2018 Basketball Hall of Fame class
Yesterday I learned about the latest Basketball Hall of Fame class. I don’t follow basketball a lot these days, but I have fond memories of following the careers of Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, and Grant Hill.
I remember watching Steve Nash and other future NBA All-Stars in the 1996 Final Four tournament. Despite being a lottery pick in a memorable year, Nash was a role player for some years. I was expecting him to have an average career when he emerged as a star for the Dallas Mavericks along with Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. Nash later established himself as a two-time MVP for the Phoenix Suns, the team that had drafted him.
Whenever I think of Nash, I think of him leading a fast-break and either scoring from long-range or making a flashy pass (in “7 seconds or less”). He is the precursor to Steph Curry: Nash is the original, late-blooming point guard whose excellent shooting and ball control has made him the centerpiece of exciting offenses despite his lack of physical superiority and defensive reliability. As a video-game archetype, Nash would be a sharpshooter point guard.
He excelled in baseball, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer as a youth, according to a 1995 article in Sports Illustrated. I can imagine Nash doing well in these sports because success requires savvy and technique and not just raw athleticism, which had never been part of his basketball game. I appreciate his passion for soccer, which I believe has similarities with basketball; Nash is part-owner of a Spanish club and, more recently, a broadcast analyst.
Like Nash, Ray Allen was one of the stars in the 1996 Final Four tournament and a lottery pick in the NBA draft later that year. I didn’t know a lot about him; I assumed that he and Stephon Marbury were similar players because they were immediately traded for each other after Allen was selected 5th overall, one selection after Marbury. I eventually learned that Marbury was a dynamic point guard whereas Allen was a polished shooting guard.
I remember watching him as Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game during the rookie season of his now-famous draft class. His time with the Milwaukee Bucks and later the Seattle Supersonics is probably forgotten; his time with the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat is certainly better remembered. Allen was a versatile scorer who became a pure shooter as his career progressed. As a video-game archetype, he would be a 3-point specialist.
More than any other member of this Hall of Fame class, Allen has a singular play that’s associated with his career. His 3-point shot near the end of Game 6 in the 2013 NBA Finals is one of the most clutch shots, ever. I forgot the details, but I watched the shot as it happened, so the emotion involved was unforgettable. Besides his textbook shooting, I think of Allen’s understated demeanor on the court and his philosophical outlook away from it.
I remember studying an NBA-preview issue of Sport when Jason Kidd was part of the up-and-coming “Three Js” trio for the Dallas Mavericks. The author referred to Kidd as “Ason Kidd” because a common joke was him not having a “J,” aka jumpshot. Kidd eventually became a good 3-point shooter, one of the most prolific in NBA history, and he helped the Mavericks win a championship in the twilight of his career after returning to the team.
I also remember an article in Sports Illustrated for Kids that profiled his youth. He explained that, as a kid, he was motivated to become a playmaker because he wanted other kids to want him as a teammate. Because of his popularity as a phenom, his high school team played their games in college arenas in front of tens of thousands of people. As a video-game archetype, Kidd would be a playmaker or pass-first point guard.
He was never an efficient scorer, but he was popular because of his pass-first mentality and overall versatility. Unlike Nash, his backup with the Suns, Kidd was a good defender and rebounder. He could get a triple double on any given day before LeBron James made them a regular thing. Despite his domestic violence case, which is serious, Kidd has always seemed like a heady guy. I think that he’ll have success as an NBA coach or executive.
Like Kidd, Grant Hill was a star from the beginning of his NBA career. He had a legendary career in college at Duke, including being one half of the most famous two-man play in Final Four history. He was drafted one spot after Kidd with the 3rd-overall selection in the 1994 NBA draft, and they were co-winners of the Rookie of the Year award for the following season. Kidd and Hill were my go-to team in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.
I thought that Hill was overrated because, even though he had impressive stats, he played for average Detroit Pistons teams. He became one of my favorite players when I actually started to watch him play. His appearance was simple and his game was smooth. He was a triple-double threat like Kidd, but he was a more natural finisher. As a video-game archetype, Hill would be a slasher small forward or point forward.
If Hill had stayed healthy, he had the athleticism, size, and versatility to be the first legitimate successor to Michael Jordan. I remember reading about how a fateful on-court collision had hindered his career. He had a resurgence with Nash and the Spurs, and he played 19 seasons like Kidd, but his time with the Orlando Magic and Tracy McGrady, another favorite of mine, was a missed opportunity. Hill and McGrady are now broadcast analysts.
Mo Cheeks played in the NBA before I followed the league, but he was a coach when I was still a regular follower. His accomplishments are better than I’d expected, but he’s probably best known for helping a girl sing the national anthem at a playoff game in 2003. I read about it somewhere before I heard about it from Tony Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption. Cheeks showing empathy and maturity is rare in today’s NBA and elsewhere.
I’m glad that these men are getting the highest honor in their sport. I’m also somewhat sad because their era is one that I’ve experienced, and it’s long gone. These days, athletic superstars are less like accomplished tradesmen and more like global brands. I don’t mind pro athletes going beyond their realms, but Grant Hill and Sprite’s tongue-in-cheek, “Image is Nothing” campaign would not exist today.