Getting into the Hall of Fame is very hard for a certain kind of very good NBA player. Players who crack 21,000 points or finish with a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.0 or higher are generally locks, provided they’ve made the requisite number of All-Star teams and haven’t irreparably sullied their reputations. A couple of future candidates, especially Vince Carter, are going to challenge the primacy of those milestones in front of a voting committee that seems to value pioneering accomplishments, college success and membership on multiple championship teams as much as it does individual NBA numbers.
The induction this year of Ralph Sampson hammers that home. Sampson played only nine NBA seasons. He barely cracked 7,000 career regular-season points and recorded precisely three seasons — his first three — in which he played 50 games and averaged at least 15 points per game. He did make four All-Star teams and hit an iconic shot to beat the Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference finals, and a series of unfortunate injuries limited him during his career and forced its premature end. Still, there is no standard under which an NBA-only Hall of Fame would admit Sampson. He’s in mostly because of his legendary college career at Virginia, where his play convinced NBA higher-ups he would revolutionize the game and had Celtics honcho Red Auerbach traveling to Charlottesville after Sampson’s freshman year to try to persuade the big fella to enter the 1980 draft — in which Boston had the top pick. (Auerbach failed, and the Celtics ended up using that pick to swing a franchise-altering megadeal that netted Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.)