Editor’s Note: This story was published in early April 2020 following the announcement of the class to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Saturday, May 15.
Where does the 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class rank among the best of all time?
Ever since Tim Duncan announced his retirement in the summer of 2016, joining Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett to wrap up their careers after the 2015-16 season, NBA fans have been anticipating the possibility of celebrating three NBA MVP players. league entering the Hall of Fame together in Springfield, Massachusetts.
That possibility came true with the announcement of the 2020 class on Saturday, though it did take a grim note as it came only a few months after Bryant’s death. Still, the 2020 Hall of Fame ceremony will be a celebration of Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January, and what he, Duncan and Garnett accomplished as NBA contemporaries.
So how does Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett’s class compare to other Hall of Fame classes? Let’s take a look using my added pro metric from championships.
First, a note on the methodology. My class rankings are strictly focused on NBA players due to the difficulty of putting other hotheads on the same scale. Also, even though the Naismith Hall of Fame takes into account the entirety of a player’s career, we are only considering contributions from the NBA (and ABA) here.
With that said, let’s start with the GOAT Hall of Fame class, featuring perhaps the best player in league history.
1. 2009 (7.3 championships added)
Michael Jordan (4.2), David Robinson (1.7), John Stockton (1.4)
Jordan’s famous speech at his salute to the Hall – yes, the one that gave us the “Crying Jordan” meme – cast such a large shadow that it is easy to forget that two other members of the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team” entered in the Hall of Fame with him. Add Robinson’s two championships and an MVP to Jordan’s six and five, respectively, and it’s easy to see why this Hall class leads the rankings.
Although he didn’t reach the same personal or team heights as Jordan and Robinson, Stockton, the league’s professional leader in assists and steals, was an outstanding player.
Yet compared to 2020, it is Jordan who pushes the 2009 class above. His 4.2 championships added, the most in league history at the time, is 1.5 more than those recorded by any of this year’s Hall of Famers.
2. 2020 (6.6 championships added)
Tim Duncan (2.7), Kobe Bryant (2.2), Kevin Garnett (1.7)
There’s no question that this year’s class is as deep in terms of superstars as any on record. It is only the fifth time that multiple MVPs have entered the Hall together. This will be the first class with three, including two of the top 10 players in NBA history by added championships in Duncan and Bryant, and a third player in the top 20, Garnett. Only twice before had there been the same class with a pair of the top 20 players. It is unlikely that we will see a Hall of Fame class as uniform as 2020 anytime soon.
3. 1980 (4.5 championships added)
Jerry West (2.2), Oscar Robertson (1.8), Jerry Lucas (0.5)
Few players have been as inseparable as Robertson and West, who entered the NBA as the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 1960 draft, respectively, and retired together after the 1973-74 season as second and third in the NBA. list of career top scorers (West’s last game was against Robertson’s Milwaukee Bucks, who eventually lost in the Finals.) In between, they were together on the NBA’s first team as a point guard and guard every season since 1961 -62 to 1966-67. West and Robertson are among the top 20 players by championship added, getting a slight boost from Lucas, a seven-time All-Star and member of the 1973 New York Knicks champion team.
4. 2016 (4.4 championships added)
Shaquille O’Neal (2.6), Allen Iverson (0.9), Zelmo Beaty (0.6), Yao Ming (0.4)
About 15 years after they battled in the 2001 NBA Finals, O’Neal and Iverson entered the Hall of Fame together. They won back-to-back MVPs, though O’Neal’s career is ranked much better by added championships because of his longevity (he entered the league four years before Iverson) and his win share totals during his prime on court. The class of 2016 also featured Beaty, a two-time NBA All-Star who made three more All-Star appearances and won a championship after jumping to the ABA Utah Stars; Yao, whose groundbreaking career was cut short by injury; and three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes.
5. 1995 (4.3 championships added)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.7), Vern Mikkelsen (0.5)
Abdul-Jabbar, who was second in aggregate championships at the time of his exaltation. she topped this class, along with pre-WNBA stars Cheryl Miller (still considered perhaps the greatest player ever) and Anne Donovan. Mikkelsen was a support player alongside George Mikan on all four Minneapolis Lakers championship teams from Mikkelsen’s arrival in 1949-50 through 1953-54, making up six All-Star teams.
6. 1979 (4.0 championships added)
Wilt Chamberlain (4.0)
If the class of 1995 was primarily about Kareem, the class of 1979 was exclusively about the Big Dipper, the only NBA player to enter that year (joined by four coaches, including Ray Meyer, Pete Newell, and pioneer John McLendon, as well as referee James Enright). Until Jordan surpassed him in the 1990s, Chamberlain led all players in added championships, and his solo total placed the class of 1979 in the top 10.
7. 2010 (3.9 championships added)
Karl Malone (2.3), Scottie Pippen (1.1), Dennis Johnson (0.4), Gus Johnson (0.2)
The year after their respective teammates Jordan and Stockton entered the Hall, Pippen and Malone were inducted in 2010 as a top 35 pair for added championships. The class of 2010 also featured posthumous exaltation from both Johnsons, a pair of unrelated champions (Gus in the ABA, Dennis with the NBA’s Sonics and Celtics) known primarily for their defense. They were joined by two-time WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper, the first player selected primarily on the strength of her WNBA career.
8. 2018 (3.8 championships added)
Jason Kidd (1.0), Steve Nash (1.0), Ray Allen (0.8), Grant Hill (0.5), Maurice Cheeks (0.5), Charlie Scott (0.1), Dino Radja (0.0)
The 2018 Hall class was artificially strong due to a rule change that reduced the waiting period after retirement from five seasons to four, placing Nash and Allen (who retired after the 2013-14 season) in the same class as Hill and Kidd (who retired after 2012-13). The result was an uncharacteristically deep group that featured three players in the top 60 by added championships, the second (Kidd) and third (Nash) in career assists and the overall leader in triples (Allen). The class also featured two of the top scorers in women’s professional basketball, Katie Smith (the combined ABL and WNBA leader) and Tina Thompson (who retired as the WNBA leading scorer before being overtaken by Diana Taurasi).
9. 1993 (3.8 championships added)
Julius Erving (2.0), Dan Issel (0.7), Walt Bellamy (0.5), Dick McGuire (0.2), Bill Walton (0.2), Calvin Murphy (0.2)
Still as large as any class of hotheaded players based primarily on NBA (and ABA) output, this group is likely underrated by the aggregate championships metric. Walton, in particular, suffers from this method, which doesn’t give him enough credit for his dominant play in the first 58 games of his injury-shortened MVP campaign. Throw in Erving’s NBA MVP (plus three more in the ABA) and this was one of the most decorated classes ever.
10. 2008 (3.1 championships added)
Hakeem Olajuwon (1.6), Patrick Ewing (0.8), Adrian Dantley (0.6)
Olajuwon and Ewing, who met in a seven-game NBA final in 1994, entered together. They were joined by Dantley, giving this class three of the top 70 players by added championships, a claim that only two others could make before 2020. The 2008 class also featured legendary coach Pat Riley.