By Robert Kunz
With 12 living members, the Class of 2018 for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was the largest honored class I can remember in any of the major sports in quite a number of years. Honored were players Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Maurice Cheeks, Charlie Scott, Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, and international star Dino Radja. Charles “Lefty” Driesell was enshrined as a coach, while Rod Thorn and Rick Welts were enshrined as contributors. Ora Mae Washington was posthumously honored as a player in the pioneer category.
The Class of 2018 was certainly one of the strongest groups when you look at all of their achievements to the game of basketball.
Allen set a new standard for 3-point shooting and retired with the most 3-pointers made in both the NBA regular season (2,973) and the NBA playoffs (385). Allen was also a 10-time NBA All-Star and a 2000 USA Olympic gold medal winner.
Kidd still ranks second behind John Stockton in NBA career assists (12,091) and steals (2,684). Kidd was also a co-Rookie of the Year with Grant Hill, a 10-time All-Star, and a two-time Olympic gold medal winner.
Nash was a two-time NBA MVP, becoming only the second point guard to win multiple MVP awards (Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the first). Nash is one of only a few great players to win back-to-back MVPs. Others include Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry. Nash was also an eight-time NBA All-Star.
Hill had an amazing start to his NBA career after winning two National Championships at Duke University under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. After his first six seasons, Hill’s total for points, rebounds and assists have been surpassed by only Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James. Hill was a seven-time All-Star, an NBA co-Rookie of the Year, and a 1996 USA Olympian.
Cheeks retired as the NBA career leader in steals and ranked fifth on the NBA career assists list. Cheeks helped the Philadelphia 76ers win the 1983 NBA Championship and was an integral part of the 76ers’ three NBA Finals in 1980, 1982, and 1983. He is currently an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and has served as a head coach for a number of teams.
Scott led the University of North Carolina, under Coach Dean Smith, to NCAA Final Four appearances in 1968 and 1969. After moving on to the ABA, he won the 1970-71 ABA Rookie of Year award, and the next season set the all-time ABA season scoring average record with 34.5 points per game. Scott was also a gold medal winner in the 1968 Olympics alongside future Hall of Fame teammates Spencer Haywood and Jo-Jo White.
Thompson was the first player ever selected in a WNBA draft, and later retired as the WNBA’s all-time leader in points with 7,488. That point total was recently surpassed by Diana Taurasi. Thompson won Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, and was a nine-time WNBA All-Star. Thompson, alongside fellow Hall of Famers Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper, captured four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets.
Smith was a seven-time WNBA All-Star, and a member of the WNBA’s Top 20@20 (as was Thompson), and a three-time gold medal winner (2002, 2004 and 2008). Smith was a prolific scorer throughout her career in women’s basketball. She was a Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school, broke scoring records at Ohio State University, and scored 7,885 points as a professional (6,452 in the WNBA and 1,433 in the ABL). Smith is the current head coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
“Lefty” Driesell was the first NCAA coach to win 100 games at four Division I schools. Driesell’s NCCA coaching record was 786–394, and he was known for propelling programs into the Top 25 rankings.
Radja won international championships in the EuroLeague, Greek League, Yugoslav League, and Croatian League. He was also named one of FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All Time in International Basketball. Radja eventually joined the Boston Celtics of the NBA.
Thorn and Welts made long-time contributions to the expansion of the NBA and to the growth of NBA All-Star Weekends, USA Basketball, the 1992 “Dream Team,” and the launching of the WNBA.
Jerry West, Billy Cunningham, Mike Krzyzewski, Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing, and Bill Russell were some of the 47 returning Hall of Famers to witness the enshrinement of the Class of 2018.
In addition, the induction ceremony was filled with a greater number of non-Hall of Famers in attendance. Attending were Kyrie Irvin, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Kerr, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Mark Cuban, Jerry Stackhouse, Rick Mahorn, Mike D’Antoni, Billy Donovan, Danny Ainge, and Tina Charles. I would have liked a Kyrie or Westbrook item signed, but as they were not announced I really did not come prepared.
I did calculate that Nowitzki might be in attendance, and came prepared for him. Nowitzki attended events on both Thursday and Friday, and I was lucky enough to get him to sign a mini-basketball and his 25,000 point game ticket. I would have also liked a signature on his 30,000 point game ticket but I was very lucky with getting the two.
Returning Hall of Fame members also included Alex English, Elgin Baylor, Nate Archibald, Dan Issel, Dominique Wilkins, Lenny Wilkens, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Miller, Dikembe Mutombo, Theresa Edwards, Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and many more.
Panini autograph session
As it has since 2014, Panini sponsored an autograph session at the Hall of Fame. This year’s autograph session took place on Sept. 6. When Panini first sponsored the event in 2014 the session included a mix of new class members and returning Hall of Famers. Since 2015, the session has been strictly limited to the new class members, and Panini had produced artist rendered signature sheets and a card set of the new class.
In 2015, the cost was $125 and that allowed each ticket purchaser to obtain two autographs of each of the new Hall of Famers. Each subsequent year the cost has increased $25 dollars, while this year the cost jumped to a price of $250. Despite the increase in price, since 2016, each ticket purchaser has been allowed to obtain only one autograph from each new Hall of Famer.
It was disappointing that Panini did not create an artist rendered signature sheet this year. It has been one of my favorite collectibles from Hall of Fame Weekend over the past few years. Panini nor the Hall of Fame gift shop had a Class of 2018 card set available. A Class of 2018 set is being made, and signed versions of the cards will be inserted in future Panini products.
The session ran smooth except that Kidd was ill and did not attend the signing. But the autograph ticket did allow each fan to get 11 autographs. But it turned out that getting Allen to sign outside of the autograph session was impossible. The signing was the only place anyone was able to secure an Allen signature. Also, Nash, Thompson, and Driesell were tougher signatures, so I was certainly happy I purchased one of the autograph session tickets. The last time the entire HOF class didn’t participate in the Panini signing was in 2016, when Allen Iverson did not arrive in Springfield on time. That year the Hall of Fame mailed out a signed photo of Iverson. The Hall of Fame did email each ticket holder and stated that they would work with Kidd on a signed memento that would be mailed at a later date.
Kidd did show up late in the evening on Thursday, but was still feeling under the weather. He looked pretty ill on Friday morning and he was not moving around too much, but he did recover and was a good signer later on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Nash selected to stay 30 minutes away from Springfield. Maybe he was expecting Hall of Fame weekend to be similar to a NBA All-Star weekend, but the crowds are relatively small around the Hall of Fame and certainly there would seemingly not be a need to get far away from the crowds. And players can now get away in a higher security setting at the new MGM Casino and Hotel in downtown Springfield.
Fans and collectors did not see too much of Nash. The only autograph I was able to get was again at the Panini autograph session. Nash did sign sparingly, I am aware of about 25 autographs he did sign, but I was never in the right place at the right time.
I have collected a number of specific basketball-themed items for years now. The Class of 2018 provided a large breadth of opportunities to add to those items. I have an NBA and ABA Rookie of the Year jersey, and this year’s class included ROYs Scott, Kidd, and Hill. I was able to add all three to my jersey. I would have liked to have added Bird, Baylor, and Ewing as other ROY winners in attendance, but as usual those names were out of reach. I first wondered if I should add ABA rookies of the year to this jersey, but over the recent years ABA winners Artis Gilmore, David Thompson, Mel Daniels, Spencer Haywood, and now Charlie Scott have been honored into the Hall of Fame.
I also have been working on a USA Olympic jersey, and again this year’s class featured USA medal winners in Thompson, Smith, Allen, Hill, Kidd, and Scott. I was happy to add all but Allen to a multi-signed jersey that is filling up nicely. I was also able to add Scott to a Final Four item, and add Thompson and Smith to a WNBA “Top20 @ 20” item.
One of my prized items I have worked on for nearly 10 years now is an NBA East League All-Star jersey. I am missing only a handful of basketball Hall of Famers who played on an East All-Star team. One goal I had for 2018 was to get Allen to sign this jersey. That endeavor started in March with a trip to Books and Greeting Bookstore in Northvale, New Jersey.
Allen was just starting his book tour to promote his book From the Outside. I pre-purchased a couple of books and made the two and a half hour drive to New Jersey. It is typically a gamble at a book signing, but I had hopes that Allen would at least sign some outside items. Well, he did not. No outside items. I showed him the jersey, and he appeared to like the item. I spoke to him about my being at the Hall of Fame inductions later this year, and asked him if he could take care of me in September. He seemed ok with such a suggestion. I decided to wait around the book signing for an hour after it concluded to see if he might sign upon leaving. A total of eight people waited outside the store for quite a long time with the same hopes as me. Allen was escorted out of the store to a waiting vehicle without stopping for anyone.
Fast forward to the Panini autograph session at the Hall of Fame. I wanted a full size basketball signed by the entire class so that is what I decided to have signed at the session. I also carried that East jersey. After signing my basketball, I showed Allen the jersey and mentioned the first time I met him in March. He did say he remembered the jersey, but he also said I should have given the jersey to him first. He would not bend regarding the one a person signature at this event. I thought I had an IOU, but I guess I was wrong.
Later that evening I attended a smaller function, and twice he said he would not be doing any signing. He said he would be glad to take a picture, but that would be all. I had my last opportunity the next morning, when I timed it well and caught him about to leave for another commitment. I was the only one there, and I showed him the jersey, and the response Allen gave me was, “You’re killing me.” So after five tries, it wasn’t going to happen. I heard of Allen signing only one autograph outside of the Panini Autograph Session. I am at least glad I purchased a ticket for that event, and did get the Class of 2018 on a full size basketball. I was luckily able to add Kidd to that basketball on Saturday to complete my 2018 HOF Class ball.
Some of the other items I was able to get signed was a Sports Illustrated magazine of Krzyzewski that was already signed by Coach Pat Summit, a signature of Elgin Baylor in an NBA at 50 book, and a signature of Jerry West on a Sport Magazine.
Memorable weekend moments
Typically the induction ceremony lasts more than three hours with far fewer inductees, so with 12 living inductees, I was not sure what to expect regarding the length of this year’s ceremony. But it moved along.
The speeches were shorter and more concise. The highlights of the evening were Lefty Driesell’s and Maurice Cheeks’ speeches. The former was the most entertaining of the evening. Driesell went from funny line to funny line about basketball and aging, and kept making side comments about those North Carolina guys ran over in time so he as a Duke guy (where he played college ball) would run over as well were priceless. The latter was the most moving, as Cheeks broke down when giving thanks to his mom. Crediting her for “there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for us” and “being his first coach,” and then Cheeks being consoled by presenter, Julius Erving. Both are a recommended watch on YouTube or other outlet.
There were a number of members of the Class of 2018 that were just great signers. Grant Hill, Charlie Scott, Maurice Cheeks, and Katie Smith were all amazing. The four best of this class, and maybe the best four of any class. All four went out of their way to sign multiple times for fans and collectors. It would be really tough to single out any one of these as the best, they were all just great.
Some encounters at the Hall of Fame stick in your head, in the past I fondly recall Jack Ramsey talking at length sitting down on a staircase at the Hall about an up and coming high school player named LeBron James, or Wilt Chamberlain talking about how records are meant to be broken during the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 in reference to his record 100 point game. This year, Nancy Lieberman Cline, just honored as the BIG3 Coach of the Year, spent at least 20 minutes talking to a small group of four or five fans about lessons of basketball, refereeing, and what a blast she had during the past few months with the BIG3 league.
First there was disappointment that Jason Kidd would not be able to attend the Panini autograph session. An email from the Hall of Fame stated “Due to a medical emergency, Jason Kidd has been put on a restricted travel schedule by his physicians.” Thankfully some 24 hours later he was on his way to Springfield. Kidd showed great class, even though he was certainly not feeling well, to thank fans for asking for his autograph and congratulating him on his induction. Yes, even while sick and feeling horrible, Kidd made sure he was the one who gave thanks.
The last time I was in Springfield, renovations were underway at the Hall of Fame and the MGM Casino was well into construction for a 2018 opening. I toured the Hall of Fame and the renovations, especially the lobby and entrance areas, which were much improved. I was impressed with the new MGM Casino, but I really hate to see how it is going to change the whole complexion of Hall of Fame weekends in the future. Certainly I think the MGM is going to reduce fan and player interactions. Some returning Hall of Famers already were staying there this year, and sometime in the future collectors might look back fondly on the pre-MGM days.
A quick need for a snack turned into being seated at a table next to Bill Russell. Tables in the near vicinity were being used by Dan Issel, Louie Dampier, Spencer Haywood, Bernard King, Ann Meyers and Carol Blazejowski. I am still hoping that just one day in his life at the Hall of Fame events that Russell might sign one autograph. But it is still a thrill each time I see him in person.
A poignant moment of the weekend was remembering the Hall of Famers that were lost since last September. Those remembered were Connie Hawkins, Jo-Jo White, Hal Greer, Anne Donovan, Frank Ramsey, and C.M. Newton.
Rules change and Class of 2019, 2020
It was not that long ago that the Basketball Hall of Fame required players to have a five year retirement wait period before eligibility for enshrinement. The five month long process of nomination, selection, and voting would result in the actual enshrinement being nearly six years to the actual enshrinement ceremony. Just a few years ago that requirement was shortened to four years. That change resulted in Allen Iverson joining Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming in the class of 2016. Last December, new eligibility rules allow players and coaches to be now eligible after just three years of retirement. The Hall of Fame rule is “A player must be fully retired for three full seasons before being eligible for enshrinement. He/she may then be considered for enshrinement in the fourth year of retirement.”
The change last December pushed Allen, Kidd, and Nash all into the same year. I have read a number of media reports that Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Kobe Bryant would be eligible in 2019. However, three full seasons of retirement would mean that they can be considered for nomination in October of 2019, and be added to the ballot for voting in December of 2019. That super group would then be announced as finalists at the 2020 NBA All-Star weekend, and finally be selected at the 2020 NCAA Final Four. If planned as normal, the enshrinement ceremony would take place in September of 2020. Considerations for 2019 might be expected from a list including Chauncey Billups, Chris Webber, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Bo Ryan, Bob Huggins, Becky Hammons, Lauren Jackson and Leta Andrews.
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.