Jerry Tarkanian, 82, was in Atlanta for the official announcement, needing a walker to get to the podium and struggling to climb a few stairs before sitting on stage in a chair. Guy Lewis, 91, was sort of there, unable to travel from his Houston home but joining in via phone call a speaker to share his thoughts with the entire ballroom of the skyscraper hotel.
Rick Pitino was in Atlanta on Monday too, although the Louisville coach would have been anyway. Something about a work commitment later in the night.
The wave of coaches going into the Hall of Fame, now officially headed for enshrinement as members of the Class of 2013 with Gary Payton and Bernard King from the North American committee that handles most candidates with NBA ties, was impossible to miss. Not just that Tarkanian and Lewis had made it to Springfield, Mass., after long waits. It’s that more coaches were elected than players.
This is a change – one coach made it through the two-stage voting process last year (Don Nelson), two did in 2011 (Tex Winter, Herb Magee), one in 2010 (Bob Hurley Sr. from the high school ranks), one in 2009 (Jerry Sloan) and one in 2008 (Pat Riley). Maybe it’s just how the process played out this year, with no particular deeper meaning other than a lot of room for enshrinement with Payton as the only mortal lock on the ballot and voters sticking to the recent emphasis from the Hall to reconsider past omissions. So, Lewis was elected after retiring in 1986 and Tarkanian after retiring in 2002, and Tark had been up for consideration so many times that he was removed for a lack of support before becoming eligible again this cycle.
But if this is a hint of a new direction from the process kept secret to the point that vote totals are not even released, the possibilities just became endless from the NBA side alone.
If Tom Heinsohn (427-263, two titles with the Celtics) made it through the first round of balloting before falling short of receiving at least 18 of 24 votes for enshrinement, the case for Rudy Tomjanovich (527-416, two titles with the Rockets, plus an Olympic gold) got a lot better. John Bach, Bill Fitch, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Dick Motta were also nominated this year through the North American committee, while Bob (Slick) Leonard was a candidate in the ABA category and Al Attles, Del Harris and Gene Shue were considered via the Contributor field.
The future options are the most intriguing of all. Gregg Popovich has yet to be nominated, by his preference, just as Sloan for years asked people not to put him on the ballot. Similar to Sloan finally relenting when he could be inducted with John Stockton, maybe Popovich starts to make Springfield once Tim Duncan retires in eight or 10 years. Then Pop can enter the Hall while hoping no one notices him.
George Karl has not been nominated, not by his choice. He would have to receive strong support. Rick Adelman has not been nominated, an especially relevant detail days after he became the eighth coach to win 1,000 games and everyone except Karl who has reached the milestone is in the Hall. A potential Adelman candidacy might be hurt as one of the most non-networking guys in the league, when being clubby appears to help the process for some, but getting to a grand would be difficult to overlook. (It didn’t help Nelson for years, though.) John Calipari, now at Kentucky but formerly a head coach with the Nets and an assistant with the 76ers, is not on the ballot either.
For now, the only certainty is that Tarkanian, Pitino and Lewis will be inducted with Payton and King, after his own long wait, Sept. 8, along with the two enshrinees from the Women’s committee revealed Monday, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and former star guard Dawn Staley. They will all join the five people whose elections were announced in February: Roger Brown (ABA), Edwin B. Henderson (Early African American Pioneers), Oscar Schmidt (International), Richard Guerin (Veterans) and Russ Granik (Contributor).
What happens in the next Hall voting cycle, though, just became a trend to watch.