This past week saw the release of the candidate list for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020, and there were plenty of notable names on it.
Kobe Bryant, as one of the top scorers in league history and a five-time NBA champion, will have zero trouble getting in. Same goes for fellow five-time champ Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett only got told the Larry O’Brien Trophy aloft once, but as a 15-time NBA All-Star, he’s also a first-ballot lock.
There were a few names of local note as well, with former Utah Jazz center and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Mark Eaton among the first-time nominees, while ex-Utah Stars/Utah Jazz guard Ron Boone (now, of course, the team’s color analyst on its radio broadcasts) got a nod from the veterans committee.
One name not garnering much attention, given all the hoopla surrounding the star-studded group of names among the first-time nominees (Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion, Tamika Catchings and Swin Cash are among the others), however, is Chris Webber.
You remember C-Webb, right?
Famed member of the Fab Five? No. 1 overall pick? Rookie of the Year? Five-time All-Star? Five-time All-NBA honoree? Focal point of the incredibly fun and slightly less successful Kings team in the early years of this century?
Yeah, that Chris Webber.
His first year of eligibility, he wasn’t even a nominee. He’s now in his sixth year of eligibility, and doesn’t appear to be any closer to breaking through to ultimate inclusion in Springfield?
Which is pretty ridiculous if you ever saw the man play. It’s pretty simple — Chris Webber belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So, you might ask, why isn’t he?
Some people point to his lack of durability and the related dearth of longevity. Injuries certainly kept him from accumulating the kind of stat totals that Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett racked up, but it’s not like the man wasn’t plenty productive for a number of years.
No, that’s a smokescreen, and not even a convincing one. In fact, let’s call it a distraction, or an excuse.
Really, what this comes down to Webber’s involvement in the Ed Martin scandal.
Remember that? Webber wound up pleading guilty to a criminal contempt charge for lying about getting paid by Martin — a prominent booster — dating all the way back to the eighth grade.
As a result of his admission, his high school — Detroit County Day — had to retroactively forfeit all the games Webber played in, including three state championships. The University of Michigan also had to forfeit its victory in the 1992 national runner-up status, as well as the entire 1992-93 season. Kinda crazy that there were only three teams in the Final Four those years, and only one team in the national championship game, right?
Beyond the silliness of such punishments, Webber was completely stricken from Michigan’s record books. He never technically played there on account of getting paid as an amateur.
Was it against the rules? Yeah, no denying that. Is what he did on the level of players who’ve shaved points or thrown games? Not even close. Is it the same as Pete Rose betting on games he had a hand in influencing the outcomes of? Still a resounding nope.
Chris Webber got paid. No one’s ever questioned his basketball integrity as a result of it, though. The man won too damn much for that.
The lingering animosity over the scandal, and this bizarre fixation upon the supposed sanctity of amateur athletics is keeping Webber out of the Hall, and there’s no good reason for it. He was one of the elite players of his generation, one of the guys who helped to define a certain era of the sport.
Chris Webber is one of the all-time great basketball players. He belongs in the Hall. Whether he ever gets in, who knows? If he doesn’t, it’s not like we’ll forget how tremendous he was — after all, it’s not as though Michigan not appearing in the record books doesn’t mean the Wolverines didn’t actually play in two championship games.
Still, the official recognition is warranted and, at this point, overdue. We all remember how tremendous he was. It’s time to stop making excuses to ignore that and pretend it didn’t happen.