As NBA All-Star weekend kicks into gear and current players dream of one day joining the immortals in Springfield, Massachusetts, The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame 2016 finalists were announced on Friday.
The finalists are Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Kevin Johnson, Tom Izzo, John McLendon, Eddie Sutton, Bo Ryan, Sheryl Swoopes, Robert Hughes, Muffet McGraw, Darrell Garretson, Lefty Driesell, Leita Andrews and the 1954-58 Wayland Baptist U. team.
While all of the nominees are worthy, the top dawgs of this year’s induction will be two players who not only dominated their respective positions for over a decade but were two of the most culturally-influential, polarizing, captivating, talented, hip and unapologetically black ball players to ever grace the hardwood.
Shaq and A.I. are two of the first legends of the dunkdafied, obnoxious, gangsta hip-hop personified '90s-2000's era of NBA basketball to become immortalized.
Shaq was not only winning chips and redefining the post game for big men. The big fella was holding it down with Peter Gunz and Lord Tariq in Soundview Projects, making hip-hop records that weren’t seen as gimmick rap from some celebrity basketball player, but real rap from the dual mouthpiece of the gritty NY streets. Where crack sales, projects and hip-hop formed a three-headed monster that engulfed Urban America and eventually spilled out into the suburbs and the billion-dollar board rooms of the corporate NBA world.
Shaq, kept an impressive balance between his LA celebrity life, the streets and his child-friendly image that garnered him movies and endorsements. When he retired, he was a four-time NBA champion and transitioned nicely into his corporate media success.
A.I., however, came into the game marked as a street dude with incomparable, god-given basketball flavor. He went out on his terms, opting to play in Greece rather than ride pine for a team. He’s kept it funky, I give him that. He’s been open about his regrets and never cheated the fans when he was on the court. He had his own style in every aspect of his life.
He entered Georgetown fresh off a gubernatorial pardon of a maiming charge he caught one fateful night at a bowling alley. Iverson was the local multi-sport star who happened to be in the vicinity of a brawl and was used as the scapegoat and face of a situation that nearly sparked a race war in Hampton Roads.
He was already rebellion personified before he stepped in the NBA. He looked like a banger from the East Side but he was just banging and hanging on rims for the 76ers in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
He hung with his homies from the hood. He rocked the crazy corn rows, durags and gold links that hung down to his testicles. His clothes were baggy and pants were saggy. He was America’s worst nightmare, except on game nights, when the electricity and passion he brought to the floor won the hearts of any basketball fan to witness his magnificence.
At 5-foot-11, Iverson played 14 seasons in the NBA and no matter what titan or legendary team he faced, the show was always about him. He has his critics for sure, but that’s off the court stuff and philosophical differences about how to approach the game. Indisputable, however, is his worthiness for first ballot HOF induction.
As a newspaper reporter whose first major beat was the upstart WNBA in 1998, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a lady baller who is undeniably a women’s basketball pioneer and one of the Top 10 greatest female players ever.
Sheryl Swoopes starred for Texas Tech before becoming the first player signed to the WNBA in 1997. She was often referred to as "female Michael Jordan" for her dope combination of offensive and defensive skills. Swoopes has won three Olympic gold medals and is a multiple WNBA MVP. She is also the first woman to have a Nike shoe named after her in 1995.
As quick and gifted a forward as the league has ever seen, Swoopes helped lead a loaded Houston Comets squad to four back-to-back WNBA championships from 1997 to 2000. Her performances in those early years of the WNBA helped the league secure a permanent place in the American sports landscape.
The Class of 2016 will be announced on Monday, April 4, at a press conference in Houston prior to the NCAA Men's Championship game. A finalist needs 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for election into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
As announced in 2015, three distinct modifications have been made to the election process for the upcoming class. Most notably, potential honorees are eligible on the ballot for Hall of Fame enshrinement after four full seasons of retirement -- which allows for the inclusion of O'Neal and Yao Ming on the Class of 2016 ballot.
Absent from the All-Star announcement was Yao Ming, whose nomination falls within the Direct Elect International Committee.
Yao Ming was a force on the basketball court and a potentially stat-worthy HOF career was only shortened by foot ailments that ended his impactful NBA journey after seven seasons. He’s probably the most important international player in NBA history and certainly the most important Chinese basketball player ever, as he inspired the Chinese basketball explosion that Jeremy Lin has continued.
As legendary Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan put it today on ESPN, Yao Ming will get in just based on his international impact and influence on the game.
Said Ryan: “ A billion Chinese will testify that ...Yao Ming popularized the game...he was the grand ambassador of basketball and was a fine player.”
Enshrinees from the Direct Elect Committees will be recognized at the NCAA Men's Final Four in Houston in April.
The Class of 2016 will be enshrined during festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts, the birthplace of basketball, September 8-10, 2016.