Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2020

The Basketball Hall of Fame should remain inclusive

By ERIC LYNCH | October 22, 2020

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mark6mauno / CC BY 2.0

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has long been the most lenient hall of fame of the four major American sports leagues.

In the wake of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, fans have been debating how this year’s playoff results affect certain players’ chances of making it into the Hall of Fame. For players like LeBron James, even an NBA Championship doesn’t do much to increase his already guaranteed Hall of Fame chances. But for players like Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler, their success in this year’s playoffs could be the factor that pushes them over the hump.

Rondo’s accolades include two NBA Championships, four All-Star selections, three seasons leading the league in assists, and four All-Defensive Team selections. Butler has five All-Star appearances, the 2015 Most Improved Player award and has shown that he can lead a team to the Finals as a number-one option. While both of these players have good résumés, they are definitely still on the border of the Hall of Fame cutoff. 

However, if this were any of the other four main American sports leagues, players like Rondo and Butler probably wouldn’t even be in the Hall of Fame buzz. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has long been criticized for having lenient standards. And that criticism certainly has a basis.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has 417 members in it, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has 333, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has 326 and the Basketball Hall of Fame has 401. While these numbers may look fairly similar, keep in mind that the NBA was founded over 25 years later than any of these other leagues, and it also has the lowest number of players per team. This means the NBA has the smallest pool of players to choose from by far and still has as many inductees as the other leagues.

It’s impossible to dispute that the Basketball Hall of Fame is more inclusive than any other, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For example, look at the problems that other sports face; many Major League Baseball players like Dan Quisenberry, Dick Allen and Keith Hernandez are just as accomplished as players in their Hall of Fame, but they themselves never got a spot. There are also the intense taboos around performance-enhancing substance usage and cheating scandals that have kept a lot of historic players from being selected. This creates a small pool of legendary players whose legacies are neglected by fans.

It’s hard to find anyone clamoring about NBA players who have been snubbed from the Hall of Fame. The most legitimate case I can think of is Chris Webber, who was a top 10 player for several years but didn’t accomplish too much more outside of that. Meanwhile the Basketball Hall of Fame features players like Calvin Murphy, who was a one-time All-Star, Bill Bradley, who was also a one-time All-Star, and Frank Ramsey, who was never an All-Star. Clearly, the NBA’s standards for greatness aren’t the same as other leagues.

There is one unique distinction about the Basketball Hall of Fame that some critics don’t seem to grasp: It is not the NBA Hall of Fame. What this means is that nominees’ college careers, professional careers (NBA or overseas), coaching and other contributions to the sport are all taken into account when voting.

For example, a player like Carmelo Anthony would already be considered a good candidate for the Hall of Fame due to his All-Star appearances and scoring title. But most people consider him to be a lock because of his Olympic gold medals and National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship. This means some players can get into the Hall of Fame without having many NBA accolades.

First, I want to say that the NBA Hall of Fame is not too inclusive. While it is true that it is more lenient than other halls of fame, the disparity isn’t actually that large. And I would much rather honor someone who isn’t necessarily deserving than ignore someone who should be remembered. And besides, the system has worked very well so far. It’s rare to see mass outrage over a Basketball Hall of Fame selection. Even the players I mentioned above played key roles in historically significant teams, so it can be difficult to argue that they shouldn’t be in.

Second, I think it’s much better to have the Basketball Hall of Fame than to have an NBA Hall of Fame. The Basketball Hall of Fame features the creators of basketball’s various rules, radio announcers, team owners, Euroleague players and even Harlem Globetrotters players. These people all made the NBA what it is today. It wouldn’t make sense to honor the people who have profited and grown from these innovations without honoring the innovators as well.

Some people think that induction into the Hall of Fame is only valuable if it is extremely exclusive, but I think this is a bad way of looking at it. In fact, I would say that induction into the Hall of Fame is more valuable because it is an honor shared by so many in the basketball community. The Hall of Fame is a snapshot of the larger basketball community, not an exclusive country club. All of its members have contributed a significant amount to the sport, so they deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

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