With 48 All-Star selections, 11 NBA championships and four Most Valuable Player awards between them, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett will form arguably the greatest Hall of Fame class in basketball history when the trio is inducted this summer. In the aftermath of Bryant’s tragic passing this past January, the committee wisely limited the 2020 class to showcase the trio of legendary peers.
As the only three NBA players on this year’s list of finalists, their inclusion in Saturday’s announcement of the official 2020 class — which included the WNBA’s Tamika Catchings, coaches Rudy Tomjanovich, Eddie Sutton, Kim Mulkey and Barbara Stevens, and contributor Patrick Baumann — was a foregone conclusion by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
This year’s trimmed-down induction, combined with just one sure-fire Hall of Famer who will appear on the ballot for the first time in 2021, leaves the door open for several NBA candidates who have spent years waiting their turn. So, which NBA players will get the call from Springfield for the 2021 class?
SHOULD-BE 2021 HALL OF FAMERS
Credentials: 2008 champion (Finals MVP); 10-time All-Star; four-time All-NBA selection (1x Second Team, 3x Third Team); 2010 3-Point Shootout champion; 15th on all-time scoring list (26,397 points)
One of the most underrated players of his generation, Pierce is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The narrative of his career was a hero’s journey, from young impact player on a Boston Celtics team that nearly made the 2002 NBA Finals to perennial All-Star on a franchise in limbo and finally the captain of an all-time great team featuring Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Pierce outdueled LeBron James and Kobe Bryant en route to the 2008 title, capturing Finals MVP honors to complete his odyssey. This is to say nothing of him playing all 82 games starting a month after nearly being stabbed to death in 2000.
Credentials: Two-time champion; 11-time All-Star; 2007 Second Team All-NBA selection; 2008 Olympic gold medalist
Bosh expressed his disappointment about not joining Duncan, Bryant and Garnett as a finalist for the 2020 Hall of Fame class. He is the only eligible player with nine or more All-Star selections not to be inducted, and that should be corrected barring unforeseen circumstances in 2021. His 17,189 points, 7,592 rebounds and 1,795 assists over 13 seasons, already impressive, would be significantly higher had his career not been cut short by blood-clotting issues at age 31 in February 2016. He might still be playing. Bosh also sacrificed statistics to become a complementary star alongside future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on a Miami Heat team that won two titles in four straight Finals trips.
Credentials: Five-time All-Star; five-time All-NBA selection (1x First Team, 3x Second Team); 1999 rebounding leader; 1994 Rookie of the Year; best player on Michigan’s Fab Five
That Webber only made five All-Star teams is a testament to the injuries and personal issues that plagued him throughout a 15-year career that spanned six franchises and have likely cost him in his first few years of Hall eligibility. He deserves to be in Springfield both for his greatness as a player and his cultural impact as a member of arguably the most transformative team in college basketball history. However you feel about the timeout that cost Michigan its chance at the 1993 NCAA title or the scandal that resulted in his vacation from the program, the Fab Five’s brashness and style ushered in a new era.
Let us also not forget how great Webber was as a player — a silky smooth specimen who ranked among the NBA’s most skilled scoring, rebounding and passing bigs for a decade. He breathed life into the moribund Sacramento Kings, submitting an MVP-worthy 2001 campaign and leading a 2002 team that was absolutely robbed of its title shot. His knee buckled a year later, marking the beginning of his end at age 30. He never made another All-Star team, but he had already accomplished more than enough.
MAYBE 2021 HALL OF FAMERS
Credentials: 2011 champion; four-time All-Star; two-time Second Team All-NBA selection; first player in NBA history to record 15,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 500 three-pointers
A criminally underrated weapon for two of his era’s most memorable teams, Marion was a man before his time. He had every tool at his disposal, a long and switchable stretch forward who could defend all five positions and run the floor with spidery athleticism befitting his “Matrix” nickname. It is no wonder he was a key cog on a seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns squad that reached back-to-back Western Conference finals in the mid-2000s and was also robbed of its best title shot. He enjoyed a productive second chapter in Dallas, where he was arguably the second-most valuable player on a beloved 2011 champion Mavericks team that embarrassed LeBron James’ Heat in a six-game Finals.
Credentials: 2004 champion; four-time Defensive Player of the Year; four-time All-Star; five-time All-NBA selection (3x Second Team, 2x Third Team); six-time All-Defensive selection (5x First Team); two-time rebounding leader; 2002 blocks leader
Wallace averaged 5.7 points per game on 47 percent shooting while working mostly around the rim for 16 seasons. He was an utter liability at the free-throw line (41.4 percent for his career). He is also one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, if not the greatest, and that deserves a Hall call. Only Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo has as many Defensive Player of the Year awards. An invaluable piece of a Detroit Pistons outfit that reached six straight Eastern Conference finals, Wallace’s work opposite Shaquille O’Neal in 2004 and Tim Duncan in 2005 delivered one title and damn near another one.
Credentials: 2004 champion (Finals MVP); five-time All-Star; three-time All-NBA selection (1x Second Team, 2x Third Team); two-time All-Defensive Second Team selection
Never the best player at his position, Billups was a winner, and that means as much as any of his All-NBA and All-Defensive selections. The brutish point guard was either the best or second-best player on seven straight conference finalists — the first six with the Pistons (including four alongside Wallace) and another with Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets — winning 2004 Finals MVP honors as a clutch two-way beast for the century’s most unconventional champion. Cedric Maxwell is the only other eligible Finals MVP not in the Hall of Fame, and he never made a single All-NBA, All-Star or All-Defensive team.
BORDERLINE 2021 HALL OF FAMERS
Credentials: Five-time All-Star; five-time All-NBA selection (1x First Team, 3x Second Team); 2000 Olympic gold medalist
Hardaway believes he is not yet in the Hall of Fame because of his homophobic comments in 2007 and it’s understanding if that’s the case, but he has spent more than a decade making amends for them through charitable and legislative efforts that have furthered LGBTQ causes. As a player, Hardaway was dynamite for competitive Warriors and Heat teams around a knee injury that cost him his age 27 season.
Credentials: Six-time All-Star; five-time All-NBA selection (1x First Team, 4x Second Team); 2003 Rookie of the Year; 2017 Israeli League champion; two-time Israeli League All-Star
Knee problems also cut short Stoudemire’s career, but he too was a dominant force for half a decade, starring on those seven-seconds-or-less Suns that made three Western Conference finals in six years.
Credentials: Five-time All-Star; three-time All-NBA selection (1x First Team, 2x Second Team); 1975 NCAA champion; unanimous 1977 national college player of the year
A pioneering point forward, Johnson was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2019 before this year’s abbreviated class. His combination of college credentials and a decade-long run of NBA brilliance is hard to ignore.
Credentials: Six-time All-Star; three-time Second Team All-NBA selection
The author of some of the game’s greatest dunks and the second-best player on a 64-win Seattle SuperSonics team that reached the 1996 Finals, Kemp was an athletic marvel and one of the league’s most electrifying players for the better part of the 1990s before declining rapidly after the ’99 lockout.
PROBABLY NOT 2021 HALL OF FAMERS
Credentials: Two-time All-Star; 2004 Sixth Man of the Year; 20,042 career points
Only one other 20,000-point scorer in NBA history is not in the Hall — four-time All-Star Tom Chambers, whose 20,049 career points put him precisely one spot ahead of Jamison at 45th on the all-time list.
Credentials: 2011 champion; three-time All-Star; 2004 Second Team All-NBA selection; two-time 3-Point Shootout champion; 2001 FIBA EuroBasket champion and MVP; 1998 Greek League MVP
A career 45/40/90 shooter, Stojakovic was one of the game’s most underrated flamethrowers for several of the most under-appreciated teams of the 2000s. His NBA credentials do not quite justify a Hall call, despite a late-career title run, but his international accomplishments push him closer to consideration.
Credentials: Two-time All-Star; two-time Third Team All-NBA selection; three-time Chinese Basketball Association champion (2015 Finals MVP); 2013 CBA Foreign MVP; six-time CBA All-Star
Marbury’s troubled NBA career is far from Hall-worthy, but he is arguably the greatest player in the Chinese Basketball Association’s history, and you have to wonder if that means anything in Springfield.
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