The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted two classes this calendar year, starting with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in May. Saturday's contingent, starring Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Chris Webber and Ben Wallace, felt underwhelming by comparison, as anyone following the previous act would.
The biggest names next year might not be recent NBA players at all, so here's hoping Tommy Heinsohn headlines the 2022 class, becoming the first person ever inducted as a player, coach and broadcaster.
A six-time All-Star and eight-time champion with the Boston Celtics, Heinsohn earned his induction as a player in 1986. Also stewarding the Celtics to a pair of titles from the bench, he joined John Wooden, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkens as only the fourth person ever enshrined as both a player and coach in 2015.
Heinsohn's contribution as a broadcaster was every bit as influential as his service to the game as a player and coach. When he was not in uniform or calling plays for the Celtics, he was their color commentator, working in some capacity for the franchise from 1956 until his death at age 86 in November. His partnership on TV broadcasts with play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman spanned four more titles across five decades.
There is not another local broadcaster who existed in the NBA consciousness quite like Heinsohn, whose disdain for officials, adoration for Celtics both great and gritty, wild comparisons, non sequiturs and Tommy Points were staples of basketball conversation across the league. He also called four Finals and countless NCAA tournament games for CBS in the 1980s. Gorman received the Hall's Curt Gowdy Media Award for broadcasting on Saturday. Heinsohn should be honored next year, making basketball history one last time.
The Hall also annually gives the Curt Gowdy Media Award to a print journalist each year, and it would be nice to see Sekou Smith's work recognized as a beat reporter for the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks before joining the NBA's website in 2009. Smith died due to complications with COVID-19 in January.
What NBA players are eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022?
Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker do not become eligible until 2023, so next year's class could be even less of a draw. Manu Ginobili is the closest thing among NBA players to a lock in 2022. Joe Johnson is nearest in line, waiting miles behind him, offering the faintest glimmer of hope to the only two other eligible career 20,000-point scorers not in the Hall of Fame, Tom Chambers and Antawn Jamison.
Tim Hardaway, Marques Johnson and Michael Cooper were the only other NBA players on the Hall's list of 14 finalists this year. All three candidacies could be boosted by the lack of star power in this year's class, as might the more recently eligible collection of Shawn Marion, Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Ginobili does not have the NBA statistical résumé those other guys carry. His two All-NBA and All-Star selections do not scream Hall of Famer, nor do his 14,043 career points, but he was an invaluable member of four San Antonio Spurs championships, one of the greatest EuroLeague contributors in history and the best player of Argentina's Golden Generation, who won gold at the 2004 Olympics and bronze in 2008.
He should be in. The others do not have that same Hall of Fame aura, not after the two classes this year.
Who else might be honored in the Hall's Class of 2022?
The biggest name is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. With more than 25 years of service, he is eligible for induction, although he has reportedly refused inclusion among candidates, likely until he retires. He will cede the spotlight to Ginobili and Parker over the next two years, when he will turn 74 years old. Whenever Popovich gives the OK, the five-time champion and Olympic gold medal-winning coach will be enshrined.
Maya Moore, the 32-year-old four-time WNBA champion, could technically be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022, four years removed from her last season with the Minnesota Lynx. She has described her tenure away from a league she has dominated as a hiatus to focus on criminal justice reform — not a retirement.
The WNBA announced its official list of 25 greatest players last week, and only three eligible players have yet to be honored in Springfield: Swin Cash, Becky Hammon and Ticha Penicheiro. Cappie Pondexter also becomes eligible next year. We should all agree the 25 greatest players in WNBA history — all of whom also have decorated college and international careers — deserve to be enshrined in their sport's Hall of Fame.
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