Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, and the Naismith Hall of Fame
One of my biggest issues gets resolved. Is it enough?
Honestly, I wanted to have a cohesive pointed story for you today. I got most of the way through one, and then two big bombshells hit:
Ben Wallace is getting inducted into the 2021 Naismith Hall of Fame class.
Chris Webber is getting inducted into the 2021 Naismith Hall of Fame class.
And so today, I’m going to go over my thoughts on both players and why they both should have been first-ballot players.
Ben Wallace, for the truly nerdy, presents a fun algebra problem. When Ben Wallace was first eligible for the Hall of Fame, he didn’t get in. Tracy McGrady was also eligible first-ballot the same year and got in.
Tracy McGrady’s mainstream accolades:
2001 Most Improved Player Award
7 All-Star Games
7 All-NBA Teams
2 Scoring Titles (lead the NBA in PPG in 2003 and 2004)
Ben Wallace’s mainstream accolades:
4 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (02, 03, 05, 06)
4 All-Star Games
5 All-NBA Teams
6 All-Defense Teams
2 Rebounding Titles (lead the NBA in RPG in 2002 and 2003)
1 Blocks Title (lead the NBA in BPG in 2002)
We get into a fun place too, where Rings and Playoffs don’t even play a factor as Ben Wallace’s postseason career absolutely crushed Tracy McGrady’s (at least in terms of wins and losses. T-Mac’s playoffs are a fun subject for another day)
So basically, do:
1 Most Improved Player
3 All-Star Games
2 All-NBA teams
2 Scoring Titles
Matter significantly more than:
4 Defensive Player of the Year Awards
6 All-Defense Teams
2 Rebounds Titles
1 Blocks Title
To be mean to Tracy McGrady, I have to say no. For someone that has heard defense used as an attack against the odds on MVP this season in Nikola Jokic? It rings hollow. My easy response is both players deserved first ballot, and the difference certainly wasn’t worth four years to Ben Wallace!
From an “Advanced Analytics” perspective, Ben Wallace produced almost twice as many Wins as Tracy McGrady. If the Wages of Wins group had a vote, obviously Ben Wallace would have been first ballot. The perplexing part is, from a mainstream perceptive, Ben Wallace had the resume to justify going in immediately. In other sports with obvious splits between offensive and defensive positions, Wallace would have been a lock as well. Some players are snubbed or overlooked in NBA history, and I’m annoyed that Ben Wallace was one of them for four long years. Sadly, I don’t think this slight will ever be made up. “Luckily,” he’s not the biggest snub to a defensive great. Sid Moncrief, the first Defensive Player of the Year winner, as well as the winner the following season, had to wait over 20 years to be inducted into the Hall of Fame (two years ago), so at least there’s been some progress?
Chris Webber is going to be a more interesting one. I don’t think I can classify him as a Hall of Fame player from his performance as an NBA star. There’s a straightforward explanation to that — injuries suck!
Chris Webber won rookie of the year narrowly over Penny Hardaway. I’d have sided with Penny Hardaway but would agree it was a close call. Both Webber and Penny looked like stars out of the gate. Both would deal with injuries, though. Webber’s starting much sooner. He missed 28 games his second season and 67 his third. His production ebbed and flowed. He has two “star” quality seasons, his rookie season and 1997. He wound up with just around 70 Wins Produced in his career, which would probably be below what I’d want for the Hall. He did put up decent accolades for a Hall of Fame resume:
1994 Rookie of the Year (and All-Rookie)
5 All-Star Games
5 All-NBA Games
Not a slam dunk, but certainly a solid career.
The obvious reason for Chris Webber to be first ballot in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is just that; it’s about basketball! Years ago, I noted that Ralph Sampson wasn’t really Hall of Fame-worthy, based on his NBA career. Chris Yeh noted that Sampson was a stellar college player, though, and it’s much easier to push Sampson over the edge factoring in four years of college. Chris Webber is 100% the same.
As part of the Michigan Fab 5, Webber made back-to-back NCAA March Madness Title games. Both his performance on the court and his impact on the game of basketball off the court vault Webber into a fame-worthy discussion. I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 on the Fab 5, which goes into much more depth. Basically, Webber just had to have a good enough NBA career — which he did — to get into the Hall on his college accolades easily.
Sadly, that is obviously what kept him from the hall. In 2002 Chris Webber was involved in a scandal where he admitted he was paid to play basketball at Michigan! The horror! I hope my obvious incredulity shines through. The next impact was Michigan being stripped of all of its records and titles from Webber’s time there and a ten-year ban from Webber to the school. The good news is the world is finally starting to move beyond the absurd notion of amateurism in the NCAA. James Wiseman, the number two pick in last year’s draft, recently sat out the NCAA season after being fined and suspended for, oddly, connections to Penny Hardaway! LaMelo Ball was drafted third and played ball overseas. However, the problem for Chris Webber is his Hall of Fame status basically sits with his college career, and both his school and the NCAA wanted major distance for him. It’s sad and depressing and makes sense. It is still unforgivable that he was not first ballot!
I’ve said for years that the Naismith Hall of Fame was a sham without Ben Wallace, one of the greatest defensive players ever, and Chris Webber, one of the most impactful college players ever. Both are now in, but it took so long, it’s still hard to take the Naismith Hall of Fame seriously. There are many ABA players that took far too long to get in (and some that still aren’t in.) In fact, a fun follow-up article is definitely players that belong in the Naismith Hall of Fame but aren’t ranked by years eligible. I’m happy for Chris and Ben. And both clearly earned it. It’s just a pity the people that vote on such things too far far to long to acknowledge it.