With the Basketball Hall of Fame set to induct a new class this Friday night in Springfield, Massachusetts, it got me thinking: which Nugget will be Denver's next Hall of Famer?
Not surprisingly, the Denver Nuggets don't have a lot of representation in the Basketball Hall of Fame. That's what happens when you don't have so much as an NBA Championship appearance to show for your franchise since joining the NBA in 1976.
The only "true" Nuggets to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame are Alex English, Dan Issel and David Thompson. And granting Thompson induction in 1996 - 12 years after his final NBA game - was due more to the player Thompson should have been rather than the player he was (Thompson infamously flamed out of the NBA due to drug problems after just nine years as a pro). I don't think anyone would argue whether or not Thompson had a Hall of Fame-caliber game, but it's reasonable to debate whether or not Thompson had a Hall of Fame career.
But regardless of where you come down on Thompson's induction, the fact remains that the Nuggets aren't widely represented in Springfield.
I foresee four more former Nuggets players being inducted in the years to come. They are (in presumed order of eligibility) Dikembe Mutombo, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, with Mutombo, Iverson and Melo as shoo-ins while Billups will be on the bubble. Before dissecting the Hall of Fame credentials of these three players, we must remember that the Basketball Hall of Fame is the Basketball Hall of Fame, NOT the professional basketball or NBA hall of fame. Therefore, a player's credentials for induction are based on their career in basketball, including college and international play, and their community work off the court.
Why he'll get inducted: Mutombo finished his NBA career as the league's second all-time leader in blocked shots, 18th in total rebounds collected, played in eight All-Star games, was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year an amazing four times (tied with Ben Wallace for the most ever), and was named to six NBA All-Defensive Teams and three All-NBA Teams. Those are the hard facts.
On the intangible card, Mutombo was the Nuggets' leader when they became the first eighth-seeded team in NBA history to upset a one-seed in the playoffs and Mutombo was a key contributor when the Philadelphia 76ers marched to the NBA Finals in 2001. But that's just on the court.
Off the court, Mutombo will be remembered as one of the great humanitarians in NBA history - twice winning the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award - and the Hall of Fame voters put a premium on former players who displayed the highest character. Born in Zaire (known now as the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most dangerous countries on the planet), Mutombo spent much of his career and post-career donating time and money to charitable causes in Africa, most notably with the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa that Mutombo himself donated $15 million to get its door opened. In 2007, president George W. Bush honored Mutombo in his State of the Union address and Mutombo has served as a mentor and impression to countless African players.
Why he might not get inducted: Mutombo is a likely shoo-in for Hall of Fame induction, but perhaps not in his first year of eligibility which is in 2014. Why? Because despite Mutombo's bona fide hall credentials, the Hall of Fame voters have an unreasonable bias towards players who won championships and Mutombo played for just one team (the 2000-01 76ers) that played beyond the second round of the playoffs. Moreover, while Mutombo's total blocked shots and rebounds collected might be impressive, the seven-footer had to play 18 NBA seasons and into his early 40s to rack up those statistics. And finally, as Nuggets fans know Mutombo was a very one-dimensional player and had no offensive game to speak of.
The Verdict: As noted above, Mutombo will find himself in Springfield soon enough but I could see him getting passed over in his first year of eligibility. The bottom line is Mutombo is one of the great global ambassadors in basketball history and is the very epitome of a Hall of Fame player.
Why he'll get inducted: A former first overall draft pick (something oddly that the Hall of Fame puts stock in), the diminutive Iverson was the NBA's best "little man" since Isiah Thomas laced up his sneakers. Listed at 6'0" but in reality closer to 5'10", Iverson was the greatest scoring small guard in NBA history and one of the greatest scorers in NBA history period, finishing with 24,368 points over 14 erratic seasons, good for 17th all-time in NBA history. Had Iverson been able to stay in shape and get along with his coaches and organizations, he easily could have finished as a top-10 all-time NBA scorer.
Iverson also has an NBA MVP Award on his resume, two NBA All-Star Game MVPs, seven All-NBA team selections, 11 All-Star Game selections, a Rookie of the Year Award and an Olympic bronze medal. Put simply, every player who has ever won an MVP award in the NBA has made it to Springfield after their retirement.
Why he might not get inducted: From the day he first walked into an NBA locker room in Philadelphia, Iverson was a lightning rod for criticism and couldn't stay out of touble. He wasn't the first potential Hall of Famer to get arrested more than once or the first overly tattooed player - that would be Dennis Rodman, who will be inducted this Friday night - but no future player wanted to emulate Rodman by tatting up their entire body and defying authority. They wanted to emulate Iverson. And it wasn't just the tattoos that adorned Iverson and made him passionately beloved by fans (both black and white) nationwide, it was also the baseball caps turned backward, the baggy, low-riding jeans, the do-rag, the corn rows, the massive amounts of jewelry. Iverson was the ultimate symbol of individualism over authority, and this scared - and still scares - the basketball establishment.
But that's just off the court.
On the court, Iverson was a very one-dimensional player, a horrible defender and didn't win a lot of games. Yes, he led the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001, but in 14 NBA seasons he made it to the post-season just eight times. And he was bounced out of the first round four of those eight times. Additionally, Iverson was the de facto leader of the disastrous 2004 Summer Olympic Team that finished with a bronze medal, the first time ever that an Olympic team comprised of NBA players couldn't win a gold medal. And, of course, Nuggets fans are all-too-familiar with how Iverson's career has ended, with disappointing stops in Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia (again) and then Turkey. It's been a sad ending to an otherwise phenomenal NBA career.
The Verdict: By the time most players are eligible for Hall of Fame induction, their off-the-court incidents and on-the-court disappointments are long forgotten and they are instead remembered fondly for just being great basketball players. And despite never being able to overcome his demons and deliver a championship of any sort, Allen Iverson was a great basketball player.
Why he'll get inducted: Simply put, Basketball Hall of Fame voters love winning over statistics and Billups has been the consummate winner during his solid basketball career. One of just a few players to appear in seven consecutive conference finals, Billups has two NBA Finals appearances, one NBA Championship and one NBA Finals MVP under his belt. Billups has also been named to five All-Star teams, three All-NBA Teams and two NBA All-Defensive Teams.
And last summer, Billups added to his basketball legacy by helping Team USA win their first FIBA World Championship since 1994. Alongside, Lamar Odom, Billups was the veteran leader of that team and played many minutes in crucial settings throughout the tournament. Billups is also currently the NBA's fifth all-time leader in free throw shooting percentage and will finish as one of the greatest free throw shooters in league history.
Why he might not get inducted: Even though the Hall of Fame doesn't put a big premium on numbers, numbers still mean something when it comes to Hall of Fame induction and Billups' career averages of 15.5 ppg, 5.6 apg and 41.7% field goal shooting are hardly Hall of Fame-worthy. Also, Billups has often been the second best or one of the three best players on his team, he has never been the best player on his team.
The Verdict: In many ways, Billups' career resembles that of his mentor and general manager in Detroit, Joe Dumars. Like Billups, Dumars was a winner, appearing in three NBA Finals and claiming an NBA Finals MVP Award in 1989. Also like Billups, Dumars' numbers are unremarkable and yet he appeared in six All-Star games and was named to multiple All-NBA and NBA All-Defensive Teams. And Dumars won a FIBA World Championship in 1994 as the team's elder statesmen ... again, like Billups. So if Dumars' career was deemed Hall of Fame worthy, shouldn't Billups be inducted, too?
Why he'll get inducted: Eight years into his NBA career, Melo has never missed a postseason, led the Nuggets to only their third conference finals appearance in their NBA franchise history, has averaged 24.8 points per game, has made numerous game-tying and game-winning shots and has appeared in four All-Star games. Outside the NBA, Melo has won both a gold and bronze medal at the Summer Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2006 FIBA World Championships. And lest we forget, Melo led the Syracuse Orange to the NCAA basketball championship in 2003.
And now that he's a New York Knick, Melo will get showered with much more adoration from the East Coast voters than he will probably deserve. As long as Melo continues to rack up points and lead the Knicks to the playoffs (hardly an impressive feat in the Leastern Conference), Hall of Fame induction is his to lose.
Why he might not get inducted: Hall of Fame voters are somewhat biased against one-dimensional offensive players, hence why superstars like Alex English and Dominique Wilkins were shamefully passed over for induction in their first years of eligibility. Should Melo continue to be a one-dimensional player (a certainty) and continue to flame out in the first round of the playoffs each year (not a certainty, but likely) he may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The Verdict: Whether we in Denver like Melo or not, as long as he stays healthy he is well on his way to having a Hall of Fame career. The only debate will be whether or not he gets inducted in his first year of eligibility.
On to the links...
Is Chauncey Billups going to the Hall of Fame? | Dime Magazine (dimemag.com)
An in-depth look at Chauncey Billups' career through 2009 and whether or not it is Hall of Fame-worthy.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame - News - Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Announces 2011 Enshrinement Ceremony Presenters
Chris Mullin, Dennis Rodman, Arvydas Sabonis and more will be inducted this Friday night!
Euroleague wary of signing NBA players with existing contracts - Ian Thomsen - SI.com
The Euroleague does not anticipate its clubs signing players who have existing NBA contracts during the lockout, Euroleague president and CEO Jordi Bertomeu told SI.com.
Former Duke star Scheyer joins Maccabi Tel Aviv - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
Former Duke basketball star Jon Scheyer joined Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday, saying his college experience prepared him well for coping with high expectations. Because he is Jewish, Scheyer is eligible to become an Israeli and not count against a league cap on foreign players.
Hakeem Olajuwon is helping to tune LeBron James’ game - Ball Don't Lie - NBA Blog - Yahoo! Sports
LBJ is doing what Kobe Bryant did two summers ago. Smart, very smart.