This past weekend, while a lot of other things were happening in the sports world — especially the start of the new NFL season and the end of the U.S. Open — the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame welcomed its newest class in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The 11 new members, divided into two separately announced groups:
Dikembe Mutombo, Spencer Haywood, Jo Jo White, Lisa Leslie, John Calipari, and referee Dick Bavetta were all announced in April at the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Louie Dampier, John Isaacs, Lindsay Gaze, Tom Heinsohn, and George Raveling were announced in February, inductees voted in by special committees in an attempt (a proper one, it should be added) to ensure that diverse contributors to the sport from all corners of the globe are represented in the Hall.
There seems to be very little doubt that of all the major North American team sports, the one with the most intense Hall of Fame debates is baseball. That’s a rather safe statement to make. There are so many years of accumulated history to weigh and compare, so many eras in which the nature of the sport — while always present in the same essential way — was played very differently due to the size of parks, the quality of the (physical) baseball itself, and the height of the pitcher’s mound, which was adjusted after a 1968 season in which pitchers dominated to an (almost?) absurd degree.
You will get plenty of contentious debates about the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well, given that the NFL is America’s most popular spectator (and television) sport, and in light of the fact that there are so many players on a football field at one time. Being able to determine if a right guard or a defensive tackle is worthy of inclusion requires a lot of homework.
In basketball, there just doesn’t seem to be the same drama or sense of controversy surrounding Hall of Fame inclusions or exclusions. The fact that 11 people were brought into the newest class certainly represents one reason that basketball HOF discussions don’t become the attention-grabbing developments you get in football and especially baseball. Baseball HOF classes are sometimes extremely small, and the most recent football HOF class consisted of eight individuals. Given that the total number of basketball players on a court at one time (10) is almost the same as the number of players one baseball or football team puts on the field at one time (9 for a baseball defense, 11 for a football unit of some sort), the larger size of a basketball HOF class certainly takes a lot of the sting out of one year’s exclusions — not on an absolute scale, mind you, but certainly in comparison to other sports.
Yet, with the fresh Hall of Fame class still reveling in a deserved moment of recognition, it’s definitely worth spending some time — today and in the coming days — looking at figures who should be in the basketball Hall.
Let’s take just one example from the 2015 HOF class, Louie Dampier. With the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels and then the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Dampier enjoyed a very steady career. In his early years with Kentucky, Dampier attained a spectacular height for two seasons. While that plateau did not endure, Dampier remained extremely productive for nearly a full decade after his 1969-1970 masterpiece of a season. If you look at his stats, you should almost certainly conclude that, “Yes, that’s a magnificent basketball player, one who performed at a very high level for a reasonably long period of time.”
That Dampier was a terrific player on one of Adolph Rupp’s better teams at the University of Kentucky in the mid-1960s — before he stayed in the state to play pro ball — only enhances his credentials as a Hall of Fame player.
If you were to pick any of several non-Hall-of-Famers to compare to Dampier — just imagine you’re plucking a piece of paper out of a hat — let’s take Sidney Moncrief as a comparison.
If Player X is in the Basketball Hall, why isn’t Player Y?
Does Moncrief rise to the standards Dampier established, mostly in the pros but also in college?
When I look at the statistical record in that link to his Basketball Reference page, I see a resume that’s entirely comparable to what Dampier established. Sidney Moncrief might not have produced the two transcendent seasons Dampier delivered, but it’s clear that he was a better rebounder and defender in his career with the Milwaukee Bucks. Moreover, all the workmanlike things Moncrief did on the floor translated into a better Milwaukee team. Playing alongside Terry Cummings, Paul Pressey, late-career Bob Lanier, early-career Ricky Pierce, and other notables under coach Don Nelson, Moncrief helped Milwaukee reach the Eastern Conference finals three times in an era shared by legendarily great Boston Celtic and Philadelphia 76er clubs.
Just to complete the comparison with Dampier, Moncrief’s career lasted almost as long, and his college career — at the University of Arkansas under Eddie Sutton — brought the Razorbacks a Final Four. Dampier had guided Kentucky to the 1966 Final Four (the one in which Texas Western and Don Haskins changed basketball forever).
Sidney Moncrief’s imprint on basketball was substantial at both the collegiate and professional levels. Other players with fewer NBA All-Star appearances — the aforementioned Spencer Haywood being one of them — have made the Hall.
What are we missing?
Sidney Moncrief will probably get his due… and his day in the basketball Hall of Fame. Let’s make sure that it happens, however.