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Active Hall of Famers

Posted by Neil Paine on January 10, 2011

I was curious about which seasons saw the most Hall of Famers in action, so I set up a query to count how many HOFers (inducted as players) were active in a given season, both in the NBA and the NBA/ABA/BAA combined:

Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
1947 1 161 0.6%
1948 3 103 2.9%
1949 9 170 5.3%
1950 15 223 6.7% 15 223 6.7%
1951 17 135 12.6% 17 135 12.6%
1952 18 116 15.5% 18 116 15.5%
1953 17 124 13.7% 17 124 13.7%
1954 19 110 17.3% 19 110 17.3%
1955 20 105 19.0% 20 105 19.0%
1956 21 92 22.8% 21 92 22.8%
1957 23 99 23.2% 23 99 23.2%
1958 24 99 24.2% 24 99 24.2%
1959 22 92 23.9% 22 92 23.9%
Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
1960 21 99 21.2% 21 99 21.2%
1961 21 93 22.6% 21 93 22.6%
1962 21 113 18.6% 21 113 18.6%
1963 22 117 18.8% 22 117 18.8%
1964 24 111 21.6% 24 111 21.6%
1965 22 114 19.3% 22 114 19.3%
1966 23 111 20.7% 23 111 20.7%
1967 21 123 17.1% 21 123 17.1%
1968 24 307 7.8% 22 151 14.6%
1969 27 311 8.7% 24 168 14.3%
Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
1970 27 324 8.3% 25 171 14.6%
1971 31 354 8.8% 29 217 13.4%
1972 31 360 8.6% 28 216 13.0%
1973 32 345 9.3% 28 215 13.0%
1974 29 344 8.4% 25 222 11.3%
1975 26 359 7.2% 22 235 9.4%
1976 25 345 7.2% 20 238 8.4%
1977 27 295 9.2% 27 295 9.2%
1978 24 285 8.4% 24 285 8.4%
1979 22 280 7.9% 22 280 7.9%
Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
1980 24 287 8.4% 24 287 8.4%
1981 19 304 6.3% 19 304 6.3%
1982 19 316 6.0% 19 316 6.0%
1983 23 316 7.3% 23 316 7.3%
1984 22 310 7.1% 22 310 7.1%
1985 22 320 6.9% 22 320 6.9%
1986 24 325 7.4% 24 325 7.4%
1987 22 335 6.6% 22 335 6.6%
1988 21 332 6.3% 21 332 6.3%
1989 21 353 5.9% 21 353 5.9%
Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
1990 22 381 5.8% 22 381 5.8%
1991 21 387 5.4% 21 387 5.4%
1992 18 386 4.7% 18 386 4.7%
1993 17 390 4.4% 17 390 4.4%
1994 14 403 3.5% 14 403 3.5%
1995 13 407 3.2% 13 407 3.2%
1996 12 429 2.8% 12 429 2.8%
1997 12 441 2.7% 12 441 2.7%
1998 10 439 2.3% 10 439 2.3%
1999 9 440 2.0% 9 440 2.0%
Year HOFers #Players % of Plyrs HOFers #Players % of Plyrs
2000 7 439 1.6% 7 439 1.6%
2001 6 441 1.4% 6 441 1.4%
2002 7 440 1.6% 7 440 1.6%
2003 5 428 1.2% 5 428 1.2%
2004 2 442 0.5% 2 442 0.5%
2005 0 464 0.0% 0 464 0.0%
2006 0 458 0.0% 0 458 0.0%
2007 0 458 0.0% 0 458 0.0%
2008 0 451 0.0% 0 451 0.0%
2009 0 445 0.0% 0 445 0.0%
2010 0 442 0.0% 0 442 0.0%
2011 0 432 0.0% 0 432 0.0%

From this, we can either conclude that a disproportionate number of the most talented basketball players who ever lived played during the late 1950s/early 1960s, or that the Hall of Fame has (consciously or unconsciously) over-represented that era in its enshrinement process.

If we apply the highest-ever proportion of HOFers per active player (24.2% in 1958) to today's crop, 104 current players would be considered Hall of Famers. And even if you theorize that the # of HoF-worthy players active at any given time doesn't increase proportional to the size of the league, that still leaves us with the following 30 players in the Hall (according to HoF probability):

Realistically, though, the most we can expect from any modern season seems to be 15-20 (if that many); only 13 active players currently have a HoF probability greater than 50%.

When it's all said and done, which current players do you think will be in the Hall of Fame?


65 Responses to “Active Hall of Famers”

  1. Matthew Says:

    Of the above list, I think you can safely eliminate Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas, Shawn Marion, Chauncey Billups, and Antawn Jamison without any issues. Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady will be difficult cases, but given the perils of Bernard King, it doesn't bode well for players who score and do nothing else. Manu, Parker, Gasol, and Yao will be considered by the international committee in addition to the NBA committee, so they're hard to judge. Grant Hill will get bonus points for his college career. The perils of a basketball hall of fame as opposed to an NBA hall of fame, but it makes the prediction process a bit harder.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    Plus we know Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, KG, Kidd, Nash, Dirk, and probably Pierce, LeBron, & Wade are locks if they retired today. Depending on Reggie Miller's status next year, you have to think Allen will be in if he breaks the all-time 3-point record. That realistically leaves 5-6 slots for everybody else to fight over.

  3. yariv Says:

    I'm not sure why would you expect the proportion to remain constant when the league expands. There should be some increase in the number, but they should be proportional to the potential players, not actual players, proportional to the population. You would still expect over 30 current players to reach HOF (both from increase in US population and many more international players).

    The other issue is HOF probability is the wrong measure, Blake Griffin is an obvious example, he plays in the league, but is too new to be considered. However, by the time he'll retire there is a good chance he will have a legitimate claim. In your query you count every player from his rookie season, but you can't estimate HOF probabilities for rookies using HOF probability, and the estimates are skewed for any player who's still not near the end of his career, because of "future championships" (and all-star selections) and because of the disproportionate effect of the rookie season (even first few seasons, but let's say just rookie, to justify ignoring decay seasons).

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    OK, here's what we see if we use the US population as a proxy for "potential players":

    Year NBA/ABA/BAA US Pop HoF/10M
    1947 1 144126071 0.07
    1948 3 146631302 0.20
    1949 9 149188130 0.60
    1950 15 152271417 0.99
    1951 17 154877889 1.10
    1952 18 157552740 1.14
    1953 17 160184192 1.06
    1954 19 163025854 1.17
    1955 20 165931202 1.21
    1956 21 168903031 1.24
    1957 23 171984130 1.34
    1958 24 174881904 1.37
    1959 22 177829628 1.24
    1960 21 180671158 1.16
    1961 21 183691481 1.14
    1962 21 186537737 1.13
    1963 22 189241798 1.16
    1964 24 191888791 1.25
    1965 22 194302963 1.13
    1966 23 196560338 1.17
    1967 21 198712056 1.06
    1968 24 200706052 1.20
    1969 27 202676946 1.33
    1970 27 205052174 1.32
    1971 31 207660677 1.49
    1972 31 209896021 1.48
    1973 32 211908788 1.51
    1974 29 213853928 1.36
    1975 26 215973199 1.20
    1976 25 218035164 1.15
    1977 27 220239425 1.23
    1978 24 222584545 1.08
    1979 22 225055487 0.98
    1980 24 227224681 1.06
    1981 19 229465714 0.83
    1982 19 231664458 0.82
    1983 23 233791994 0.98
    1984 22 235824902 0.93
    1985 22 237923795 0.92
    1986 24 240132887 1.00
    1987 22 242288918 0.91
    1988 21 244498982 0.86
    1989 21 246819230 0.85
    1990 22 249438712 0.88
    1991 21 252127402 0.83
    1992 18 254994517 0.71
    1993 17 257746103 0.66
    1994 14 260289237 0.54
    1995 13 262764948 0.49
    1996 12 265189794 0.45
    1997 12 267743595 0.45
    1998 10 270298524 0.37
    1999 9 272690813 0.33
    2000 7 281421906 0.25

    Applying the peak rate of 1.51 HoFers/10 million citizens to the 2010 US population of 308,745,538, we would expect there to currently be 45-50 active Hall of Famers.

    Also, HoF Probability was just intended as one tool to help us discuss who the active Hall of Famers might be... I'm aware that it won't pick up on young players with HoF potential.

  5. Seif-Eldeine Says:

    Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are great passers as well as scorers, and McGrady in his prime was a great on-the-ball defender.

    What will hurt these guys more than their actual player attributes is the reputation they have for choking in big games.

    Very interesting article though, I am really surprised to see that the number of HOFers actually went down during the 90s.

  6. yariv Says:

    The numbers in the nineties (definitely late nineties) are quite meaningless, many of the players playing then are not eligible yet.

  7. Walter Says:

    That should be the slogan for the earlier years of the NBA: "It was easier then"

    Want to win a title Bill Russell? You just have to beat out 7 teams (basically making the conference finals is the equivalent in the 30 team league presently)

    Want to average 30+ points per game? No problem, teh 1960's saw multiple players do it each year. The year Wilt averaged 50+, five other players averaged 30+ (including 38 by Baylor). You didn't even have to be efficient either... Wilt's 50 ppg average came on only 50.6% from the field and 61.3% from the line.

    Want to average 20 boards per game? It shouldn't be too hard to do as the league had 2 or 3 different players each year break the 20 rebound average from 1959-1967.

    Now we can add the "Want ot make the Hall of Fame?" to the list. Just be the a third option or better on your team and you are in.

  8. Frank N Says:

    There is no doubt that the basketball HoF is heavily populated. The baseball HoF, drawing on more 125 years of history and many more players and other participants, has around the same number of inductees.

    "Want to win a title Bill Russell? You just have to beat out 7 teams" So you would disagree that expansion dilutes the talent per team?

    "didn't even have to be efficient either... Wilt's 50 ppg average came on only 50.6% from the field" I think most scales weigh 50% or better fg% as very efficient.

  9. Frank N Says:

    Oh, forgot to note that baseball has been adding to its HoF since 1939.

  10. AYC Says:

    Players from the past have an advantage because they had more opportunities to make the HOF; how many players made the HOF several years after they were first eligible? I'd be interested to see the numbers for 1st and 2nd ballot HOFers alone....

  11. Luke Says:

    Keep in mind, the basketball Hall of Fame, unlike MLB or NFL, is for all of basketball, not just the NBA. There is no NBA Hall of Fame. So the hall in Springfield includes great college players who might not necessarily have been all that awesome in the pros, as well as great and trailblazing international players, like Drazen Petrovic, who played in the NBA but didn't have Hall of Fame worthy NBA careers.

  12. AYC Says:

    PS I have 14 of those 30 making the hall if they retired today: Billups, Nash, Kidd, Allen, Pierce, KG, TD Lebron, Wade, Kobe, Gasol, Manu, Shaq and Dirk.

    PPS Ben Wallace has a better chance of making it than several of the 30 players on theat list IMO

  13. Walter Says:


    "So you would disagree that expansion dilutes the talent per team?"

    Absolutely not... expansion certainly does dilute the talent per team. I think the point you are trying to make (correct me if I am wrong) is that Russell had to beat out more talented teams because the teams weren't diluted to the extent they are today. I certainly agree with that, however you are not recognizing that the condensed league also helps make his own team stronger.

    The point I am making is that at the start of any season in his era each team had a 12.5% chance to win the title (1 out of 8). On the other hand, each team in today's league has only a 3.3% change (1 out of 30).

    Consider an extreme example... if the league suddenly went to two team (East and West). Obviously these two teams would be the most talented teams in the history of the NBA but is it really all that impressive for the winner to claim the title when they only had to beat one other team? I would say no.... and that is my point with the Russell comment.

    Now I am not saying that Russell wasn't a great player and his teams weren't dominant (far from it). After all, even if we use the "a title in the 60's is equivalent to making a conference finals in the present 30 team league" arguement, no team in recent memory has made 8 straight conference finals appearances so what Russell did is still incredible. But people (in my opinion) give it too much credit by failing to realize that winning a title wasn't against as long of odds as it is currently.

    "I think most scales 50% or better FG% is very efficient"

    Not exactly.... 50% is not a great percentage for centers. Of the top 10 centers in PPG this season only 2 are below 50% (Lopez and Hibbert).

    Now 50% is a great percentage for a wing player primarily because they tend to take 3pt shots which are much lower percentages. If you wanted to compare the 50% for Wilt to todays players (all positions) then you need to compare eFG%. Now I pretty certain Wilt didn't take many 23 foot jumpers so his eFG% is the same as his FG% which is 50.4%. By comparison of the top 20 scorers in the league currently only 5 have an eFG% below 50% (Bryant, Rose, Westbrook, Anthony, and Granger).

    So my point was that Wilt's accomplishments came as a result of volume and not some super human efficency. Heck, he took 39.5 attempts PER GAME the year he averaged 50 points... by comparison the NBA has only had 32 games during the last 15 seasons where a player took over 39 attempts!!! You can't fault Chaimberlain though because it wasn't like he was hogging the ball as his teammate Paul Arizin still took over 19 feild goal attempts per game (24 teams currently don't have a player averaging that many attempts).

    It was just a period of basketball where all per game statistics are going to drastically over-state the skills of the players when compared to todays. The game is different. It was easier to accumulate points, rebounds, assists, etc....

  14. Peter Says:

    And what about Gary Payton???!!!!

  15. Matthew Says:

    Gary Payton hasn't been active for a while now.

  16. Luke Says:

    Just FYI, here's how the next few Hall classes will most likely shake out:
    2011 - Reggie Miller, possibly also Vlade Divac for international accomplishments
    2012 - Probably nobody (the best first time eligible players will be Jim Jackson, Nick Van Exel, and Vin Baker...)
    2013 - Gary Payton
    2014 - Potentially Chris Webber and Alonzo Mourning
    2015 - Probably no one, but Dikembe Mutombo is the best eligible
    2016 - Allen Iverson (assuming he never plays again)

  17. Sean Says:

    Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron, Kidd, Wade, Garnett, Nowitzki, Iverson, Nash, and Pierce are locks.

    Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill should be inducted. The former was one of the best players in the game for a sustained period of time, and was selected to 7 All-NBA teams (number of players who've enjoyed that honor who aren't in the Hall: 0). The latter also enjoyed a relatively lengthy period of greatness: he finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1997, was selected to 5 All-NBA teams and 7 All-Star Games, and, for all his injuries, was still able to play in 900 games (and counting).

    Billups should get in as well, and a legitimate case could be made for Ben Wallace (especially if you think Dikembe's worthy of induction).

    Howard, Gasol, Paul, Deron Williams, Parker, Ginobili, Durant, Stoudemire, Bosh, Anthony, Rondo, and Rose will, if their careers continue on their current trajectories, garner significant consideration as well.

  18. johnsacrimoni Says:

    I see your point Walter..It is like winning the World Series of Poker in 1979 with only 54 entrants, 75-80% of them being world class players, vs. winning today with 5,000 entrants and maybe 35-40% of them being world class.

  19. Leroy Smith Says:

    The 1960s NBA was not necessarily more talented than today's NBA. There are way more people who put in thousands of hours into their game now than back then, so the pool from which to choose HOFer should logically be larger. Russell played in the equivalent of a 6 foot 3 and under league. And most of those players were not that skillful. I'm not sure Russell himself was anything more than a Tyson Chandler with a whole lot more heart. If we’re being objective we have to admit that this is a much more athletic and skillful league than 1950. Otherwise, it’s like saying that advancement occurred in every field of human endeavor except athletics. Was the practice of medicine more advanced 60 years ago? Was the world record for the 100 meter faster 60 years ago? Were computers faster and more efficient? No, no, no, no.

  20. Doobie Says:

    Manu Ginobili is an absolute lock to make the HOF based on his international credentials as well as his NBA credentials

  21. yariv Says:

    You can't compare players from different periods in this manner, because then no player will fit into the league from a few decades distance. The advancement in athletics doesn't stop, and just like Carl Lewis results are not good enough for the track today, Jordan was probably not athletic enough for what the NBA will be in a decade or two. Players must be judged according to the period they played in.

  22. garrick Says:

    Leroy, the 100 meter world record was drastically different 50 years ago...

  23. Sean Says:

    Suggesting that Bill Russell was a "Tyson Chandler with a whole lot of heart" is drastically downplaying his performance on the court. Chandler is not the best rebounder in his time like Russell was (Dwight Howard), nor is he the best interior defender of his time like Russell was (also Howard), nor is he the leader of a team, nor has he led a team to a championship let alone multiple championships.

    I agree with the theory that it is more difficult for a team to win a championship in today's era than in the past. The laws of probability prove that. We never realistically expect one team to dominate an entire decade, or a player to win 11 rings in 13 years. Why? Because there are thirty teams in the league now. So players today certainly do not need to win more than a ring or two to establish themselves amongst the all-time greats.

  24. Sean Says:

    Of course, the modern playoffs system (1984-present) also proves that. Defeating four of the best teams is more impressive than defeating just the two best teams.

  25. Aaron Says:

    This is really good. Actually, this article supports contraction; that is, if you put the really good players in the league on, say, 16 teams, we'd have a much more efficient and productive game of basketball and possibly more players "deserving" of the Hall of Fame, or at least the criteria would change dramatically. Consider this, however: today, we apply much more complicated metrics to Hall of Famers and there's much more scrutiny on everything.

    There's also the "pioneer" factor; people to do things first are more often rewarded for their contributions than later players, in part because there's a comparison point and in part because there's a nostalgia point.

  26. Leroy Smith Says:

    Garrick, I don't understand your point.

    Sean, what I mean by "Bill Russell was a Tyson Chandler with a whole lot of heart" is that if you put Tyson in my YMCA league (which is probalby comparable to 1950s NBA with respect to height, atheleticism), then Tyson's team would win the league championship every year and leade our league in rebounds, win shares, FG%, ect. I am exagerating, but not that much really. I think Russell was way ahead of his time with his skill and atheleticism and B-Ball IQ. He would be a top player today in my opinion.

  27. AYC Says:

    Ben Wallace is a better modern comparison to Russell than Chandler or Howard, right down to being undersized.

  28. Sam Says:

    Some KneeMac numbers:
    13 years played (not counting this year).
    Averages 63 games played per season (77%).
    He has played in 38 playoff games, won 15 of them (39%). In order to win a ring, you need to win 16 games.

    Can anyone make an argument why McGrady deserves the Hall over anyone listed in Neil's post that has won a ring?

  29. Jacques Strappe Says:

    Yariv: Jordan's not the example you should be citing. There are 30 teams in the league, and if there still are 20 years from now, I'm pretty sure at least one of them could find room for a 6'6" guy who can dunk from the free throw line. Players are getting more athletic compared to the norm, but there will still be few guys who are THAT athletic.

    It's not the same thing as sprints, which have to come down to tenths and hundredths of a second. You're also comparing Carl Lewis to only the very best individuals(his personal best time of 9.86 in the 100m would have won silver in Beijing, as would have his personal best in the 200m...his long jump would have won gold in the past three Olympics and is still the American record), but there are ~400 or so guys with NBA contracts. Athleticism required in a team sport is more broad and just because Jordan may not be as athletic as LeBron, we should remind ourselves that he was more athletic than Kevin Durant, or Luol Deng, or Danny Granger, or maybe even Carmelo, and these guys aren't struggling to keep up.

    The general thesis of the progressive athleticism is correct, I'm merely objecting to making such a statement that the game will have passed by Jordan's athleticism in such short time. He was too exceptional for it to happen so quickly(and yes, in this case, I would consider ~40 years as quick).

  30. Greyberger Says:

    How about progressive pharmaceuticals, then? Nah, I'm just joshing you.

    I too think Manu is a lock. Not because players with rings deserve the HoF, but because he's a champion so many times over. You also have to wonder if there will be a bloc of voters with analytic sympathies, like we've come to see in baseball. That kind of thing could help players like Manu who never got near the points, rebounds or assists leader-boards.

  31. yariv Says:

    Okay, I might have exaggerated a little about Jordan, although I believe you'll have one or two players capable of dunking from the free throw line in every team 20 years from now, if teams will see this as more important than 3 point percentage (generally, if athleticism will be very important).

    I think, by the way, that the main reason for the decline in number of HOFers is historic perspective. That is, the standards are simply being raised over time. (The relative standards, of course the absolute standards are raised faster).

  32. Sam Says:

    Greyberger: Compare prime Manu against prime Kobe in per-36 minute numbers and they're not too different. What gets Kobe that extra mile is his durability, which is pretty much off the charts.

  33. Sean Says:

    I wasn't trying to make an athletic comparison to Russell, I was just trying to show that he transcended his era in particular areas, and was comparing his strengths to the current player who excels in the same areas. I'd agree that Wallace is probably the best athletic comparison to Russell, although Russell reportedly had a vertical jump more like Howard.

  34. Sean Says:


    McGrady led the league in scoring in consecutive seasons, while most of his career has been hampered by injuries. So, he deserves the Hall of Fame, although not above most of those other players on the list.

  35. Sean Says:

    I really don't understand what makes Manu a lock. 15, 4 and 4 for his career are not outstanding. Was he ever the second best player on his team behind Duncan/Robinson? What about Tony Parker? He's like the third best player on his team most of the time, he's like a Sam Jones.

  36. Seif-Eldeine Says:

    Whoa! Lots of comments, unfortunately I only had time to look at a couple.

    In my article "Top 10 Unbreakable NBA Records" I explore how, while it was easier to win with only 8 teams in the league, it was not as easy you would think. I draw on the experience of teams in the 70s, where you did not see one repeat champion despite the league having at most 16 teams. Then, during the 80s, 90s and the past decade you have seen multiple teams repeat, with one team winning at least 5 championships in each of these decades. This is because, when a team is well-constructed, they will win championships no matter how many other teams are in the league.

    This is also why you see the same top 5 or 6 players vying for the MVP each season just like you saw in the 50s and 60s despite the smaller amount of players.

  37. Jacob Says:

    In a fair world - according to my personal system set up to deal with these questions - these active players should be in.

    Locks: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, KG, LeBron, Dirk, Wade, Iverson (*), Kidd, Pierce, McGrady, Howard, Billups, Nash

    Good bets: Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Ray Allen, VC, Grant Hill, Manu, Amare

    Borderline hopefuls: Shawn Marion, Tony Parker, Elton Brand, Kevin Durant, Carmelo, Jermaine O'Neal, Chris Bosh, Yao, Ben Wallace.

    Numbers up to the 2010 season.

  38. Ryan Says:

    It's well documented that Michael had a 4.3 second 40 yard-dash time at the plateu of his athletic peak. Furthermore he was documented for the vast majority of his career for his extremely low body-fat% (~5%). Combine this with his obvious vertical leap (A legit 6'4.5" and jumping with relative ease from the gimme-line) and it's absolutely absurd to say that the game would have passed him by, athletically.

    We've all seen some of today's prime athletes fail terribly at making that freethrow line dunk (Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson).

    It's also absurd to question his athletecism in comparison to 'Melo Anthony's. He makes Camelo look like child's play.

    Alas, this is a great discussion.

  39. MikeN Says:

    James, Bryant, Garnett, Kidd, Duncan. Nash, Pierce, Nowitzki, Allen, Oneal, Wade, Howard, Billups. Then you have Grant Hill, McGrady, and Stoudemire as borderline, 2 first team all-nba has to count for something.

    That still leaves out Durant, Rose, Rondo, Paul, Westbrook, Roy, Wallace,

  40. Luke Says:

    Hey Neil,
    Can we get a breakdown of how many Hall of Famers both debuted and retired each year? Because from 2005-2009, as far as player's retiring goes, there's only one guy I'd say was a lock (Gary Payton) and one more I'd say had a better than 50/50 shot (Reggie Miller). That seems like a ridiculously low number for that stretch of time to me.

  41. Anon Says:

    "I really don't understand what makes Manu a lock. 15, 4 and 4 for his career are not outstanding."

    Win-shares and stat plus-minus say otherwise. His impact on the court go beyond the per game numbers.

    At times, he has been San Antonio's most important player. He might be right now with Duncan being out of his prime.

  42. Scott Says:

    In my opinion, one problem with advanced historical statistical metrics is that they compare to league average when they should really compare statistics to the other top players. Why should players be judged more favorably if the league expands? (I think some have hinted at this.)

    In this light, the numbers look more reasonable. This is also how most of the Top 50/75/100 lists are constructed.

    Also, older players have had more time to be elected. That skews the results in favor of these players.

  43. BSK Says:

    Just out of curiosity, if LeBron retired tomorrow, would he be a HoFer? Obviously, he has HoF talent. But do 7 years get him in? I realize it's kind of a silly hypothetical, but I'm curious to hear where people are philosophically on such a question.

  44. Jason J Says:

    LeBron does have 2 MVPs, an Olympic gold medal, and has led the league in scoring a couple of times. If Dominique makes the HoF, I don't see how LeBron could not.

    There's an interesting thought in there about the evolution of athleticism. I don't believe it moves in quite such extreme bounds. The notion that 60's stars like West or Oscar or even Sam Jones would not be great players in 1980... I don't buy that. What guards of the day were any better than them?

    Jordan in particular is a case where I don't think other than LeBron you could point to any wing in the league today and say that guy is definitely more physically gifted than Michael was. Jordan was every bit as quick and explosive as Wade is and significantly taller. Rose, maybe?

    I think what's evolved more is technique than bodies. If the guys in the '60s had the diet, weight training, shoe technology, ease of travel, etc. that today's players have, they'd probably be right there physically. They'd have to grow up learning some seriously expanded skillsets though.

  45. Jay Says:

    As Doobie (post #17) noted, Ginobili is a lock for the HOF if he retired today. He's one of the most accomplished international players (outside the NBA) of all time. I also think Hill has a good chance given his illustrious college career, an exemplary (albeit short) prime, and a few sportsmanship awards. His longevity helps his case as well. I think comparing Carter (moreso) and McGrady to King is a bit of an insult to King. While McGrady may have been a more complete player, I think some people are forgetting how efficient of a scorer King was (51.8% career shooter). He deserves to make it.

  46. Jay Says:

    I'm going to list Ginobili's international accomplishments for Sean, because it's clear that he's just unaware of what he's done outside the NBA:

    - 2001 Lega A (Italy) MVP
    - 2001 Euroleague Final Four MVP
    - 2001 FIBA Americas Championship MVP
    - 2002 All-Euroleague First Team
    - 2002 Italian Cup MVP
    - 2002 Lega A MVP
    - 2002 FIBA World Championship All-Tournament Team
    - Olimpia de Oro (2003, 2004 (shared))
    - 2006 FIBA World Championship All-Tournament Team
    - 2008 35 Greatest Euroleague Players

    - 2004 Olympic Gold
    - 2008 Olympic Bronze
    - 2002 FIBA World Championship Silver
    - 2001 FIBA Americas Gold
    - 2003 FIBA Amercias Silver

    As I said, he's one of the most accomplished international players of all time. Remember, this is the basketball HOF we're talking about, not the NBA HOF.

  47. The Other Sean Says:

    I think Ginobili would merit consideration even without his international accomplishments. He's a member of one of the best (and, fittingly, one of the most underrated) championship trios in league history.

  48. Joe Krupnick Says:

    Great discussion. There's a lot of talk here about "Athleticism" which, to relativize the point even further, I think is really more a matter of Aesthetics. Or, more aphoristically, The Aesthetics of Athletics.

    The point being it isn't really fair to define athleticism as though it's some objective, reducible-to-a-formula numerical value, as in LBJ is more athletic than MJ, because the cultural understanding of what it looks like is susceptible to so much change and difference. Its looks being critical here, because there seems to be some inevitable aesthetic criterion we use when saying a player's athletic, as in he's exciting and ultimately beautiful to watch, as in "holy shit, did you just see that?" The aestheticism of athletics, we have the television replay because we just couldn't believe our eyes the first time. This isn't much talked about in standard sports discussions, this aesthetic dimension, probably because we're American and we want to be masculine and competitive and whatnot, but it's gotta be one of the great appeals of the game of basketball: the players are just fucking amazing to watch.

    But, what is amazing about it has changed a lot, and I don't think it's because the game is more (or less) athletic now than it was in 1970. It's qualitative and stylistic: "Pearl" Monroe and the "finger roll," "Air Jordan" and "Magic," "Superman" and "King James." As in the transition from the finesse and class of a George Gervin layup, to the beauty and other-worldliness of a Jordan cradle or a Magic no-look, to the sheer power of a LeBron James monster dunk. It's neither here nor there to say that LeBron is more athletic than Jordan, isn't it merely a matter of taste?, but it's what's really going on when a kid watches a tape of Game 7 of the 1984 Lakers vs. Celtics, and says it's boring or slow or inferior to today's games. And, it's what I see when I watch the Heat vs. the Magic and just see wild three-pointers and maniacally excessive slam dunks.

    Because the capital T truth is not about athleticism or big fancy questions of who's better and who's worse, it's about the infinite possibilities that this game presents to us. As in recognizing that Bill Russell could take a quarter off the top of a backboard (!!) but didn't have a high-flying aerial style because it was the 1960s. As in, Jordan was 6'6'' 198 lbs in the first half of his career and bulked up to almost LBJ proportions in 2001 to accommodate his body and his game's changes.

    Which is to point out, finally, that these putative differences between the players of previous generations and today reflect more about us and our values and the prisms through which we see things and our aesthetic tastes. That is what's real here and that's the mystical oneness of all things from Bill Russell to LeBron James.

  49. P Middy Says:

    I gotta disagree with that, Joe. Jordan may not be less athletic than LeBron in respect to his peers - another appearance issue that can trick our eyes. However, LeBron has access to better training, better technology, and better methodology than Jordan did when it comes to sports training. He also has access to better medicine, more nutritious & pointed diets, etc . . .

    I think players athleticism is constantly optimized at a higher level than it was a month, a year, a decade ago. The difference is that this curve carries all athletes on it. So the relative difference between LeBron and Miller seems like as much as the difference between Jordan and Paxson.

    Now, I have to say that the optimizations also only really make minute differences that pan out at ONLY the highest levels. Transport today's LBJ into 1980 and he might get a few more points and rebounds per game, but it's not like he would blow his current numbers out of the water.

  50. Frank N Says:

    ''Open enrollment' granted, by far the majority of players in the HoF are US professionals.

    I like Chauncey Billups but I never thought of him as a dominant player at his position in the league, which necessarily includes never thinking of him as a HoF player. AFAIK, he has never been acknowledged as a top-tier gaurd, garnering 3rd team NBA honors a few times in his career.

    "Combine this with his obvious vertical leap (A legit 6'4.5"

    This can't mean what it says.

  51. Walter Says:

    I think that has evolved into an interesting discussion regarding athleticism and in my opinion, while athletes certainly do evolve I don't believe there has been that drastic of a change over a 20 year period. Jordan would have no problems being an MVP candidate if he played in todays era.

    My original points at the beginning of this page dealt more with the size of the league and the style of play. I really wish I was alive during the 50's and 60's because I would have loved to watch those games because the style of play has never been seen in the modern era. The entire NBA in the 1960's must have been like watching the Suns "7-seconds-or-less" offense on speed every night.

    Just think about this..... here are the league average stats for the 1960 season compared to 2010:

    1960: 115.3 ppg, 41.0% FG, 73.5% FT, 73.5 rpg
    2010: 100.4 ppg, 46.1% FG, 75.9% FT, 45.6 rpg

    Think about this, the 1960's average of 115.3 points per game would have led the NBA by a significant margin last year (Suns were tops at 110.2) while the field goal percentage of 41% would have been the worst in the league (New Jersey was last at 42.9%) and free-throws percentage of 73.5% would have been good for 25th. In other words... the average 1960's team would have been the worst team in offensive efficiency in the league in 2010 by a wide margin and yet put up an average point total that was significantly higher than the best offense in the 2010 season!!! The pace that was played must have been truly amazing (4 second or less anyone?).

    My main point was that it was easier to pile up "per game" statistics if given 25% more possessions per game and thus it makes reaching the lofty points, assists, and rebound totals put up by some of the HOFers of those eras impossible for the modern day athlete. That is why I would argue that Oscar Robinson's "averaging a triple double" is a little misleading. Even ignoring the althetic differences between the era's, he wouldn't stand a chance at putting up those same numbers today because he would be given 25% fewer possessions per game simply due to pace. His 31.8/12.5/11.4 would be more like 23.9/9.4/8.5. Obviously these are still monster numbers (and MVP worthy) but they don't hold that same amount of awe that "averaged a triple double" does.

  52. Frank N Says:

    A little more on Billups - if there are folks here who see Reggie Miller, one of only 15 men to score 25,000, as a 50/50 chance, how is Billups a lock by any stretch.

    Thing is for Miller, he was never the dominant scoring gaurd in his career - a second tier guy with about the same honors credentials as Billups.

    Yes, defense and offense are tweo different things, but 25,000 points is one of the magic numbers.

  53. Walter Says:

    @ Frank (52)

    Reggie Miller is a lock in my book. He was one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game. He had the unfortunate timing of playing against MJ and the Bulls that prevented him from making the finals for a long time. When he finally made the finals he went up against a very good Lakers dynasty of Shaq and Kobe.

    I don't penalize him for not having a ring due to some bad luck with the timing of his career. His total points and 3's make him an HOFer in my book.

    My initial thoughts with Billups is borderline and probably a NO if I was forced to choose but I would have to take a long look at his career statistics to see if I am perhaps missing something.

  54. AYC Says:

    Who says Lebron is more "athletic" than MJ? Bigger? Sure. Faster or a better leaper? I don't think so. Before we get carried away about the supposed differences between "eras", we should remember that players can have careers of over 20 years; Kareem started in the 60's and came within one year of playing in the 90's. Moses and Parish also played in 3 different decades, as did MJ, Charles, Hakeem, Mailman and many others. The difference between athletes today and those past has more to do with improved coaching, conditioning and medicine, along with much greater financial incentives for players.

  55. AYC Says:

    PS When you look at specific examples from today, the whole "modern players are much more athletic" argument falls apart; Steve Nash is short AND slow, yet he's arguably the best point guard of the last 10 years (keep in mind, PG is the position were speed matters the most). Ben Wallace is the best defensive center of the last 10 years, despite being 6'8". Rodman was the best rebounder of the modern era, despite being only 6'7". Kevin Love is by far the best rebounder right now, despite having zero leaping ability (or muscle tone). No doubt, if Love had played in the 70's, many would assume he wouldn't be any good today....

  56. Jason J Says:

    AYC - To add to your point in 55, Tim Duncan was arguably the best player of the last decade, and he's never been all that fast or explosive. He's over-sized for a power forward, but that's about the only physical edge you could give him. Really he's not even exceptionally quick or agile for a great 5 (certainly not surpassing Hakeem, Robinson, Ben Wallace, Dwight, or Jermaine in their primes).

    And to sort of define what I meant by saying LeBron is more athletic than Jordan (if I said it in those words), I would include size as a physical attribute rather than a basketball-specific skill and classify it as part of athleticism rather than skillset in those terms. It is a significant advantage to be bigger, taller, and stronger particularly when it doesn't come at the expense of speed and explosiveness.

  57. Joe Krupnick Says:

    Middy et. al,

    To engage the question more concretely, the point I make about aesthetic (rather than athletic) changes is also to revisit an argument made in an earlier post, that basketball is a sufficiently complex game that athleticism alone (narrowly-defined) isn't nearly enough to confer superiority to today's players. LBJ, Howard, and D-Wade may be stronger and more powerful than guys in previous generations, but are they also quicker than a Dennis Rodman? Are they more flexible and agile on their feet than MJ? Do they have better court vision than Stockton or Magic? Better hand-eye coordination than Bird? Better box-out skills than Charles Barkey? Etc, etc, the point being that better off-the-court training and technology do not necessarily translate into better basketball.

    Slightly less prosaic, I'd also argue that citing today's superior training, technology, methodologies, etc, is unfair to previous generations' players, because they didn't have access to these things and the odds are high that, if they did, they'd be just as big, strong, and "athletic" as the current crop of NBA talent. And, I think this is particularly true of superstars like MJ, Bird, Magic, Kareem, etc, who were so relentlessly competitive that they were often adapting, even in their own careers, to changes in the game.

    As I see it, the strongest argument for the superiority of today's players (or stars) is essentially a matter of demographics and efficiency. This being the fact that the ratio of available players to actual NBA players is higher than ever. Demographically, available players now live in a more populated U.S. and are being drawn from an increasingly large percentage of the world's growing population. Efficiency-wise, there's the point that the growing popularity of NBA basketball, and the growing desire among kids to make the NBA, is decreasing the gap between potential basketball players and actual players. In a totally efficient market, all of the best basketball players would be playing basketball and competing to make the NBA. While obviously an unreachable ideal, it's probably the case that we're getting closer, especially compared to eras like the 1970s--bball's commercial nadir--when potential basketball players were more likely than today to go into another sport like baseball or football. (The late '60s/early 70's also has the ABA problem, which created horrible dilution for the NBA.)

    A final point, I'm reminded of Stephen Jay Gould's famous argument for progress in baseball, advanced in his book Full House. He cites the decline of the .400 hitter, but the idea is that a major sign of progress is when the standard deviation between players and teams declines--because everyone will be clumped together at the right tail. This would make for an interesting, and relatively easy, study. Anyone know how the std. dev. of team's winning percentages has changed? Or, better, what about the std. dev. of individual player fg% or minutes? I would also be interested in the mean changes in free throw %--which is about as objective a statistic as exists in sports.

  58. Greyberger Says:

    Great post, 57, but what you propose at the end is a real onion and maybe not so easy. Beyond FT%, looking at player statistics wouldn't have the broad sweep of history feel to it with caveats like two expansions and key rule changes in fairly recent history. If the case is just from 1979 onward I'm not sure that's as dramatic or satisfying.

  59. Joe Krupnick Says:


    Agreed. There's certainly no way to make this an exact science. I'm just trying to think of methods that might make things quantitatively more defensible.

    The era-specific HOF percentages Neil introduced are quite interesting, especially when compared to the relatively flat slope when you look at similar figures for baseball, but it's hard to argue that it captures anything super substantive.

    But, to go back to the point about efficiency, I've always wondered what to make of the astronomical increase in player heights over the years. Since 1960, 20-40 year-old American male heights have increased, what, maybe 1 or 1.5 inches tops? Compared to NBA players who were are now, on average, maybe 4 or 5 inches taller. To say nothing of the tremendous crowding at the right tail, with maybe 15-20% of players now 7 feet or above. This is clearly unexplained by demographic changes, and if you agree that all other things equal the taller the better, then you're left with some form of efficiency argument, that some relatively significant fraction of potential players in the 1960s were doing something else with their lives.

    I'd be curious to see how the height distribution has changed over the years, with a hunch that means have increased steadily and perhaps discontinuously since the big jump in the '60s and that std. deviations have probably decreased.

  60. Mac Says:

    Something that hasn't been mentioned yet here, and doesn't fit the definitions of athleticism being used, is hand size. It may sound silly (and hopefully not like I have a fetish), but I thought of it immediately when I read this: "We've all seen some of today's prime athletes fail terribly at making that freethrow line dunk (Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson)." The reason that Jordan, Dr. J, and certain others make that dunk look easy is hand size. Being able to palm a basketball as easily as most of us could grab a softball makes up for a few inches in vertical leap, no problem. A far larger percentage of current and past NBA players than most of us probably suspect have the pure jumping ability to make that dunk.

    Rajon Rondo is a great example of a modern player who has above average athleticism for his position but would not likely be able to perform at anything near his current level without his extraordinary hands. They give him the control to pull off certain ball fakes that most players are either not physically capable of (at least not without significant risk of losing the ball), as well as increasing his control on passes and when finishing around the rim.

    With this in mind, spend a few minutes watching just the most famous highlights of the three players I mentioned, and you'll quickly see that hands are more important than hangtime in nearly all of their signature moves. Combine that with elite athleticism (and the mind to effectively coordinate all of their abilities) in Jordan and Erving's cases and you have a clearer picture of why they so often seemed superhuman. Travis Outlaw is one of the most insane leapers I've ever seen on a basketball court, but he doesn't have the rest of the tools to use that ability to anything resembling its full potential. Even if future generations somehow made MJ, Dr. J, and Rondo look slow and earthbound by comparison, they'd still have that rare, era transcending gift of huge hands to set them apart. ;^)

  61. Jason J Says:

    60 - Good point. When asked to compare MJ and Kobe, Phil Jackson has often sited Jordan's larger hands as a significant advantage. Bird's large, strong hands were credited for a lot of his tricky shots and passes by one of his coaches (can't remember the reference on that one - might have been college).

  62. Joe Krupnick Says:

    Excellent point on hand size. Dr. J's hands were once measured at 12'' from start of palm to finger tips, and I suspect that Jordan's hands are not much smaller. This would certainly make a huge difference on tricky shots, passes, dunks, and rebounds, and I've often wondered if it might even have a more general impact on general shooting efficiency. Is there an argument, perhaps, that bigger hands=better control of ball=better control of shots? Anyway, the point remains, that like height, you can't teach hands.

  63. MikeN Says:

    Jordan vs LeBron, pay no heed to Bill Simmons' argument that with the new rules Jordan would average 45 ppg today. What this means is that Kobe and Lebron 'back in the day' would be scoring at best 20 ppg.

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