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Who Are the “Inner-Circle” Hall of Famers? (Part I – Intro to Method)

Posted by Neil Paine on December 16, 2009

7491578  Wizards v PacersWhenever Hall of Fame arguments come up, especially in baseball, I have a tendency to tune out from the sheer tediousness of the typical debate. On one side, there's always an arrogant guy who saw many of Player X's games and "knows" he's a Hall of Famer, so he cites other, lesser players who are already in the Hall (as though that were somehow evidence Player X should be in), brings up a couple of memorable career moments, and generally fudges on borderline issues to make the player seem better than he actually was. On the opposing side, another equally narcissistic guy splits hairs about the "magic numbers" Player X failed to reach, denigrates his career because A) if he won titles, he didn't have enough individual honors; or B) if he had a lot of individual honors, he didn't win enough titles. Throw in a few unsubstantiated jabs at Player X's character and/or manhood, and then start the whole process over again -- how fun.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick of these ceaselessly inane arguments. Call me a purist, but when it comes to the subject of the Hall of Fame -- and this is the case with every sport (except maybe the Pro Football HoF) -- I think it's vastly overcrowded with players whose inclusion does nothing but lower the standards of induction for future generations and cheapen the accomplishments of the players enshrined before them. For instance, in our hypothetical little talk-radio example above, Player X is almost certainly not deserving of enshrinement, because if you have to stretch the numbers to make a case, it's not a good one. Similarly, if you have to rely on subjective anecdotes and opinions to build your case, your guy doesn't deserve to be in. In other words, I believe "borderline" candidates shouldn't be borderline at all -- the answer is simply "no".

But how do you enforce such tough standards after years of leniency? I mean, all of the major Halls of Fame already opened up Pandora's Box many decades ago by allowing lesser players into their ranks, forever creating problems for future voting generations by setting the minimum standard for induction ridiculously low. That's why I think it's important to set aside a certain subset of Hall of Famers as "Inner-Circle" guys, players who have established themselves as the absolute elite of the elite and therefore deserve to be rewarded with an exclusive place in the HoF, one distinct and more prestigious than the one inhabited by "ordinary" Hall members.

Obviously, in order to do this you have to set a cutoff, a point of quality below which no player will be allowed to enter the inner circle. The question is always, where is that cutoff? And why is it there? Today I'm going to go through the method by which I think players' Inner-Circle worthiness should be judged, and hopefully provide some rationale into what level of exclusivity is right for such a high honor.

Above all else, the recognition has to be made that this is a resetting the old standards, an effort to push them sky-high. One basic, non-quantifiable premise is this: if you have to think about a player's candidacy, even for a second, he shouldn't be there -- the Inner Circle is a place for no-doubters only. Of course, your conception of a "no-doubter" might be different from mine -- I'm sure you can find people who don't have any reservations about Latrell Sprewell's candidacy if you look hard enough, but that doesn't mean the majority of the basketball world would agree. So you do have to establish a consensus in this process, and apply some kind of objective set of standards to players' qualifications, lest we end up with somebody like Nick Van Exel as an Inner-Circle Hall of Famer.

I think the main standard we can probably agree on is this: Was the player considered one of (if not the) best players in pro basketball? To me at least, it's obvious -- if, in your prime, there was a question as to whether you were one of the best players in the league, you don't deserve to be in the Inner Circle. Also, a player had to have maintained that dominant level for an extended period of time: high-peak-but-short-career guys or fluky one-year wonders need not apply, because I think it's safe to say that the Inner Circle is reserved only for ultra-high-peak guys who stayed that way for a good decade. I feel like the Hall of Fame sometimes tries to balance short, brilliant careers with long, consistent ones; well, the Inner Circle should only be composed of players who had long, consistently brilliant careers.

To quantify said brilliance, it's useful at this point to establish how I think greatness should be defined for Inner Circle purposes. Basically, in the broadest sense I think any assessment like this has to strike a balance between considering how a player was regarded in his day and what the numbers say about him after the fact. To achieve this goal, then, one must consider players in two areas: awards from the media/coaches, and statistical accomplishments. A ranking that combines both of these elements is calculated as follows:

  • "Media" Points: Three awards are used to calculate this total: MVP voting, All-NBA teams, and All-Star selections. For the MVP, the top 5-12 players are ranked according to their MVP votes; the remaining players receive an average rank based on the # of players who did not receive MVP consideration. For All-NBA Teams, players are tiered according to whether they received 1st-, 2nd-, or 3rd-Team honors. Each honoree receives a ranking based on the average rank of the player in their tier -- for instance, a 1st-Team All-NBA player in a year with 5 1st-Team selections would receive a rank of "3", since (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5) / 5 = 3. And 2nd-team selection in the same year would receive a rank of "8", as (6 + 7 + ... + 10) / 5 = 8, and so forth. Again, the remaining players receive an average rank based on the # of players who did not receive All-NBA consideration. Finally, All-Star selections receive a ranking based on the average rank of an All-Star, in the same manner outlined above; the remaining players receive an average rank based on the # of players who did not receive All-Star consideration. Note that a player did not have to actually appear in the All-Star Game itself to receive points, but only needed to be voted to the roster. Media points are then determined by summing the player's rank in the 3 categories detailed above (MVP, All-NBA, All-Star), and ranking inversely by this sum. Points are given for each rank in relation to the number of players in the league; for example, a league with 445 players would award 445 points to the #1-ranked player, 444 to the 2nd-ranked player, etc., all the way to 1 point for the 445th-ranked player.
  • "Stats" Points:Three well-known advanced statistics are used in this area: Win Shares, Player Efficiency Rating, and, in lieu of Adjusted Plus/Minus, Statistical Plus/Minus (derived from regressing box score stats on Adjusted +/-). To account for the value of players who log many minutes, PER was converted to Estimated Wins Added (EWA) by the following formula: EWA = ((PER - 10.82) * MP) / 2010. Also, SPM was converted to a "value" metric by the following: VAL = ((SPM + 5) / 48) * MP. Since each metric has known flaws/biases, the median ranking among the 3 statistical categories was taken for each player in each season, and was then ranked inversely, with Stats points awarded for each rank in relation to the number of players in the league; for example, a league with 445 players would award 445 points to the #1-ranked player, 444 to the 2nd-ranked player, etc., all the way to 1 point for the 445th-ranked player.
  • Composite Ranking: To encourage high marks in both the Media and Statistical categories, a composite point total was achieved by taking the geometric mean of each player's Media and Stats points. The resulting product is the composite total, which is then divided by the total number of possible points for a percentage score.

Still with me? If so, let's take last year as an example... This was the final MVP voting in 2008-09:

MVPRk Player Tm
1 LeBron James CLE
2 Kobe Bryant LAL
3 Dwyane Wade MIA
4 Dwight Howard ORL
5 Chris Paul NOH
6 Chauncey Billups TOT
7 Paul Pierce BOS
8 Tony Parker SAS
9 Brandon Roy POR
10 Dirk Nowitzki DAL
11 Tim Duncan SAS
12 Yao Ming HOU

Those are already conveniently ranked for us, but here are the All-NBA Teams, which we have to "rank" ourselves using the method outlined above:

AllNBATeam Player Tm AllNBARk
1st LeBron James CLE 3
1st Kobe Bryant LAL 3
1st Dwyane Wade MIA 3
1st Dwight Howard ORL 3
1st Dirk Nowitzki DAL 3
2nd Chris Paul NOH 8
2nd Paul Pierce BOS 8
2nd Brandon Roy POR 8
2nd Tim Duncan SAS 8
2nd Yao Ming HOU 8
3rd Chauncey Billups TOT 13
3rd Tony Parker SAS 13
3rd Carmelo Anthony DEN 13
3rd Pau Gasol LAL 13
3rd Shaquille O'Neal PHO 13

Finally, these were the All-Stars, which we also have to give a "ranking" to:

Player Tm AllStarRk
LeBron James CLE 14
Kobe Bryant LAL 14
Dwyane Wade MIA 14
Dwight Howard ORL 14
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 14
Chris Paul NOH 14
Paul Pierce BOS 14
Brandon Roy POR 14
Tim Duncan SAS 14
Yao Ming HOU 14
Chauncey Billups TOT 14
Tony Parker SAS 14
Pau Gasol LAL 14
Shaquille O'Neal PHO 14
Ray Allen BOS 14
Chris Bosh TOR 14
Kevin Garnett BOS 14
Danny Granger IND 14
Devin Harris NJN 14
Allen Iverson TOT 14
Joe Johnson ATL 14
Rashard Lewis ORL 14
Jameer Nelson ORL 14
Amare Stoudemire PHO 14
David West NOH 14
Mo Williams CLE 14

Math Alert! If you're curious, to determine the average ranking of a group of n players tied for rank r, you simply take: ((n * (2r + n - 1)) / 2) / n.

Adding the three rankings together and ranking the total inversely, you get this result for "Media Points":

Player Tm MediaPts
LeBron James CLE 445.0
Kobe Bryant LAL 444.0
Dwyane Wade MIA 443.0
Dwight Howard ORL 442.0
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 440.5
Chris Paul NOH 440.5
Paul Pierce BOS 439.0
Brandon Roy POR 438.0
Tim Duncan SAS 436.5
Chauncey Billups TOT 436.5
Yao Ming HOU 435.0
Tony Parker SAS 434.0
Pau Gasol LAL 432.5
Shaquille O'Neal PHO 432.5
Ray Allen BOS 425.5
Chris Bosh TOR 425.5
Kevin Garnett BOS 425.5
Danny Granger IND 425.5
Devin Harris NJN 425.5
Allen Iverson TOT 425.5
Joe Johnson ATL 425.5
Rashard Lewis ORL 425.5
Jameer Nelson ORL 425.5
Amare Stoudemire PHO 425.5
David West NOH 425.5
Mo Williams CLE 425.5
Carmelo Anthony DEN 419.0

Similarly, here are the rankings for "Stats Points":

Player Tm SPM Rk PER Rk WS Rk StatsPts
LeBron James CLE 1 1 1 445.0
Chris Paul NOH 2 3 2 444.0
Dwyane Wade MIA 3 2 3 443.0
Kobe Bryant LAL 4 5 7 441.5
Dwight Howard ORL 5 4 5 441.5
Brandon Roy POR 6 6 6 440.0
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 12 7 9 438.0
Tim Duncan SAS 9 8 13 438.0
Pau Gasol LAL 15 9 4 438.0
Yao Ming HOU 29 12 10 436.0
Chris Bosh TOR 13 10 16 435.0
Rajon Rondo BOS 11 29 14 434.0
Paul Pierce BOS 16 31 11 433.0
Danny Granger IND 17 16 31 431.5
Gerald Wallace CHA 10 32 17 431.5
Rashard Lewis ORL 18 48 18 430.0
Vince Carter NJN 14 19 38 428.5
Antawn Jamison WAS 19 13 30 428.5
Devin Harris NJN 20 15 39 426.5
Andre Iguodala PHI 8 20 21 426.5
Chauncey Billups TOT 21 27 12 424.5
LaMarcus Aldridge POR 32 21 19 424.5
Andre Miller PHI 22 23 23 423.0
Tony Parker SAS 39 11 24 421.0
Kevin Durant OKC 24 14 33 421.0
David Lee NYK 43 24 22 421.0
Joe Johnson ATL 25 25 37 419.0

Combine the two, and you get this list:

Player Tm MediaPts StatsPts Composite %Possible
LeBron James CLE 445.0 445.0 445.0 100.0%
Dwyane Wade MIA 443.0 443.0 443.0 99.6%
Kobe Bryant LAL 444.0 441.5 442.7 99.5%
Chris Paul NOH 440.5 444.0 442.2 99.4%
Dwight Howard ORL 442.0 441.5 441.7 99.3%
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 440.5 438.0 439.2 98.7%
Brandon Roy POR 438.0 440.0 439.0 98.7%
Tim Duncan SAS 436.5 438.0 437.2 98.3%
Paul Pierce BOS 439.0 433.0 436.0 98.0%
Yao Ming HOU 435.0 436.0 435.5 97.9%
Pau Gasol LAL 432.5 438.0 435.2 97.8%
Chauncey Billups TOT 436.5 424.5 430.5 96.7%
Chris Bosh TOR 425.5 435.0 430.2 96.7%
Danny Granger IND 425.5 431.5 428.5 96.3%
Rashard Lewis ORL 425.5 430.0 427.7 96.1%
Tony Parker SAS 434.0 421.0 427.5 96.1%
Devin Harris NJN 425.5 426.5 426.0 95.7%
Shaquille O'Neal PHO 432.5 414.0 423.1 95.1%
Joe Johnson ATL 425.5 419.0 422.2 94.9%
Ray Allen BOS 425.5 417.5 421.5 94.7%
David West NOH 425.5 411.5 418.4 94.0%
Mo Williams CLE 425.5 409.0 417.2 93.7%
Kevin Garnett BOS 425.5 402.0 413.6 92.9%
Carmelo Anthony DEN 419.0 400.5 409.6 92.1%
Amare Stoudemire PHO 425.5 387.5 406.1 91.2%
Jameer Nelson ORL 425.5 370.5 397.0 89.2%
Allen Iverson TOT 425.5 327.0 373.0 83.8%

Every season, players are given a percentage score like that, based on how well they performed statistically and how they were regarded around the league. For the purposes of the Inner Circle, I used those numbers to form a career rankings list; to qualify for the Inner Circle list, a player must: A) have played 10 years professionally after 1951 in either the ABA or NBA; and B) have won at least 1 NBA Championship in their career. The second qualification is controversial -- and a difficult conclusion to come to, because I love John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, etc. -- but if this is truly the Inner Circle, you can't in good conscience include players with a glaring hole in their career resume, whether deservedly so or not. Qualified players were then ranked by an average of their 10 best seasons, and the Top 4 players whose careers came primarily in each decade were named to the Inner Circle. Friday, we'll begin with the Inner Circle members from the 1950s and 1960s, and continue going through the decades through New Year's (which, fittingly, marks the end of a decade itself). So stay tuned as we honor the absolute greatest pro basketball players of the NBA era, I'm sure you'll have a lot to say about the selections.

35 Responses to “Who Are the “Inner-Circle” Hall of Famers? (Part I – Intro to Method)”

  1. Jason J Says:

    How about a list of the Outer Circle, with players whose media and stat scores qualify them for the Joe Klein Memorial Hall of Shame?

  2. Steve Says:

    I really object to the Championship requirement. Basketball is the rare team sport where an individual can truly dominate all phases of a game, but there has never been a player who can be said to have won a championship all by himself. Robert Horry has played on teams that won a lot of championships, but I don't think even he would claim to be half (a quarter?) the player that Karl Malone was (and I don't even like Malone.) Under this requirement, Oscar Robertson, who averaged a triple-double for the first 5 years of his career, only barely qualifies due to his playing with Kareem at the very end of his career. I definitely agree that the Russells, Jordans and Magics of the world should get more credit for being winners than the Chamberlains, Baylors and Malones, but you've already factored in win shares to your equation, so I think you are making a mistake in setting an arbitrary cut-off of at least 1 World Championship.

  3. izzy Says:

    I also object to the Championship requirement. To finish second out of 29 teams as stockton, malone, and barkley did, is no small feat. And each time they had to face the greatest player/team of all time (95-96 bulls). They are winners. True winners. This rule goes against everything this blog/sit is all about. It's just too arbitrary. I mean, stockton is a top 3 pg of all time, if not better, and barkley and malone are both top 4, if not better. For the love of APBRmetrics, get rid of this rule.

  4. izzy Says:

    Sorry for the typos.

  5. Brian Says:

    Ditto. Team success depends on the sum contributions of an 8-10 man rotation and a coaching staff. Even given how much one player can make a difference in basketball, I think it would be hard to argue that one single player can contribute to his team's success more than the sum total impact of his teammates and coaches. Evaluating an individual by an outcome measure towards which he does not even account for more than half of the variance in such a strict way seems in violation of the spirit of this exercise, which is to evaluate individual career performances.

    There is also a large degree of historical luck involved in who wins a championship. The Stockton/Malone Jazz may have won multiple titles if they played in the 70s. The Olajuwon Rockets may never have won if Jordan hadn't retired. Why penalize players for such historical accidents?

    Failing to win a title only constitutes a "glaring hole in the resume" if one is looking at the resume in an unrefined way. Measuring team success as championships won, without taking into account the circumstantial factors not in a player's control (quality of teammates, coaches, and opposition) is not unlike measuring offense by points per game, without correcting for pace. It's like setting a criterion for the best offenses of all time that they must surpass something like 105 ppg. Exactly the sort of thing a sophisticated analysis should take into consideration and correct for, rather than buy into.

  6. Brian Says:

    Also, on the HOF bent, here's a nice (baseball) implementation of a way to balance the dual considerations of the magnitude and duration of a player's career performance:

  7. Neil Paine Says:

    Personally, I feel the same way, that team championships are hardly indicative of a player's individual ability. However, a great deal of people in the game do not share this view, with some going so far as to believe that championships are the only true measure of a player's ability. Now, I think that's garbage, and if it were up to me I'd just rank the players by their numbers and move on. But since this is a proposed "Inner Circle" to the Hall of Fame, and since we're trying to build a consensus view of the game's history between the stats and the non-stats alike, a requirement like this does make some sense. After all, my purpose was to find the "no-doubters", players that there is no legitimate argument against from either camp. I feel like the inclusion of players who did not win a ring would run counter to that premise, since a large number of basketball people automatically have doubts about a player's greatness if he didn't win a ring. Does that make sense? It's almost like, I'm not trying to find the true, all-inclusive "best players of all-time" here, I'm simply trying to isolate a handful of names we can all agree on as being some of the "true" best players of all time. So perhaps I should also put in a stats-based requirement similar to the "must win a championship" qualifier, just to make things fair... I'll have to think about what the appropriate equivalent would be.

  8. Raj Says:

    is there any kind of weighting for playoff performance? as you showed in championship prob. added posts, even now the playoffs weight at least as much as the regular season?

  9. Luke Says:

    I really think as far as "no doubt about it" candidates go, Barkley, Stockton, and Malone are all in, and I think every true basketball fan acknowledges that. Even those who hated them (I hated those Jazz teams of the 90's) still recognize that Stockton and Malone are no doubt Hall of Fame locks. The championship requirement just doesn't make sense to me.

    Only 12 guys can win a championship in any given year, and of those 12, there's usually only 1, sometimes 2... MAYBE 3 guys who would be Hall of Fame candidates, let alone locks. Scottie Pippen, in my mind, is also a no doubt Hall of Famer, but I also think Barkley, Stockton, and Malone were all better players. Any one of them could have won multiple titles on those Bulls teams of the 90's, but in this system, only Pippen would even receive consideration for the "Inner Circle." It seems more than a little unfair that one player (Jordan) can affect the Hall of Fame candidacies of those four (and several more) just by who he played with and against.

    Plus, I really don't think players should earn bonus points (or any credit at all really) for winning a title long after their prime when they're little more than a role player or bench warmer. If Reggie Miller HAD come back with the Celtics in 2008, does he suddenly get credit for winning a championship? Does Gary Payton become an "inner Circle" guy just because he was backing up Jason Williams on the 2005 Heat? If the Lakers had won the title in 2004, would Malone get in, despite the fact that he was hurt in those playoffs and the Lakers winning that title really made no difference on the man's brilliant 18 year career before that?

    The "At Least One Championship" Rule just seems as though there are far too many extenuating circumstances to keep players in or out based just on that. If you want to say, "the player had to be the best player on a team that one the title," I could live with that, but that's about the only way I could get behind a mandatory championship requirement to get into an "Inner Circle" of the Hall of Fame.

  10. Luke Says:

    Wow, 4 posts were put up in the 20 minutes it took me to type up my post... You really struck a nerve on this championship requirement thing, Neil. But, honestly, if you're looking to make a list that every single person agrees on, I really don't think anyone is going to argue about those three guys you mentioned. (Everyone knows they are.) How about having to at least lead your team to at least one Finals appearance. I really don't think there's any shame in getting crushed in the Finals by Jordan's Bulls, or Russell's Celtics, or the Showtime Lakers, etc. That requirement at least has the potential to double your pool of eligible players, and I think everyone here can agree that if you couldn't get your team to the Finals at least once in your career, then there are some major doubts about getting into the Hall, let alone the Inner Circle.

  11. mrparker Says:

    I'm not a regular contributor to to the comments section though I read most of the blog posts. I agree with a championship requirement but think it might have to be less stringent than an actual championship banner. How about some number of playoff wins? Or even some number of wins in the championship round other than 1? That way Gary Payton isn't receiving extra credit after he was over the hill with Miami but he would receive credit for playing in the championship with Seattle. If you are specifically trying to exclude Allen Iverson then you could also make the requirement 2 championship round wins.

  12. mrparker Says:

    p.s-this list should be pretty small....maybe 25 guys max

  13. Jeremy Says:

    I feel like the Championship criteria has been pounded on enough already, so I'll take issue with another area.

    In your post, you write "A player had to have maintained that dominant level for an extended period of time: high-peak-but-short-career guys or fluky one-year wonders need not apply." Now, this line, I feel, disqualifies two people in particular that absolutely should be in any Hall of Fame discussion, those being Bill Walton and David Thompson. Both were truly transcendent players that had their careers derailed by extenuating circumstances that I would argue were not directly their fault.

    Walton's is fairly clear-cut, his feet were ravaged with injuries and he was never completely healthy. However, that doesn't change the fact that he was the best player alive in 1977 and 1978, led his team to a championship, then started the next season 50-10 before he got hurt. I'm not going to get into the "what if he had never gotten hurt" argument, because I feel that his body was predisposed to breaking down in the first place, but instead I'll propose this question: Would you rather have Bill Walton for 3 years or Bob Lanier for 10 years? For me, it's no question. I'd rather have a healthy Bill Walton for 3 years. Why? Because I'm pretty much guaranteed to win a title in those 3 healthy Walton years. I'm not sure that I am with Lanier. Walton played on two of the greatest teams of all time, the '77 Blazers and '86 Celtics, and when healthy, he absolutely had to be considered in a "greatest players" discussion.

    Thompson's case is more controversial: his drug problem. However, if you read anything about the NBA in the late 70s and early 80s, you'll find that drug-use was incredibly wide-spread (some people estimate that 75-80% of players were using cocaine and other drugs). I don't think we can fault Thompson 100%, because we didn't really know all of the adverse affects of cocaine until later in the 80s, and by then, it was too late for Thompson. If you look at Thompson's numbers, he peaked at 23, finished 3rd in the MVP voting, and nearly led his team to the '78 finals. If he were to have come around 10 years earlier or 10 years later (thus no rampant cocaine use), he would have continued an upward trend until he was 24 or 25 (like so many other great shooting guards do), and potentially held that level of play for 5 or 6 more years after that. Would his career have unfolded that differently from Jordan or Kobe? I'm not sure. In Bill Simmons's book, he writes "Imagine if Jordan had started doing loads of blow after the '87 season, blew out his knee during a Mars Blackmon shoot and was effectively washed up at 28? That's basically what happened to Thompson."

    If you look at Thompson's college and early pro record, you'll find that he consistently led his team deep into the postseason (including a trip to the ABA Finals in 1976) until he signed his big-money contract and the wheels came off. The argument then becomes whether he was a victim of the time that he played in, or if he wasn't equipped to handle fame in the first place. Based on his early track record, I would vote the former.

    It basically comes down to my opinion that I would rather have 2 or 3 transcendent seasons out of Walton or Thompson than 8 or 10 really good seasons out of someone like Bob Lanier or George Gervin. Furthermore, it wasn't like these players had all the skills but just never wanted it (see: Vince Carter), there were outside forces that prevented them from becoming the players that they could have become. I would vote in Walton and Thompson.

  14. Jayson Says:

    The "stat points" is just awfully executed imo. No voter cares about PER, EWA or Win shares, and they hold absolutely no validity in any real world setting. Lest we forget, even though statistics are objective, these measures are all based on calculations that someone subjectively made based on what they thought should hold what value and what stats should be used in calculating such "advanced stats". They will never be taken into account with hall of fame inductions, nor should they ever be.

    I think there are far more important criteria to consider, but taking into account that this IS a basketball-stats site, I can obviously understand why such emphasis is placed on it.

    The championship requirement I agree with. The inner circle of Hall of Famers are all champions. Their careers are built on being champions, with the possible exception of Oscar Robertson who "only" won once.

    I just don't see any player never win a title and be considered in the same company as any ELITE player like Michael, Magic, Kareem, Russell, Bird, etc.

  15. Luke Says:

    I guess I just feel like the championship requirement makes the stats exercise completely redundant. If a player has to have a title, the list is going to be Russell, Havlicek, West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, and that's it. I guess if you just wanted to figure out who the "elitest" among those dozen guys are, you could come up with a sophisticated statistical breakdown for that, but that just seems less fun/interesting to me.

  16. Neil Paine Says:

    These comments are an example of why I'm trying to balance both stats and the media... I've got people saying championships shouldn't be taken into account, and others saying that "nobody cares about advanced stats", etc. I, on the other hand, am trying to be fair and give equal treatment to both camps, which was really the goal of the entire exercise.

  17. AYC Says:

    Neil, I don't see what the championship requirement has to do with either "stats" or "media". A player can be dominant in both without having a ring; Karl Malone is second all-time in points AND he has 2MVP's and 11 All-NBA 1st team nods.

    And since nobody else brought him up, I have to mention Elgin Baylor, who dominated the 60's in both categories and also went to (and dominated) the finals 7 times. Excluding him, while allowing his teammate, Jerry West, doesn't make any sense; West lost in his first 7 finals appearances too (they played 6 together). Meanwhile, Oscar makes the grade despite playing in 5 or fewer playoff games in 8 of his first 10 seasons (including 4 postseasons missed entirely)?

  18. Luke Says:

    Oh, I'm not trying to argue with your concept or methodology at all, Neil. And I'm very interested in seeing what the results are that you end up with. I just don't think there's any possible way that you'll ever "please everybody" with something like this. Right now, the Hall is too inclusive, which everyone probably agrees on, and now we argue that some guys aren't deserving of the honor.

    On the other hand, you can make a list of guys that are no doubt Hall of Famers, where nobody could argue that those guys didn't deserve to be in the Hall. (If you had to, in order to accomplish that, the list may just have to be: Michael Jordan.) But then we'd just end up with the result, where people would say that it's TOO exclusive, and then we'd simply argue that someone else should be on that list, too... About the only thing we'd ever all be able to agree on is that the Hall of Fame is imperfect.

    I just don't think there's really a way to "be fair" and "give equal treatment to both camps." LIke you said, it's a gut reaction. Yes or No. And you just know without thinking about it. For me, Reggie Miller is an instant 'No." I don't even have to think about it. But I know plenty of people who think he's an instant 'Yes,' and I can understand where they're coming from. Sure, you could set up benchmarks, like at least 1 Championship + at least 1 MVP + at least 1 Scoring/Rebounding/Assist Title + at least 10 All-Star Selections = Guaranteed Hall of Fame. But that doesn't seem right either, because it completely removes that critical instant "yes or no" gut reaction.

    About the only way you could set up an Inner Circle of Greatness or Perfect Hall is to have voting like baseball does, but set the bar ridiculously high. Like 95% high. For the Inner Circle at least. Then you could have the 90% Hall of Famers, then the 85%, and so on, down to, I don't know, maybe 75%. Yes, advanced stats matter and they're incredibly cool to play with. And yes, championships matter, everybody knows they're important. But you simply can't quantify that gut reaction that a player's career invokes.

  19. Sean Says:

    I agree and disagree with some of the points raised by both Neil and other commenters. Yeah, the Hall of Fame has too many questionable members (hello K.C. Jones, Bill Bradley, Calvin Murphy, Clyde Lovellete, Tom Gola, and Bob Houbregs). But I think to make the Hall too exclusive would be damaging as well: sure, Joe Dumars wasn't a superstar, and doesn't have the greatest statistical resume, but I absolutely believe he belongs in the HoF. Same goes for Frank Ramsey and Dennis Johnson and Dennis Rodman (yeah, I know those last two guys haven't been inducted, but they should be, IMO). Measuring a player's impact by media praise and stats alone cannot account for the impact he can have on the fortunes of a basketball team, and some times those who are deserving of enshrinment aren't necessarily the most spectacular to behold in hindsight.

  20. Greg Says:


    I agree with the post that suggested you may want to expand the inner group to include at least one finals appearance. I thinbk that accomplishes a great deal in balancing the stats vs championships arguments. It seems to me that here are very few great players who have not appeared in a finals and that there are many more great players who did not win a championship who deserve the highest recognition anyway. These days, with the increased leverage of players, players recognize this and demand to be traded to a team which has a chance to win it all. T'was not always the case ...


  21. Robert August de Meijer Says:

    This is highly interesting.
    If possible, could you perhaps also post the Inner Circle list with only the Media Points?

  22. schtevie Says:

    I think the problem here is one of semantics. All conceptual and procedural issues can be resolved by renaming the "Hall of Fame" (though come to think of it, this is actually quite descriptive) the "Hall of Highly Imperfectly Perceived Offensive Standouts".

    The big problem, of course, is that defense is grossly underappreciated. There aren't good statistical measures outside of APM and defense is very poorly perceived by the so-called experts in the media. (I will always chuckle when I recall Bob Ryan prediction that the first KG Celtics team would go 41-41.)

    Paraphrasing Beavis of Butthead fame, I just don't see how this turd can be polished.

  23. Johnny Twisto Says:

    "I believe "borderline" candidates shouldn't be borderline at all -- the answer is simply "no"."

    Then you're just moving your borderline. If you want a HOF with only 20 players, you'll be arguing about the guys ranked from 15 to 25.

  24. Neil Paine Says:

    Okay, then amend that to "borderline candidates by today's lessened standards shouldn't be in"...

  25. Neil Paine Says:

    Also, regarding the idea that moving the borderline only changes the caliber of players we argue about, I believe there is a certain level at which there is no room for argument -- a certain caliber of player whose Hall of Fame worthiness cannot rationally be disputed. These are the Jordans, the Russells, the Jabbars, the Birds and Magics, etc. Perhaps finding them was the entire premise here, since I wanted "no-doubters".

  26. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I know what you're saying, but I think part of what makes those guys look like no-doubters is because they are so far above the current "borderline." But if you actually start trying to identify which are the no-doubters, suddenly some doubts are going to arise. Like with the Karl Malone example -- he doesn't have the ring, so is he in that group or not?

    Anyway, it's sort of semantics. This is an interesting exercise regardless.

  27. Mike Says:

    The championship requirement is absurd.

    Gary Payton won a title with the Heat at age 37 (PER: 10.7). So he's in.
    Karl Malone, arguably the greatest power forward ever - nope.

    Some consensus.

  28. Peter Says:

    To me the championship argument is easy to boil down:

    If LeBron never wins a title, is he in, or is he out?

  29. ernie banks Says:

    Neil, this is great- very thought-provoking article. I've always hated when HOFs elect "iffy" or borderline members. Baseball is notorius for this. What kind of elite club lets in a guy in that has a career .323 on-base %? And don't get me started on the Veterans Committee that lets guys (read: in their era- when baseball was so much better...) sneak in the back door to the HOF. Gimme a break- talk about losing all credibility.

    Regarding the basketball "inner-circle" of greatness- I am with the camp of against omitting a player who doesn't have a championship ring. I don't want to continue to beat that dead horse.

    I also would eliminate All-Star selections in your formula. Do you really want "Billy-the-fan-of-HIS-favorite-player/team" to impact your "inner-circle" elite HOF? When fans vote it skews everything. Just look at this year's NBA All-Star voting. There were a couple of guys (Iverson and TMac) who weren't even playing for a team and/or didn't even have a contract with an NBA team yet they were at one time second in voting for guards in their respective conferences! What a joke but that's for another column...

  30. gebwel Says:

    i think people need to calm down a little bit. just because payton or glenn robinson won a championship, doesn't necessarily mean they automatically belong to the inner circle group. they still have to pass other requirements too. i agree that this has to be a very exclusive group that leaves no doubt to 99% of the human population.
    however, i'd like to play a little bit of "what if" game here (like some readers did with walton). what if malone hadn't suffered a crushing injury during his stint with the lakers? what if he decided to play another season or two? it's not far fetched to say that he'd become the NBA's all time leading scorer. after all, he's only about 1,400 pts shy from kareem's mark. it's even possible that he could reach the 40K mark had he stay with the jazz and still be the #1 option on offense until the end of his career. but since malone never won a ring, he'd be excluded from this elite group anyway. can you imagine the most successful player in putting balls in the basket (which, in essence, is THE purpose of the game itself) not included in the group? it's the equivalent refusing to recognize wayne gretzky or pele as one of the elites in their respective sports.

  31. Joe Krupnick Says:

    While I agree that the championship standard is not realistic as a requirement, it should be a very important HOF criterion. Some folks mentioned earlier that guys like Karl Malone shouldn't be penalized for '97 and '98, and some others suggested changing the requirement to something like playoff wins or individual post-season performance. It should be rather obvious to anyone that both these ideas are completely idiotic. Karl Malone choked in both the '97 and the '98 Finals--in the former, by embarrassing himself, his team, and David Stern for presenting him with the MVP over Jordan. I don't think Stockton should be similarly penalized for those seasons, but Karl Malone is just one player among many who have proven themselves as losers during the times when it all matters. Others afflicted with the "Karl Malone syndrome", with varying levels of intensity, include guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, David Robinson, Kevin Johnson, Clyde Drexler, and Patrick Ewing. In certain cases like Chamberlain's and Baylor's, the affliction wasn't egregious enough to knock them out of the HOF inner circle, but I'd argue that it's much more questionable when it comes to Malone and Robinson. Here we have potentially top-15 guys whose uncanny knack for self-destructing during winning time probably pushes them out of the top 20. If Malone hadn't choked against Jordan and co., he'd probably be in the top 10.

    The NBA Finals is the round when superstars elevate their games. Some guys have it in them, some don't, and in sports--as in life--in the end, it makes all the difference.

  32. Jeff James Says:

    Jeremy said "Walton's is fairly clear-cut, his feet were ravaged with injuries and he was never completely healthy. However, that doesn't change the fact that he was the best player alive in 1977 and 1978, led his team to a championship, then started the next season 50-10 before he got hurt. I'm not going to get into the "what if he had never gotten hurt" argument, because I feel that his body was predisposed to breaking down in the first place, but instead I'll propose this question: Would you rather have Bill Walton for 3 years or Bob Lanier for 10 years? For me, it's no question. I'd rather have a healthy Bill Walton for 3 years. Why? Because I'm pretty much guaranteed to win a title in those 3 healthy Walton years."

    The year Walton won the *MVP* his team didn't even win the title

  33. Hank Says:

    Others have already said, but I feel like I have to join them anyway: if the "inner circle" is for guys who are "no doubters", the championship qualification is ridiculous. No one doubts for one second that Karl Malone was one of the best players who ever lived. Any hall or "inner circle" that arbitrarily leaves out some of the "no doubters" is just as laughable as a hall that includes borderline players.

    I don't have an issue with using advanced stats, but using PER and Win Shares together is redundant. It might be better to just have one offensive stat (Win Shares or PER) and one defensive stat (adjusted +/-).

  34. Hank Says:

    I guess somewhere along the line the criterion was changed from at least one championship to being the best player on a team that reached the finals.... That makes more sense, and allows Malone and Barkley to be included. Looks like it only really excludes Steve Nash and maybe John Stockton as elite players who don't qualify for the inner circle.

    Stockton is arguably better at point guard than the Mailman was a power forward (not enough rebounds), and it's hard to exclude a two-time MVP, but Nash might raise some doubts due to his less than impressive defense.

  35. kit Says:

    The Baseball HOF isn't that bad if you throw out all the Veterans Committee choices which are seriously inferior to the BWAA voting choices.

    The Basketball HOF is another story with odd era differentials and the exclusion of Artis Gilmore -- then there are the Euro, Womens, etc. -- a strange mix indeed. I understand your thinking here but do think it's a much more interesting exercise if you pick top 10 from each era or expand HOF choices with expansion of the league. For what you did, no real disagreement -- Cousy's exclusion will shock some but since I agree with it, no argument here.