By Rob Kunz
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame celebrated the induction its 57th class with 10 new members Sept. 9.
The Class of 2016 was one of the strongest classes – inducting six living basketball greats: Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Sheryl Swoopes, Tom Izzo, and Jerry Reinsdorf. Four past greats were also honored posthumously: John McLendon Jr., Zelmo Beaty, Cumberland Posey and Darell Garretson.
The eventual star power of this class took some changes to the HOF’s nomination and election process for it to happen. In December 2015, the HOF board changed the eligibility time from five seasons (NBA, WNBA, etc.) from retirement to five calendar years of retirement before a player could be nominated, voted, and elected. This basically reduced the wait time from five NBA or WNBA seasons to four. This rule change pushed forward Allen Iverson’s enshrinement from the class of 2017 to the class of 2016.
The Election Committee and Board also made some important changes regarding the ABA Direct Election Committee and the Women’s Screening Committee. Not that many years ago, the HOF added a Direct ABA committee which would elect one past ABA player or coach each year. Over the past few years, Artis Gilmore (2011), Mel Daniels (2012), Roger Brown (2013), Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard (2014) and Louie Dampier (2015) have been honored by that committee. The HOF viewed that some oversights within the North American process had been corrected, and that there was no longer a reason for this specific direct elect committee. In 2016, the ABA direct elect was eliminated, and any ABA honorees going forward would have to be derived from the North American selection process.
The Women’s Screening Committee’s number of finalists that could be considered for enshrinement was increased from a maximum of 2 to a maximum of 4. With the WNBA now reaching 20 years of age, the success of Women’s USA Basketball, and the growing number of high school, college and WNBA coaches, the HOF recognized the need to increase the number of women being considered each year. The HOF maintained its four other direct select nomination committees (International, Veterans, Early African American Pioneers and Contributor).
The Class of 2016
Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) had an immediate impact in the NBA. After leaving LSU, he earned the 1993 Rookie of the Year Award, and earned a spot as one of the top 50 NBA players of all time after only 3 ½ seasons. After finishing his 19th season, there was no doubt about his status as one of the NBA’s greatest players and most dominant “big man.” He ended his career as a four-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, a 15-time All Star, a league MVP, and a three-time Finals MVP.
Shaq averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game over his career, and today still ranks seventh on the NBA all-time scoring list. Shaq was also a college All American and an Olympic gold medal winner.
Allen Iverson continued the string of former Georgetown University basketball players elected to the HOF after successful NBA careers. Alonzo Mouring was honored in 2014 and Dikembe Mutombo was honored in 2015. Iverson was a First Team All-American at Georgetown, and like Shaq, earned a NBA Rookie of the Year Award. In 14 seasons, Iverson averaged 26.7 points per game, was an 11-time NBA All-Star, and won one NBA MVP award. Iverson led the league in scoring average four times in his career – 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2005.
Yao Ming was inducted as an international player. He enjoyed NBA success after playing in China. After Yao excelled with the Shanghai Sharks and China’s National Team, he was the first place selected in the 2002 NBA draft. He was the first international player to never play college basketball in the United Stated and be the first overall player picked in the draft. Yao played eight seasons for the Houston Rockets, where he was an All-Star each of his eight seasons.
In his home country, Yao led the Chinese National Team to three FIBA Asian Titles, where he won three MVP awards. He also represented China in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Yao is credited for much of the interest and expansion of the NBA into China.
Sheryl Swoopes was one of the top female players of all time. She was an NCAA champion, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner (1996, 2000, 2004), and a four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets. Swoopes won three WNBA MVP awards and was a six-time WNBA all-star. Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo were the first three players signed to contracts during the creation of the WNBA in 1996.
Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015) and an NCAA National Championship win in 2000. Along with 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014). He has also been named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012).
Jerry Reinsdorf was honored as a contributor for this leadership as owner of the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman era when the Bulls won six NBA championships.
John McLendon Jr. was enshrined to the HOF as a contributor is 1979, and was a regular returnee to Springfield in the early 1990s (where I met him a number of times). McLendon was honored with a second enshrinement in 2016, this time as a coach. McLendon achieved many firsts for an African-American coach. He was the first to win a national championship, first to coach a professional team, and he finished with a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760). McLendon learned the game of basketball from Dr. James Naismith at the University of Kansas.
Zelmo Beaty was known to be an undersized center with a fierce rebounding ability. Beaty played for the St. Louis Hawks and the Utah Stars in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a two-time NBA All-Star, three-time ABA All-Star, and was part of the 1971 Utah Stars championship team where he was named the ABA Playoffs Most Valuable player. Beaty was also inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Darell Garretson, honored as a referee, officiated in the NBA for 27 years. In those 27 years, Garretson officiated 1,798 regular season games and 269 playoff games.
Cumberland Posey was one of the best players in the early 1900s when he played for the dominant “Loendi Big Five” of the Black Fives Era. Posey’s team won four straight Colored Basketball World Championships. He continued a 35-year career in baseball as a player and businessman which earned Posey an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
More than 32 returning HOFers joined the class of 2016 for the weekend. Many were the presenters for the new inductees.
The list of the 2016 presenters included:
• Shaquille O’Neal: presenters Julius Erving, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Russell, Isiah Thomas.
• Allen Iverson: presenters Larry Brown, Erving, John Thompson.
• Yao Ming: presenters Dikembe Mutombo, Russell, Bill Walton.
• Sheryl Swoopes: presenters Van Chancellor, Nancy Lieberman.
• Tom Izzo: presenter Gary Williams.
• Jerry Reinsdorf: presenters Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen.
• Zelmo Beaty: presenter Lenny Wilkens.
• Darell Garretson: presenter David Stern.
• John McLendon: presenters Wayne Embry, Sam Jones, Thomas, Thompson.
• Cumberland Posey: presenter Earl Monroe.
Also returning were HOFers Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Ralph Sampson, Nate Archibald, and Teresa Edwards. One attending HOFer who had not been back for an enshrinement in quite a number of years was Anne Donovan (Class of 1996). With a three-time Los Angeles Lakers NBA champion being inducted in Shaq, many might have thought a strong Lakers contingency would have been on hand. But there was no Magic, no Worthy, no Jabbar, no Baylor, and no West.
There were a couple of big name expected guests and a couple of surprises who attended the enshrinement events. Chris Paul was on hand to accept the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award for his humanitarian work off the court. The Chris Paul Family Foundation aids organizations like the Salvation Army, Make-A Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs, and many others.
Jalen Rose and Tubby Smith were also 2016 Mannie Jackson award winners.
Draymond Green attended the enshrinement ceremony in support of Izzo. Green played at Michigan State for four years from 2008-12 and helped Michigan State to two NCAA Final Four appearances. Green was the only recent past Michigan State player that I saw at this year’s ceremony. I was hoping that Gary Harris, Andeian Payne, and his current squad might be present. After seeing John Calipari bring more than 100 ex-players on stage last year, I was not sure what the 2016 ceremony might bring with Izzo being honored.
I had heard that both Paul and Green would be tough autographs, but I found both to be very gracious to the fans who asked for autographs at the events they attended. The surprises of the ceremony were the presence of Jim Thome and Tony La Russa to support Reinsdorf, who is also owner of the Chicago White Sox.
Some of the best moments of the weekend were the speeches given by the new class members at the official enshrinement ceremony. Yao showed a comic side making fun of Iverson’s comments on “practice” as he joked that Iverson should have spoken before him so that he would have had more time to practice. Yao made fun of Shaq’s lack of free throw accuracy, and how his daughter puts a priority on soccer over basketball, and him needing to fix that.
Shaq told a funny story of how he did not speak with Yao for the first three seasons because “I thought there was a language barrier there,” and when Shaq congratulated him after a nice face away jumper, Yao replied “Thanks, my brother.” Shaq asked “You speak English?” and Yao said, “You never talk to me, of course I speak English.”
Iverson talked about a time when his mother told him he was going to basketball practice. Iverson cried and screamed, and kicked and clawed stating, “Why am I going to basketball practice – basketball’s soft’ – you know what I mean, I play football – I’m a football player.” But when he arrived at practice he saw all the guys he played football with were there. Iverson also told a story of the first time he played against his idol Michael Jordan.
Panini once again conducted an autograph session with the HOF class at the event. A limited number of 120 tickets were sold out. Each paid admission to the session provided fans with a Panini commemorative sheet, one autograph from each member of the Class of 2016 in attendance, and a $25 HOF gift card. It is never guaranteed that the entire class will be in attendance, which has been the case the last two years. Iverson missed his two morning flights and did not arrive in Springfield until after the autograph session and press conference were over.
The other five living members (O’Neal, Yao, Swoopes, Izzo, and Reinsdorf) were in attendance.
There was confusion as to whether each ticket holder was allowed to have their personal item and the Panini sheet signed or just one item of their choosing. The first couple in line walked out of the session with the Panini sheet and their personal item both signed. When it was my turn in line, the HOF was holding strict to just one item per person, and I know some in line after me were lucky enough to again have both items signed.
By the end of the weekend, not very many collectors were able to get their program, Panini sheet or basketball signed by the entire class. Without Iverson at the autograph session, I was not sure I would be able to complete any items with the full class. But Iverson proved to be a surprise, and was the far better signer than either Shaq or Yao. I saw Iverson sign 20 to 30 autographs for fans on at least three occasions. Yao signed much more frequent but each time would sign only two or three autographs.
Shaq proved to be the toughest signer of the class. Even in some smaller to one-on-one encounters over three days, he would always say “later” or “I will sign when everything is over.” Shaq did sign a dozen or so autographs with a smaller crowd of 20 to 25 collectors late one night, but I was elsewhere at that time and regrettably missed that opportunity. Shaq did stay true to his word and signed one per person for a crowd of about 20 collectors when he left Springfield. That was my only Shaq autograph of the weekend outside the paid autograph session.
I’ve purchased tickets to a few other HOF events, and those events started at a cost of $100-$500, and increased from there. I assumed that in these more expensive fundraising events that I would have had better luck with Yao and Shaq, but that did not prove to be the case. I was able to have Yao sign two items over the three events I attended. I had no such luck with Shaq. He did sign one or two items here and there for a sizable crowd around him, but that was all. I left the weekend without getting my NBA at 50 book signed. After carrying around that book for 20 years, mine is still not signed by Shaq.
Here are the top 10 autograph signers and top 10 players who did sign autographs. The list doesn’t take into account the autograph session at the HOF, nor does it take into account Bill Russell. Has anyone ever see Russell sign outside a paid signing? My top 10 that collectors likely scored a signature from include: Dikembe Mutombo, Tom Izzo, Louis Dampier, Bill Walton, Allen Iverson, Dan Issel, Spencer Heywood, Van Chancellor, Lenny Wilkens and Jamaal Wilkes. My top 10 most unlikely to sign for collectors include: Scottie Pippen, John Thompson, Sam Jones, Earl Monroe, Isiah Thomas, Shaq, Yao, Alonzo Mourning, Phil Jackson and JoJo White.
The HOF and its sponsors did produce a number of basketball collectibles. Panini produced a limited number of “Class of 2016” card sets featuring all 10 new inductees and the autograph sheet that featured the six living members of the class of 2016. The HOF sold a commemorative yearbook/program for $15, featuring the induction class on the cover. The HOF also took that same program cover design and produced an enlarged 16x20 poster version that was for sale for $20. The HOF, Zales, and the Mohegan Sun gave out commemorative pint glasses honoring the Class of 2016 at Saturday’s Ring Celebration.u