Sean Pendergast

With No Rudy Tomjanovich, Basketball's Hall of Fame Is a Joke

Rudy Tomjanovich's exclusion from the Hall of Fame is exasperating.
Rudy Tomjanovich's exclusion from the Hall of Fame is exasperating. Screen grab from YouTube
I'm a big fan of Halls of Fame, whether in sport or any other genre. They represent measuring sticks for greatness, and in the content generation business, they provide debate and discussion for days. In sports, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is hallowed ground. The Baseball Hall of Fame is hallowed ground (despite the induction of Harold Baines this coming summer). The Basketball Hall of Fame, though, has always been a bit of a wonky mess.

Part of the clunkiness stems from the fact that basketball's hall is all encompassing — men's hoops, women's hoops, college, pro, international. It makes for messy comparisons, and as such, the committee seems to have leaned toward more of a "let more rather than fewer in approach." Whatever.

This leniency in inclusion, though, is precisely what makes the repeated EXCLUSION of Rudy Tomjanovich such a conundrum. Actually, it's too exasperating and inexplicable to call it a conundrum. It's a travesty and a joke, and never has it been more evident that the hall itself may just be one gigantic troll to longtime Rocket fans than the unveiling of this year's Hall of Fame class, one for which Rudy Tomjanovich was not even a finalist:

Ok, let's exclude the finalists for whom, in a debate of their credentials against Rudy T's, you'd be comparing apples and bowling balls. So you're safe, Chuck Cooper (one fo the first African American NBA players), Teresa Weathersoon (a female player), Carl Braun (two-sport star in the '40s and '50s, champion head coach), and the two teams (Wayland Baptist and Tennessee A&I) being inducted. Hell, even you're safe Slade Divac, since some international committee voted you in (although, your going in is a tad absurd).

That leaves us with Al Attles, Bill Fitch, Bobby Jones, Sidney Moncrief, Jack Sikma, and Paul Westphal, all of whom by the Basketball Hall of Fame's cryptic, loosely administered criteria deserve inclusion, to varying degrees.

Moncrief was a two-time defensive Player of the Year and a five time All Star, one of the most underrated players in the '80s, and a collegiate star at Arkansas. Jack Sikma was a seven-time All Star with a trademark move (setback set shot) and hairdo (that perm is Hall of Fame material alone!). You can debate Rudy Tomjanovich against these two for a while at a bar, and it'd be a fun argument over a bunch of beers, but ultimately Tomjanovich is, at least, on par with these two, when assessing the complete body of work.

However, Al Attles, Bill Fitch, Paul Westphal, Bobby Jones? By the low bar standard of the Basketball Hall of Fame, they can all get in, but all four of these guys get smoked by Rudy T's resume!

Rudy was a second team All American, and two time all-Big Ten forward at Michigan, before being drafted second overall by the Rockets in 1970. So his college career was, at the very least, very stellar, if not excellent. In the NBA, he was a five time All Star, averaged 17 points per game, and survived one of the most horrific sucker punches in sports history. Again, at the very least stellar, if not excellent, and certainly better than at least one chain smoking Euro's playing career (yeah, YOU, VLADE! I'm bitter about you going in!)

But then, factor in Rudy T's head coaching career. Two NBA championships, or as many COMBINED as the other four inductees with a head coaching record (Fitch and Attles, each won one). In fact, one of the inductees, Westphal, was a head coaching grease spot in back to back disastrous playoff losses to the Rockets during their title runs in 1994 and 1995.

Oh, that's just the postseason, you say? Consistency is about the regular season, too? Well, Rudy's career winning percentage in the regular season was .559, better than every single one of the other inductees with head coaching experience — Westphal .532, Attles .519, Fitch .460, and Braun .315 as a player-coach in New York. In other words, you can easily argue he would be the best head coach of this class, if he were entering the Hall of Fame ALONGSIDE this group. Oh, and he had an actual decorated playing career, too.

In that same sense, you could argue that Rudy, at least should be mentioned in the same breath with Moncrief, Westphal, Jones — all three five time All Stars, like Rudy — and Sikma as players. And oh by the way, he won TWO NBA titles as a head coach.

As for Vlade Divac's inclusion over Rudy Tomjanovich, that is an embarrassment beyond words, as Divac is best known, to me at least, as a pretty good center in the '90s, that was traded to Charlotte for the rights to high school draftee Kobe Bryant (so hey, maybe he gets credit for launching five more titles in LA!), was maybe the third best player on a resurgent Sacramento team in the early 2000s, and then went on to become a failing GM for the Kings in recent years.  He was named to one NBA All Star Game. Again, I know his candidacy is examined by a separate voting constituency, but it's still the same Hall of Fame into which they all go.

In many respects, if you created an amalgam of the best that this class has to offer in each of the relevant capacities — collegiate play, NBA play, coaching — you could argue Rudy Tomjanovich could stand in pretty well toe to toe with said amalgam. Instead, we all watch for another season as Rudy T's greatness goes ignored.

Yeah, the Basketball Hall of Fame has always been third fiddle to football's and baseball's far superior versions of their halls. With Rudy T left out again, especially at the expense of THIS class, you may as well just shutter the place, and close it down. Its spirit has no validity. It should die.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast