As expected, when the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the finalists for enshrinement in the Hall's Class of 2016 during media day at All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson headlined the list of luminaries
They were joined at the announcement by Yao Ming, who was not officially anounced as a finalist on Friday, but who had previously been nominated for enshrinement through the Hall's International Committtee, and will join them in consideration for a spot in this summer's class.
The three stars became eligible for induction this season thanks to a pair of calls made last year by the Hall's decision-makers. First, they determined that Iverson's 10-game post-NBA stint playing in Turkey didn't count as a full season of professional play, meaning that A.I. — who didn't officially announce his retirement until October 2013, but who played his final NBA game in February 2010 — met the criteria of being "fully retired for five years before being eligible for Enshrinement." Then, they changed that guideline altogether, reducing the waiting period from five years to four years and opening the door to nomination for O'Neal and Yao, both of whom played their last NBA game during the 2010-11 season.
Some have charged that the Hall made those decisions in order to avoid fielding a 2016 class lacking in star power, especially coming on the heels of a 2015 ceremony that saw many worthy Hall of Famers enshrined — Dikembe Mutombo, Spencer Haywood, Jo Jo White, John Calipari, Lisa Leslie, Tommy Heinsohn and Louie Dampier, among others — but that didn't generate widespread crossover interest … or, at least, not quite the level of interest that stars like Shaq, A.I. and Yao would generate. Hall of Fame President John Doleva, however, has said the decisions weren't driven by marketing.
Whatever the motivation, we're here now, which means we're all but assured a Shaq speech at the Hall this summer … and, judging by the way he held court on Friday, that figures to be quite an event:
Iverson made seven All-NBA teams and 11 All-Star teams, won four scoring titles and one MVP award, ranks in the top 25 in NBA history in per-game scoring and total points, and made an indelible mark on the culture of the game, but as SB Nation's Tom Ziller noted in September, the "secretive voting body in charge of the Hall" might not be so thrilled about ushering A.I. into Springfield.
That's "Springfield," Allen.