First things first: Congratulations to my man Patrick for bringing the sweat,blood, and guts EVERY night. The story of "the Ewing Era" is one of almost unparalled consistent greatness. Some have said that the Buffalo Bills four straight Super Bowls is one of sports greatest records. But just how great was the under-appreciated Ewing. How about the Knicks ADVANCED in the playoffs 9 out of 10 years during the 1990′s. Only a handful of greats can claim such consistent dominance over a decade (Russell, Magic, Bird, MJ, etc.). For reference purposes, Kevin Garnett has made it past the first round only once in his career. But Ewing would get no Ray Allens and Paul Pierce’s to save him… or a Pippen… or even a Rodman… …or McHale/Parish’s… or Worthy/Kareem… or a Stockton or a Kevin Johnson… like his other fellow championshipless colleagues received. Of course, history does not reward consistent greatness like it does championships. But the 2nd story of Ewing’s career was bad management. I could go on, but we’ll talk more Patrick in another column.
Congrats to Hakeem, Patrick’s only center superior in his era and the center with the best footwork and mobility of all-time. Congrats to Pat Riley who besides being a great coach is an authority on centers who played with Wilt Chamberlain and then coached Kareem, Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and Shaquille O’neal. And a huge congratulations to the long overdue justice that has been eluding Adrian Dantley for so many years. Now if we can only get Hall of Fame voters educated on the truth that was Bernard King! But that too is for another column…
Last year”s induction highlighted a broken NBA HOF system that does not value the actual people who play the game. Dantley’s absense was so glaring because not one single player made the cut — but 5 coaches and even a referee got inducted. It prompted this much needed criticism from John Hollinger who advocated a separate Hall of Fame that actually focused on players…and the NBA.
But look at the voting patterns in recent years — it’s not the Basketball Hall of Fame, folks, it’s the College Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame Plus a Few Other Guys. Over the past 10 years, the institution has inducted 25 coaches and nine contributors … but only 20 players. Wait, it gets worse. Of those 25 coaches, do you know how many got in for succeeding in the NBA — the game’s highest level? FOUR!!! Are you kidding me?This is like going to Cooperstown and seeing miles of plaques dedicated to the best AAA managers. …they’ve inducted only 14 NBA players in that decade … and 20 college coaches. .
..I’ve argued this for a long time, but it’s long overdue for the league to set up its own Hall of Fame and ditch any link to Springfield. Better yet, the collegians have helped out by taking the first step. In October, doors will open at the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Missouri… ultimately, it seems like separation is the only way to resolve this thing. Springfield’s selections have become so absurd that they’re hardly worth taking seriously anymore (seriously … Mirko Novosel?), …But perhaps the best argument deals with history. In the big picture, I’ve long felt that the NBA cared less about its historical legacy than any other sport, and it’s high time they took better control of it. This would be one giant step in that direction.
Yesterday Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated summed it up quite succinctly when he said: "No visitor goes up to the Hall of Fame to see a coach." Considering the love for coaches and college ones in particular, it is hard to disagree with Hollinger’s promotion of a new HOF. But until that happens, 2008 was to be a banner year for "the NBA player" that no fair and right-minded HOF voter or media member could ignore. With centers Hakeem and Patrick taking center stage in their first year of eligibility, perhaps, for just one year and one year only, some NBA historical order could be restored! Unfortunately, here was the article that the Associated Press disseminated throughout the country that is found at ESPN.
SAN ANTONIO – ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, a man who had limited success as a coach but brought the game of basketball to millions of TV watchers, was selected to the game’s Hall of Fame on Monday alongside Pat Riley, one of the most successful NBA coaches of all time. Overcome with emotion, Vitale broke into tears during the announcement in San Antonio, site of the NCAA Men’s Final Four. "I can’t run, can’t jump, can’t shoot, but just have had a tremendous — I’d like to think — passion about the game," said Vitale, who had a short stint as an NBA coach in the late 1970s but made his name as a college basketball analyst.
Others in the Class of 2008 were Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, two greats who battled on the court for years; player Adrian Dantley; coach Cathy Rush; and William Davidson, owner of the Detroit Pistons since 1974.
Over the decades, Vitale created his own lexicon with phrases such as "Get a T-O, baby," "You’re a P-T-Per," and "Awesome, baby." Monday, he said he "cried like a baby" upon learning of his selection and thanked Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight — now a fellow ESPN analyst — for spearheading a letter-writing campaign on his behalf. "When I saw those letters, whether I’d ever gotten in the Hall of Fame or not, that was going to be my hall of fame," said the 68-year-old who was forced off-air for two months after throat surgery.
No matter how strong their credentials, each member of the Class of 2008 seemed a bit star-struck. Riley, the third-winningest NBA coach ever, called his election "unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable." Riley won four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, then grabbed another one two years ago with Miami. He also has one championship as an assistant and another as a player. "Last night I lost my 64th game of the regular season," he said, referring to the Heat’s current struggles. "And the next day I’m in the Hall of Fame. I think there’s an integrity in the Hall of Fame that far surpasses whatever your record is, if you have a body of work." The new class, which Riley joked will be the best-promoted ever because of Vitale’s inclusion, will be inducted Sept. 5 in Springfield, Mass., home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Olajuwon and Ewing both played in three Final Fours, with Ewing’s Georgetown team beating Olajuwon’s Houston squad for the 1984 national championship. "We both are warriors. We both want to excel. We both wanted to dominate, and when you play against the best you want to perform at your best" Ewing said. "So we both definitely looked at each other as the best. "Olajuwon got his revenge as a pro, leading the Houston Rockets to the first of two straight titles with a seven-game victory over Ewing’s New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals — a team coached by Riley. "Growing up in Nigeria I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what it means to be a hall of famer," said Olajuwon, a 12-time All-Star. "I still cannot believe that I’m in the same company with all these great legends." Ewing, the Knicks’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocked shots, and steals, among other categories, remembered field trips to the Hall of Fame as a child and said he never imagined being a part of it. "And now I am," he said.
ARTICLE RECAP: 1) College basketball announcer (and ESPN employee) headlines the story. 2) Vitale also receives more print space than Olajuwon and Ewing COMBINED. 3) Pat Riley gets second billing before we get to those big guys. 4) Oh yeah, the article goes on to write a sentence or two on Adrian Dantley… and a couple of other inductees. 5) As Vitale might yell, "Are you kiddin’ me?"
How can this possibly happen? How can a man who admits that he "can’t run, can’t jump, can’t shoot" become the main story over two of the best big men ever that COULD run and jump and shoot? How could a man who coached the Detroit Pistons to 30 victories (Vitale) reduce another man who contended for a championsip with the Pistons to a footnote(Dantley)? How can ANY writer at Associated Press, ESPN, or any other place not get the priorities of this story correct? Why did an ESPN caption on the bottom of outside the lines read "Vitale and 7 others elected into the Hall of Fame"?
Finally, if Vitale’s headlining were some isolated incident, then we could chalk it up to ESPN shamelessly boosting one of its own. However, the AP author is not from ESPN and neither are many of the Hall of Fame voters. As Hollinger points out, this problem has been going on for a long long time. And it is time that a REAL conversation about this question:
"Why do so many Hall of Fame voters and sports writers undervalue the achievements of young black men who shoot a basketball over old white men who often teach, referee, and announce the shooting of that ball?"
Is it the Hall of Fame voters? Is it media members who disproportionately give accolades to coaches and others? Is it most fans who — consciously or subconsciously — would rather identify with Vitale’s "can’t run, can’t jump, can’t shoot" story and a media that know this fact providing customer service? Whatever the case, we simply need to stop making excuses and have an honest dialogue. Not just the usual no-nuance "is it racist" question? A discussion with more depth is needed. It’s time to talk… or else…