is trying to trap you and bring in a whole defensive set for you. It’s more work. It’s not an easy thing. If I just roll over and don’t play well, then what? I’m a bust.

But I went out every night trying to do the best I can and trying to do my job. When you look at me, I wasn’t a selfish guy. I felt like I played hard, I played both ends of the floor. But sometimes you get with an organization that everything doesn’t click. That shouldn’t stop you from looking at a guy’s numbers different than if the guy was somewhere else.”

Richmond cites the reaching 20,000 points as the primary boost for the candidacy, but the bigger push in that regard is being 37th on the career scoring list when everyone ahead of him except Vince Carter is either already enshrined or an easy in when the time comes. There’s not even a debate on the others.

“I think I’m the only guy with 20,000 points that is not in the Hall of Fame,” Richmond said. “All the other guys are still playing, everybody else is in. And I think more than anything, even though I played on some rough teams, my peers understood that I tried to play both ends of the court. I hope that’s enough.”

Antawn Jamison, who may or may not be retired, and Tom Chambers are also past 20,000, but point taken. Richmond has a case.


VIDEO: Mitch Richmond talks with NBA TV about his Hall of Fame nomination

Hall of Fame weighing election change

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

The Hall of Fame has discussed ending some or all of the five categories that gave candidates an easier path to enshrinement the last four elections, an outcome that, if it happens, would most noticeably impact former players and coaches from the ABA.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Springfield, Mass., basketball museum. “This year, for the first time, we brought that up, to say, ‘You know, when we did this, we said it’s not forever.’ The concept was we felt people had slipped through the cracks. This was a catch-up kind of a thing, so we’re not locked in. We need now to review it each year, to say maybe we’ve taken care of what needed to be taken care of in this category or that category. But it’s just too early to say what we’re going to do.”

The current format with the direct-elections will “probably” remain in place for at least one more year, Colangelo said, because the Hall would prefer to phase out categories rather than make an abrupt end. That leadership is having conversations now, though, indicates internal questions have already developed about whether enough deserving candidates exist for the specialized categories beyond 2015.

While eliminating the categories would make the path to enshrinement harder in most cases, it would not end chances. It would simply return to the days of all candidates needing two rounds of voting for induction, a contrast to the current plan of a single, smaller election for nominees in the Contributor, ABA, Early African American Pioneers, Veterans and International fields. Receiving the necessary support — currently at least 18 votes from a 24-member panel — would additionally become more difficult because most candidates would be weighed in the same North American committee against the biggest names from the NBA and NCAA.

International representatives could still have separate elections and would likely remain a regular at enshrinement ceremonies every summer. Certainly a winner from the Contributors category will be as voters salute important work off the court. A lot of the winners from there, including David Stern in 2014, are getting in with any selection process.

But not having its own vote would clearly be a blow to hopefuls from the ABA years after the category Colangelo created with the African American Pioneers in 2010 became the Springfield welcome mat for Artis Gilmore, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and, this year, Bob Leonard. It has turned out to be an annual Pacers salute. In the greatest sign of the importance of the direct-elects, Gilmore had been removed from the ballot in the North America category from a lack of support before making it via the ABA.

That puts a lot of candidates on the clock if the current format is canceled after one more election cycle: Zelmo Beatty, Ron Boone, Mack Calvin, Louie Dampier, Freddie Lewis, George McGinnis, Doug Moe and Bob Netolicky, among others. One of the biggest ABA names, Spencer Haywood, is going through the North America committee and is a 2014 finalist.

In addition to the elections of Stern and Leonard announced in February, Sarunas Marciulionis made the Class of 2014 from the International committee, Nat Clifton via the Early African American Pioneers and Guy Rodgers from the Veterans. The inductees from among the finalists following a second round of voting for the North America — Tim Hardaway, Haywood, Kevin Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Nolan Richardson, Mitch Richmond, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams — as well as the Women’s category will be announced April 7 as part of the Final Four.

Hall of Fame debate: KJ vs. Hardaway


VIDEO: The Hardaways through the years

 

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.

Hall of Fame Debate: Alonzo Mourning


VIDEO: Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway were integral to the Heat in the ’90s

They always talked about his heart and leaned on phrases like “warrior” and “fierce” to describe Alonzo Mourning, about how he could beat bigger centers (and a serious kidney ailment while he was at it). And that’s where his quest for the Hall of Fame gets cloudy.

How are the 24 anonymous voters who will decide enshrinement, with 18 needed to join the Class of 2014, to rate Mourning when his greatest attribute, his tenacity against all threats, cannot be rated?

Statistically, Mourning averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in 15 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and New Jersey Nets, credible numbers but hardly kicking down the door to Springfield, Mass. He had eight consecutive seasons of at least 18 points a game, and within that span, four seasons of 20 points and 10 rebounds. There are the seven All-Star appearances and two wins as Defensive Player of the Year, along with leading the league in blocks twice, finishing in the top six in shooting four times, winning two golds and a bronze with Team USA, starring at Georgetown and having an important role in Miami’s 2006 title.

“Look,” said Karl Malone, a first-ballot 2010 Hall of Famer and long-time Mourning opponent. “Let me tell you something. He’s one of the best basketball players to ever play. End of story. Don’t start talking about the heart. You don’t get in the Hall of Fame on a heart. You get in there by your numbers. His numbers speak for itself.”

The true Mourning legacy, though, is the tenacity in which he fought the bigger Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing in their prime, a lineup of opposing centers so imposing that Zo can be regarded as a strong candidate for enshrinement despite making first-, second- or third-team All-NBA just twice. He can be regarded as the leading candidate among the eight finalists from the North American committee, a group that also includes former Heat teammate Tim Hardaway as well as Mitch Richmond, Kevin Johnson, Spencer Haywood and college coaches Eddie Sutton, Gary Williams and Nolan Richardson.

“It depends on who’s judging, you know?” Mourning said when asked how his passion should be factored into the balloting. “Everybody’s going to have their own perspective. All I know is, I played the game the right way. I feel like I played it the right way and I feel like I contributed to it the right way. I think that’s all you can ask for from a player. You play the game the right way, you respect the game, you work it as hard as you can. Nobody can ever question my work ethic. They definitely can never question that. And nobody can ever question my sacrifice. I made the ultimate sacrifice. There was a point in time in my career where the doctor literally had to stop me from playing because he said, ‘Your phosphorous levels are so high that you could risk cardiac arrest out there on the court.’ There’s a lot of people that don’t know that, but I was literally out there risking my life just to play the game of basketball. That kind of puts things in perspective.”

Mourning was diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis in October 2000, missed the first 69 games of the Heat season (while still being voted an All-Star starter) and returned to average 13.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.38 blocks in 23.5 minutes in the final 13 contests. He played 75 games in 2001-02, at 32.7 minutes per. The illness caused him to miss all of the 2002-03 season.

Mourning signed a four-year free-agent deal with the Nets before the next season, only to retire on Nov. 25, 2003. On Dec. 19, he underwent a kidney transplant.

And then he played again. Mourning made 12 appearances for the Nets in 2003-04, was traded to the Raptors in a deal that sent Vince Carter to New Jersey, never reported to Toronto and forced a buyout that allowed Zo to return to Miami. He played part of that season with the Heat, the full schedule of two others, won a ring while contributing five blocks in the decisive Game 6 of The Finals,  then tore a tendon in his right knee on Dec. 19, 2007 – the fourth anniversary of his kidney transplant.

Only then, at age 38, did he retire. Mourning had outlasted everything. He banged into Shaq, sprinted downcourt with Dream, and swatted away a kidney disease.

Which leaves him where in the Hall of Fame?

“I don’t know how they judge it,” Mourning said. “I’ve never been a part of a committee. I don’t know what they look at. Do they look at stats? Do they look at the impact you had on the game? I don’t know what they look at. All I know is I came in, I worked the game the right way, I didn’t take too many minutes off when I was out there on the court. I can honestly tell you that. I did what I could to try to make the organization that I was a part of successful and I did what I could to make my teammates better with my play.”

Malone, the former power forward, said, “If Alonzo Mourning is not in the Hall of Fame this year, let’s get rid of it and start over.” But voters have recently been especially protective of first-ballot nominees. (Gary Payton got in last year, but Reggie Miller and Dennis Rodman went from not making finalist their first try all the way to election on the second attempt.) On the other hand, Mourning has a unique place in history – played after kidney transplant is not on many other applications – and the kind of career that gets him deep into the conversation.

It’s the part about trying to put a value on his warrior heart that is going to be tough.

Hall Of Fame Fan Voting Remains On Hold

NEW ORLEANS – Hopes by the Hall of Fame to take the revolutionary step of including fan voting to help decide enshrinement have been delayed at least one more year as officials continue to struggle to find a partner for the project.

“It really all comes down to a sponsor issue, about finding the right sponsor to help us execute that,” said John Doleva, the president of the basketball museum in Springfield, Mass. “We’ve had discussions and nothing has transpired yet, so we’re going to go through the process that we’ve had over the past several years. With the changes that Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo (Hall chairman) has done to be more inclusive is great. We’d love to engage the fans. We think it is a sellable opportunity, but it’s an opportunity we have not yet been able to find the right partner.”

The Hall has been working to refine the plan that would give the election results the same weight as the current format of needing 18 of a possible 24 votes for enshrinement. The proposed format would increase the number of chances to 25, a popular decision in some circles because it encourages fan involvement and a concerning turn in others because it adds an element of popularity contest that can create problems, as witnessed by All-Star balloting some years.

Either way, the Hall has no intention to move forward without a sponsor to help in marketing.

“We work to try to do it every year,” Doleva said. “We think about the opportunity for fans to go to a website, whether it’s the Hall of Fame website or a sponsor’s website, and being able to vote for this list of 10 finalists and have an impact. It’s not just an opinion poll. It’s the top three people would get an additional to help them maybe get into the Hall of Fame. We’re actually talking about the fan having an opportunity to impact who goes in. We continue to market that.”

Doleva remains hopeful the format could be introduced for voting on the Class of 2015. In the meantime, balloting will move forward for the current set of finalists from the North American and Women’s committees, with the winners to be announced at the Final Four in Arlington, Tex., in April.