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Hall of Fame Finalists: Which NBA Player Will We Remember Most?

Recently, the NBA released a list of finalists for the Hall of Fame for the 2021 class. As is often the case, the list included a spattering of people from different roles at different levels of basketball. And there are a few non-players who seem likely to make it in. For instance, Rick Adelman — a better coach than many remember — seems destined for the Hall. Additionally, it’s hard to see them leaving out Bill Russell (who is being considered for induction specifically for his role as a coach). But when Hall Of Fame classes come around, it’s the players who get the most attention from fans, and this year’s finalists include a number of intriguing NBA alums. Specifically, the list consists of Chris Bosh, Chris Webber, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, Michael Cooper, Tim Hardaway, and Marques Johnson. But before we find out who from this list actually makes it into the Hall, it’s worthwhile to consider the question that the Hall Of Fame question is really all about in some respects: Who will we remember most? Years or decades from now, which of these players will still hold our attention? Part of the fun of following a league for years is that it’s impossible to say with any certainty what and who will last. But the following list represents a reasonable order for this class…. 1. Chris Webber Chris Webber’s game might not be quite as well known to younger fans as to, say, people 35 and up. But just about everyone who cares about basketball knows his name, and that’s already a good indication of staying power (given that he’s already been retired for 13 years). Beyond pure name recognition though, Webber has three advantages over the field. The first is that he was the most talented player of the bunch. You young fans who reflexively disagree, go look up highlights of Webber in his prime. He was about as gifted a power forward as the league has ever seen. Or as Sports Illustrated’s case for Webber put it, in an era of elite power forwards, not one had a skill set as complete as his. The second advantage for Webber is his association with the Fab Five — a groundbreaking University of Michigan recruiting class that has been the subject of books and documentaries, and which has an enormous place in basketball history. And the third advantage — at least over most of this field — is that Webber is now a regular commentator. He’s still appearing in front of and talking to fans, which certainly helps a retired player remain relevant.

2. Paul Pierce Paul Pierce is freshest in the minds of most NBA fans right now, because he was still playing at a high level just a few years ago. Pierce had a better NBA career than Webber, and also has the valuable distinction of being associated almost entirely with one legendary franchise (even if he wound up with the Brooklyn Nets for a bit). In a largely “down” era for the Boston Celtics, Pierce was the star. And when they finally rose back to prominence, he helped them win a championship. But Pierce, like Webber, also has a few side factors working in his favor for long-term recognition. One is that he’s fairly public about the sports and competitions he enjoys beyond basketball. He’s an avid tennis fan for instance, and recently ventured to Australia to play on camera with former champion Lleyton Hewitt. Pierce is also a known figure in the world of competitive poker, with Poker.org’s recent piece on athletes who play noting that he’s appeared on the show Poker After Dark and competed in WSOP events. These types of extracurricular appearances help Pierce to become a bit more of a celebrity beyond NBA circles. Additionally however, he has also become a regular TV analyst, not unlike Webber. This too will help to keep Pierce on people’s minds for some time to come.

3. Chris Bosh Chris Bosh is a very difficult player to project in terms of long-term impressions and impact. On the one hand, he was (not unlike Bosh) an incredible talent at his position. Bosh was one of a handful of players who more or less pioneered the “stretch big” concept as we know it today, but also had the game to be a traditional power forward. He dominated with seeming ease in his prime, and of course wound up being part of Miami’s “Big Three” — a distinction that will help him to remain more relevant in basketball history than he might otherwise be. The trouble with Bosh is that his retirement from the NBA was so strange and abrupt that it’s almost as if he just disappeared. It was necessary for Bosh to put his health first, so there’s no disputing the decision to walk away. But there’s still something about his career that feels incomplete.

4. Michael Cooper Michael Cooper turns 65 in April, which means he already belongs to NBA history in a way that most on this list don’t. He wrapped up a 12-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers after the 1989-90 season, retiring with five championships and the 1987 Defensive Player Of The Year award to his name. So while Cooper may not be as familiar to younger fans, make no mistake: He deserves mention among the greats. Cooper might still be lower on this list simply because his work in LA was somewhat overshadowed by NBA titans like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Pat Riley. But he’s actually about to be put back in front of NBA fans, in a sense. There is a forthcoming HBO series about the Showtime Lakers, with Cooper set to be among the main characters (played by Delante Desouza). It should legitimately boost his legacy.

Following those four, it's anybody's guess. Tim Hardaway, Ben Wallace, and Marques Johnson round out the list of NBA players up for induction, and there are pros and cons to all of their cases. But the four players above look to be the most likely to be remembered best and longest. It’s an impressive bunch all in all, and it will be interesting to see which players ultimately make the Hall.