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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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....

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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. ;^)

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

  13. 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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