At first this Basketball Hall of Fame class didn't seem so special. It didn't have the glamour of recent editions that featured the higher-profile members of the Dream Team. Yet once you watched the ceremonies you realized the 2011 group featured vanishing breeds -- extinct, in at least one case -- a collection that's becoming increasingly more difficult to find.
Hearing Chris Mullin's still-thick accent as he described his pride in staying in New York to play at St. Johns and hearing his shout-outs ("I realized I'm a long way from Flatbush Avenue ... but Brooklyn's definitely in the house tonight") made me realize that it will probably be a long time before the next person follows Mullin and Tom "Satch" Sanders from the playgrounds of New York into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
No, New Yorkers, Carmelo Anthony won't count. Sure he was born in New York, but he came of age in Baltimore. The "WB" tattoo on his shoulder is for West Baltimore, not West Brooklyn. The definitive proof: In the greatest "rep your hood" sneaker ad ever (complete with cameo by Jim Boeheim) Carmelo is walking the streets of ... yep, Baltimore.
Somehow it's become a bigger story when outsiders come to New York's playgrounds (such as Kevin Durant this summer) than when ballers come up from the city playgrounds. Ron Artest and Lamar Odom won an NBA championship together on the other side of the continent -- with Artest making sure everyone knew he was from Queensbridge -- but neither of them will make the Hall of Fame.
Stephon Marbury? If there's ever a Ustream Hall of Fame, he'll be a charter member. But he won't be going to Springfield.
Mark Jackson probably has the best shot of any current candidate. He is third all-time in assists, you know. The fact that he was an All-Star -- as in one appearance, singular -- holds him back.
So this is the last shot for The City for a while. At least Sanders and Mullin represent well.
Mullin, who once wore a cheap-Halloween-costume-bedsheet-style ghost outfit for a Sports Illustrated photo (see page 54 of this issue) also represents another vanishing breed: the white, American-born basketball star. Mullin was selected to the All-Star team five times in his career. Since 2003 there have been a total of five appearances by American-born white players in the All-Star Game: Kevin Love (2011), Chris Kaman (2010), David Lee (2010) and Brad Miller (2003 and 2004).
The sociological reasons behind that phenomenon are a whole other story, but the straight fact is there are no sure candidates coming up behind Mullin. Maybe one day there will be Love, whose case is actually helped more by the presence of Dennis Rodman and his rebounds in this class than Mullin. Or perhaps Christian Laettner, since this is the Basketball (not just NBA) Hall of Fame and Laettner's college career was as great as anyone's since the UCLA dynasty days.
One thing we won't see is another Hall of Fame player whose prime years were shrouded from the Western world in mystery, far away from the NBA. That makes Arvydas Sabonis the last of his kind. During the enshrinement ceremonies when they showed that footage of his early career from the days when the Iron Curtain was still raised and he played on the other side of it, it felt like I was getting a peek at declassified information, like the recently released Richard Nixon transcripts.
Between YouTube, NBATV and ESPN3.com there is no way someone as good as Sabonis would be a secret today. And with the old barriers removed he would be playing in the NBA by age 25 instead of having to wait until his 30s as Sabas did. Sabonis helped close the gap between East and West, just one of the reasons he deserves a spot in the Hall. For us, the bulk of his case comes from secondhand accounts. Stuff that had to be seen to fully appreciate.
Kind of like Dennis Rodman's outfits.