The news of the week has been the induction of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and John Stockton into the Hall of Fame. While there really isn’t too much to actually say about the fact that they are now in the Hall but I thought we could quickly look at the issues of the day and throw in our two cents:
–MJ’s Speech: Apparently Jordan’s speech has been a bit of a hot button issue. I didn’t watch the whole thing but, from what I saw, the theme of the speech was basically that MJ talked about his drive and how it was fueled by slights throughout his career and that his still remembers those slights very well, still wants to kick everybody’s ass, and is still pretty happy that he did kick most people’s asses most of the time. He remembered his being cut from the high school team (and even invited to the Hall of Fame the guy who made the high school team over him). Jordan also brought up Jerry Krause, Bryon Russell, Pat Riley, and Jeff Van Gundy among others and ended his speech with a quasi-serious threat that he could still play and beat everyone.
Adrian Wojnarowski felt that the speech was a bit small-minded and petty: “This wasn’t a Hall of Fame induction speech, but a bully tripping nerds with lunch trays in the school cafeteria. He had a responsibility to his standing in history, to players past and present, and he let everyone down.” While Jon Greenberg called the speech arrogant. J.A. Adande, on the other hand, recognized that there was some arrogance to the speech but noted that the speech was appropriate becuase it defined who Jordan was, the star of the new hip-hop generation and expected no less from MJ.
I tend to agree that the speech was needlessly antagonistic. We all think Jordan’s the best of All-Time, no need to gloat about it now. Still, I’m not particularly offended that Jordan spent so much time talking about how great he was, as this was the point of the evening to begin with. It’s funny how Jordan’s ability as a ballplayer has made any discussion of MJ the person such a hot issue over the years. I remember Robinson commenting on Jordan’s return back in 1996 to Leigh Montville of Sports Illustrated: “I don’t understand what Michael’s doing….Why did he come back? He has a beautiful wife and three kids. What’s he trying to prove that he hasn’t proved already? Is it that he’s the best we’ve ever seen? We know that. It seems to me he’s just chasing his own tail. Why isn’t he enjoying this time with his family?”
At the time, I remember feeling visceral anger at the comment. My feeling was that MJ’s the best and how could Robinson criticize him? Then upon Jordan’s second comeback in 2001-02, he was covered by two authors with markedly different views of Jordan: Michael Leahy, who wrote “When Nothing Else Really Matters” and Mitchell Krugel’s “One Last Shot.” Leahy wrote a book that detailed MJ as empty and superficial shell of his former self whom the media genuflected to and had a larger message that the sports world missed the real stories and didn’t investigate stories of interest the way they should (Leahy seemed much more taken with the life of fringe player Tyrone Nesby). Krugel’s book was more of a traditional fawning biography of Jordan.
Of course, whether Jordan was a great person has little to no bearing on how good a player he was. Now to sound too Zen but MJ’s arrogance defines him but it also seems a little silly to be so competitive at this point. Whether and to what extent one was offended by the speech is more of Rorschach test for how the listener views the import of sports in the world. I see both sides of the debate but frankly just can’t get worked up about the issue. Watching MJ play was always much more fun than listening to him talk.
–The Best Class Ever?: The more interesting academic question raised about this Hall class is whether it has the best NBA roster of any Hall class. Before reviewing the issue, it seems likely that a class with the best two guard (and player) ever, a top three point guard, and a top five (or six) center ever is tough to top. Here’s my top five Hall of Fame classes:
1. 2009, Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton
2. 1980, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West
3. 2008, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Adrian Dantley
4. 2006, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Joe Dumars
5. 1987, Bobby Wanzer, Rick Barry, Walt Frazier
1990, Dave Bing, Elvin Hayes, Neil Johnston, Earl Monroe
The review confirms what we suspected: it’s pretty clear that 2009 is the best class to date by far. Very rarely have even two inner circle Hall of Famers been inducted in the same year. It does seem that we are starting to see more substantive NBA classes the last few years. Meanwhile, the 1990 class just misses the top five because it lacked great individual players but had a surprising amount of depth.
As for next year, both Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone will make the Hall as the best retirees of from the 2003-04 season. There is also a shot the one of the long suffering Hall of Famers in waiting (Artis Gilmore, Dennis Johnson, Bernard King among other) might get a shot. Eventually they will all probably make the Hall but it is unlikely to get one of them in during a year when there are two good newly eligible players like Pippen and Malone to enshrine. Incidentally, a Pippen/Malone class would probably rank third or fourth All-Time in my book.
–My Favorite Moment: This also seems like a good time to mention my favorite paying moment for each of the new Hall of Famers. Plenty of people have mentioned their top MJ moments and there are tons of great ones. For some reason, the most memorable MJ moment to me was his “Flu Game” against the Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. It wasn’t one particular moment in the game that grabbed me but the whole game. Few people remember this, but the Finals in 1997 was actually much more competitive than the 1998 rematch (the Jazz were down 3-1 in 1998 and back on their heels in the tough Game 6 loss where Jordan hit the shot). In 1997, the Jazz had tied the series at 2-2 and looked like they had an outside shot to give the Bulls problems in Game 5. MJ so dominated the game even while he was so evidently sick, however, that it really stuck in my mind.
As for Stockton and Robinson, it’s hard to come up with specific games or moments that really resonate. I most remember Stockton’s series clinching three against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals (which also occurred in the 1997 playoffs). Even more impressive and less remembered, was an older Stockton’s play at the end of the 1999 First Round series against the young Sacramento Kings. The Kings were a fun fast team with Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, and rookie Jason Williams and I was rooting for them to knock out the boring Jazz. In fact, the series went to a deciding Game 5 and the Kings had the Jazz on the ropes until Stockton hit three huge shots to force overtime and then clinch the series in overtime when they looked dead.
Robinson has less specific memorable games or moments in the playoffs. As great as he was, in his pre-Tim Duncan Days, Robinson just didn’t have too many huge playoff wins and more memorable losses (the 1990 series against the Suns when Rod Strickland threw the ball away and 1995 when Olajuwon outplayed Robinson). I guess I best remember his 71-point thrashing of the Clippers at the end of the 1993-94 season to win the scoring title.
–A Point on Archives: Finally, as a quick aside, we are slowly adding all the old articles/archives from the old site but it’ll take a while. For fun, we are throwing up the FAQs iI wrote about Robinson and Stockton after they retired into the archives now too.