FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Class of 2011 has been inducted, an eclectic group, one that shows that making it to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is about more than statistics.
There are unique qualifications, although no one is quite sure what they are amid the secretive balloting process.
The timing of this past week's inductions in the wake of Yao Ming's recent retirement has raised question about the center's credentials to enter the Hall as a player, in addition to the "contributor" designation that seems impending. It is a worthwhile debate, considering Yao's NBA career ultimately spanned only eight seasons and 486 regular-season games.
And yet, if such a sample size is enough to at least be entertained for enshrinement in the player wing, then it opens a concurrent debate, namely the potential candidacy of former Heat center Alonzo Mourning, who has been considered a borderline candidate since his forced retirement midway through 2007-08 due to a knee injury.
In his 15-season NBA career that included 838 regular-season games, Mourning averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots, compared to Yao's averages of 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots.
The argument in favor of Yao are the five seasons he spent in the Chinese Basketball Association averaging 23.5 points and 15.4 rebounds. But the Mourning counter would be the four seasons he spent at Georgetown, when he twice led the NCAA in blocked shots.
The Yao supporters point to the way he changed the basketball landscape with his groundbreaking move to the NBA. But to take the measurements off the court for induction as a player would mean factoring the focus Mourning delivered by his return from a kidney transplant.
In terms of playoff success, Yao advanced out of the first round just once. Mourning, by contrast, was at the heart of the Heat-Knicks playoff rivalries in the late '90s and then played a significant role in the Heat's 2006 championship.
Of course, enshrinement of the two centers hardly is mutually exclusive.
Instead, the greater issue is whether either has the necessary credentials.
While Yao's 486 regular-season games would put him on the low end of being considered on his NBA merits, consider that, among Hall of Fame centers, Bill Walton was selected having played just 486 regular-season games, Neil Johnston 516, Willis Reed 650 and Dave Cowens 766. If nothing else, that eliminates the debate about Mourning's longevity.
"There is not a specific set of qualifications," John Doleva, president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said this past week. "There is not a certain number of games, a certain number of points, a certain ranking statistically. It really is both a quantitative and a qualitative discussion that we have."
In terms of accolades, Mourning had the edge, not only as MVP runner-up in 1999 and a third-place finish in the 2000 vote, but with a pair of Defensive Player of the Year honors and a first-team All-NBA selection in 1999. Yao? All-NBA second team in 2007 and 2009 was as good as it got on the award front.
As far as NBA numbers, rounding out Yao's blocks to two per game, consider that of the eight other players out of the game who averaged at least 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and two blocks, six (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Nate Thurmond and just-selected Artis Gilmore) are in the Hall and that David Robinson will join them upon his eligibility. The lone outsider is Larry Nance.
The metrics utilized by the website BaskeballReference.com have Mourning coming up slightly short of Hall selection, with Yao not included in the rankings because of his lack of sufficient NBA appearances.
It, ultimately, is a debate that shouldn't be a debate at all. Yes, their NBA time was brief, but their contributions transcend hardwood and leather.
IN THE LANE
TEST OF CHARACTER: Unlike in other sports, when it comes to voting for the Basketball Hall of Fame, part of the process transcends the game, with the caveat that, "Should it be determined by the Board of Trustees that an individual has damaged the integrity of the game of basketball, he or she shall be deemed not worthy of Enshrinement and removed from consideration." The question then becomes the flip side, the positives, say, of the off-court work of Alonzo Mourning when it comes to transplantation awareness and his chartable efforts. That, apparently, too, could enter the equation. "I would say when it's a positive impact such as Alonzo had, I would say it would be measured favorably upon his consideration as a player," John Doleva, president and CEO of the Hall said this past week.
DECIDEDLY DELUSIONAL: Few NBA players had as high a regard of their skills as former Heat guard Marcus Banks, who never quite got how his one-year South Florida tenure included only 28 appearances. The career indignities reached the point where he was asked not to report after he was acquired this past season from the Toronto Raptors by the New Orleans Hornets. The most shocking element of all might be that Banks, having already been passed through seven teams, is still only 29. Oh, and he still sees a bright future. "The sky is the limit," he recently told SI.com amid his summer-ball play in Los Angeles. "I've still at least got a good nine to 10 (seasons) in me, including the last four overseas. I just love basketball. It doesn't matter where I play, I just want to enjoy it and enjoy my family while I'm doing it."
AKRON, ALWAYS: This past week's charity bike ride in Akron, Ohio, certainly again debunked the "Akron Hates You" chants during LeBron James' visits to Cleveland last season. When it comes to the forward's 2010 free-agent defection from the Cavaliers to the Heat, it remains a non-issue with Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. "When he says hometown, he automatically says Akron. And he always does. Every time I've heard him on national TV, he says, 'My hometown Akron, Ohio,' " Plusquellic said after James' charity ride aimed to put the focus on education in his hometown. "I believe LeBron is a better person than he is a basketball player and I believe he's the best basketball player that ever lived. That puts it in perspective. He cares. He gives back."
SOUTHEAST STYLINGS: While the Atlanta Hawks hardly stand as an immediate threat to the Heat in the Southeast Division, news of an ownership change in Atlanta can only bolster the Hawks' outlook. Under previous ownership, the type of expansive group that rarely has succeeded in the NBA, the Hawks operated as a directionless franchise, first unsure about whether to trade for Joe Johnson and then, somehow, awarding him with the largest contract in 2010 free agency (yes, even more than James or Dwyane Wade). While the ownership transfer might not bode well for General Manager Rick Sund or coach Larry Drew, the Hawks are a franchise in need of a dramatic makeover, one that might do well to also get past delusions of greatness with Josh Smith. Building around Al Horford and getting the former University of Florida standout back to his natural spot at power forward would be a good place to start.
STILL SELLING: Not only has the NBA released a schedule for a season that may never be played, but teams are now starting to offer ticket plans for games that may never happen even with a lockout settlement. The Memphis Grizzlies are marketing the Heat's Dec. 30 visit as part of a 10-game "Grit Pack," with tickets starting at $12. The last time the NBA had a lockout, in 1998-99, the season did not start until February. The Grizzlies, in fact, are offering an extra game with the packages for payments made by Sept. 1.
2. Heat preseason games already announced by promoters (Oct. 15 in Kansas City against the Houston Rockets and Oct. 19 in Raleigh, N.C., against the Charlotte Bobcats). The remainder of the exhibition schedule is expected to be announced in coming days.