The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. opened its doors today to 12 individuals, led off by long-time NBA player and head coach Don Nelson, former Houston Rockets center Ralph Sampson and Indiana Pacers long-range bomber Reggie Miller. Nelson was inducted to the Hall for his achievement as a coach for several NBA teams, primarily the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors. Sampson and Miller were among six who were inducted as players, the others being ‘70s standouts Mel Daniels, Chet Walker and Jamaal Wilkes and three-time Team USA women’s basketball player Katrina McClain.
Nelson, 72, was first known in the NBA as a key member of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960s, where he was often the first forward off the bench. He began his coaching career with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976, right after he retired as a player. As a coach, he stood out for his preference for up-tempo play and his innovative basketball mind; as the Bucks’ coach in the 1980s, he pioneered the use of a “point forward” – having a forward with good passing skills act as the floor leader. The three-time NBA Coach of the Year winner arguably enjoyed the most success in his two stints with the Golden State Warriors, the first from 1988-95 and the second from 2006-10. In 2006-07, “Nellie” led the Warriors, then the eighth seed, to an unbelievable first-round playoff upset of the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Nelson also coached the gold medal-winning “Dream Team II” which won a gold medal at the 1994 FIBA World Championship.
The 52-year-old Sampson, a 7’4” center with the athleticism and ball-handling skills of a much smaller man, was the first overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. The Virginia native immediately made an impact, and in his sophomore pro year, he teamed up with yet another top draft pick, fellow Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, to form the Rockets’ “Twin Towers” combo. At this point, Sampson was now playing the power forward position and introducing a style of play that highlighted his unusual athleticism and shooting range for a man over seven feet tall. Unfortunately, injuries stalled his career just as he was at his peak; prior to 1988, he had never averaged less than 15.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Sampson was mostly used as a backup center in his last four NBA seasons, a mere shadow of his once-productive self. His son, Ralph Sampson III, played college basketball at Minnesota and recently played for the Charlotte Bobcats’ summer league team.
Miller, who played 18 seasons for the Indiana Pacers from 1987 to 2005, joined his older sister and fellow UCLA legend Cheryl in the Hall of Fame today. A 6’7” shooting guard, Miller was one of the best clutch players in the NBA, and also one of the most notorious “trash talkers”; still, he acknowledged in his Hall of Fame speech that it was always more important to “let (his) game do the talking.” Despite his standout play in big-game situations, he had only taken part in one NBA Finals series, where the Pacers lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. Miller, 47, averaged 18.2 points in his NBA career, and retired as the all-time leader in three-point shots made, with 2,560. Ray Allen, who will be joining the Miami Heat this season, broke Miller’s record in 2011.