It seems everyone but the dog catcher is being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2012, eleven individuals and a team gained admission, which was the largest class in half a century.
When so many people are elected all at once, it has to at least somewhat devalue the honor.
The Basketball Hall of Fame is, by design, prone to having very large classes. Just look at how many categories the Hall considers to select its nominees for membership:
Male and female players who had great NBA or WNBA careers; male and female players who had primarily great college careers; male and female international players; professional, college and high school coaches from America; international coaches; referees; executives; early African-American pioneers of the game; American Basketball Association stars; famous teams; and major contributors.
Yes, even Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, was installed in 2012 in the major contributor category. Isn’t that going a little too far– to elect someone who manufactures shoes and helps sponsor the game with commercial ads?
Contrast the numerous categories in basketball to the more limited range of the American Pro Football Hall of Fame. In American football there are of course no women players, as the game is a very physical, contact sport. There are very few international players or leagues, as the game is limited to the U.S., Canada and maybe a couple other nations. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is separate from the College Football Hall of Fame. Also referees are not voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and there are only four to seven members elected each year.
In 2012, Lidia Alexeyeva, a Russian basketball coach, was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. This is well and good, except how many Americans have even heard of her?
The year 2012 also saw the induction of the All-American Redheads, one of the first women’s professional basketball teams. There are many teams in the Basketball Hall of Fame, like the Harlem Globetrotters and the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team.” Does it make any sense to install a whole team rather than the several great individual stars comprising the team?
Ralph Sampson was voted into the Hall in 2012. Like Bill Walton, who was elected several years ago, Sampson falls into the category of a player whose NBA career was shortened by injuries. And like Walton, it is primarily his outstanding college career that makes Sampson a Hall of Famer. Jamaal Wilkes, another 2012 inductee, is also probably in the Hall because of a combination of his pro and college days.
Mel Daniels, an ABA star, also was added to the Hall in 2012. If he had played most of his career in the NBA, would he have been nearly good enough to warrant election to the Hall of Fame? Was the ABA ever close to the level of the NBA? Shouldn’t they only elect ABA players who also proved good enough in the NBA, like Hall of Famers Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin?
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has been very inclusive in honoring exceptional individuals and teams throughout the world. But when you mix together so many different categories it can lead to confusion and to classes that are too large to be very meaningful. One thing that could help is to establish a separate NBA Hall of Fame, or at least to separate college basketball from professional basketball.