Now that the 10-member Class of 2011 has been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, let's take a look at the five most likely to get the call in 2012. Just missing the cut, in our opinion, are Ralph Sampson, Mark Jackson, Spencer Haywood, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Aguirre and Jamaal Wilkes.
Retired players have to wait five years before becoming eligible for the Hall, but Yao could enter next year after being nominated as a "contributor." It's possible to argue against Yao's worthiness as a player since he never won anything significant before injuries cut short his career. But his contributions to the sport are undeniable. The 7-foot-6 giant was a wonderful ambassador who helped popularize basketball in China, where 300 million people now play the game. Under enormous pressure from his country, he always carried himself with class and dignity. As NBA Commissioner David Stern said, Yao was "a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game."
It's hard enough to take one college program to the Final Four. Pitino is the only coach to do it at three schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville). With nearly 600 wins and a winning percentage of 73.0, he's among the most successful coaches in college history. A failed stint as Boston Celtics coach and recent bad publicity over an affair/extortion attempt probably don't sit well with the selection committee, which may make Pitino wait a while longer before induction.
You'd think the winningest coach in NBA history would be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Think again. Nelson's failure to win a championship in 31 seasons, his seeming indifference to defense and his ugly departure from Golden State hurt his chances. But in time, voters are likely to appreciate his innovative approach to the game, including the "point forward" and small-ball concepts, and his longevity in a league with no patience for losing coaches. And if that's not good enough, his five titles as a player for the Celtics ought to help his cause.
Man, could Bernard King (right) score. He wasn't particularly big or athletic, especially after a torn ACL took away his explosiveness. But with long arms and a high, quick release, he had no trouble getting off his shot against anybody. He led the NBA at 32.9 ppg in 1985 and averaged 22.5 points for his career. Now that small forwards with similar credentials, such as Adrian Dantley and Chris Mullin, are in the Hall, it's probably just a matter of time until King joins them.
It was a surprise when Miller didn't even make the list of finalists for the 2011 class in his first year of eligibility. But maybe basketball voters are like baseball's — unless someone's a true legend, it's tough to get in on the first ballot. There's a good chance he'll make it next year, partly because it's a weak crop of candidates but also because he's deserving. One of the greatest shooters in NBA history, Miller made 2,560 3-pointers and scored more than 25,000 points. And though he never won a title, he was a clutch playoff performer. Just ask the Knicks.