On February 17, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame officially announced the 12 finalists for the Class of 2023 and it includes some of the greatest players and coaches of all-time. The finalists still have to make their way through the ballot process, but it’s the first real step towards being inducted.
“I think this is unique in that we have a lot of first-time people and it’s unusual when somebody makes it on the first ballot. But this is going to be that unique of class. Because there could be 4 or 5 first-timers. So, I’m very excited about it,” said Jerry Colangelo, the chairman for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Being in the Basketball Hall of Fame is a major accomplishment for any player, coach, referee, or contributor – and one that most people dream about as a kid. Considering all the legendary and iconic people who have graced the basketball community, only about 450 people have ever been inducted.
Who Are the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2023 Finalists?
Among the 12 finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2023 are five former coaches and seven former players – eight of them are finalists from the North American Committee and the remaining four are from the Women’s Committee. Adding to the excitement, 11 of the 12 finalists are first-time nominees.
The 12 finalists will now be presented to the Honors Committee, which consists of 24 members that vote on each player/coach. In order to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, a finalist needs at least 18 of the 24 votes. Inductees will be announced in April and will be officially inducted into the Hall in August.
The 12 finalists include Gene Bess, Pau Gasol, David Hixon, Gene Keady, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Blair, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich, Dwyane Wade, Jennifer Azzi, Becky Hammon, Marian Washington. While we await the voting process, let’s take a closer look at the 12 legendary coaches and players.
12. Gene Bess
Gene Bess is a name most people won’t recognize on this list, but you’re about to see why he should be remembered by everyone and anyone who loves the game of basketball. He was hired as the head coach of Three Rivers Community College in 1971 and coached the team for 50 years until he retired in 2020.
During his time at Three Rivers, Bess led his team to a 1,300-416 record and two national junior college basketball championships (1979 and 1982) and 36 regional championships. Not only was he the first college coach to reach 1,000 and 1,200 wins, but he’s the all-time winningest college basketball coach.
Bess was also a high school basketball coach for 12 years and went 237-95 in that time. He has already been inducted into four different Hall of Fames – Poplar Bluff Sports Hall of Fame, Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, NJCAA Hall of Fame, and Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He’s a coaching legend.
11. Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft after playing several years of pro basketball in Spain. On draft night, his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, where he made his NBA debut on November 1, 2001. From there, he became a superstar.
He averaged 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.5 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game as a rookie – earning him Rookie of the Year. He spent six and a half seasons with the Grizzlies before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would team up with Kobe Bryant and win two NBA championships.
In 1,226 games played (18 seasons), he averaged 17.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.6 steals in 33.4 minutes per game – he also played for the Spurs, Bulls, and Bucks. He was a 6-time All-Star and 4-time All-NBA center. He won three EuroBasket gold medals and a World Cup gold medal for Spain.
10. David Hixon
David Hixon played high school basketball at Andover High School and won a state championship in 1970 with his father as head coach. After high school, he attended Amherst College and played for the men’s basketball team while he studied psychology. He started his college coaching career shortly after.
He was just 24 years old when he was hired by Amherst College and went on to coach the men’s team for 42 years before retiring in 2020. During that time, he had an 826-293 record and a 74% winning percentage – leading his team to an NCAA Division III national championship in 2006-07 and 2012-13.
At the time of his retirement, he had the 15th-most wins in NCAA men’s basketball coaching history – he currently sits at No. 20 all-time and is one of just 27 men’s coaches to win at least 800 games. Along with his father, Wil Hixon, David Hixon was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
9. Gene Keady
Gene Keady might be one of the greatest athletes of all-time, having lettered in three sports at Kansas State University – football, baseball, and track. While he didn’t play basketball there, he pursued a career in coaching basketball at Beloit High School between 1959-1965 – it was the only coaching job available.
He was an assistant coach at Hutchinson Junior College and eventually became the head coach before earning an assistant job at the University of Arkansas. In 1978, he was hired as head coach at Western Kentucky, where he led the team to a 38-19 record in two seasons and one NCAA tourney appearance.
He’s most known for his 25-year stint as head coach at Purdue University between 1980 and 2005. He led the team to a 512-270 during that time, including 18 trips to the NCAA tournament and six regular season championships. He retired with a career 737-340 record as a college men’s basketball coach.
8. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft after playing several years of pro basketball in Germany. On draft night, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in the same trade that made Steve Nash his teammate. The two struck up an immediate friendship.
He only averaged 20 minutes per game and played just 47 games his rookie season, but had a breakout year the following season and ended up playing his entire 21-year career with the Mavericks. He played in 1,522 games and averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game.
Nowitzki was a 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA power forward, one-time MVP, and won the 2011 NBA championship with the Mavericks – he was named Finals MVP for his impressive performance. As of right now, he has the sixth-most points scored (31,419) in NBA history and fourth-most games played all-time.
7. Tony Parker
Tony Parker was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft after playing several years of professional basketball in Paris, France. He would spend the next 17 seasons with the Spurs and ended his career with the Charlotte Hornets – totaling 18 years in the NBA.
While in San Antonio, Parker formed an unstoppable trio with Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan – both of whom are already in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The trio were coached by Gregg Popovich – who is almost a lock to be inducted as a member of the Class of 2023, alongside Parker.
In 1,254 games played, Parker averaged 15.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 0.8 steals in 30.5 minutes per game. He was a six-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA point guard, and won four NBA titles with the Spurs – he was the Finals MVP during the 2006-07 season. He was as consistent as they come.
6. Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich has been playing basketball his entire life. After high school, he attended the United States Air Force Academy and played basketball there – being named captain his senior year, when he also led the team in scoring. He considered a career with the CIA and spent five years in the Air Force.
Between 1973 and 1988, he served as assistant coach at Air Force and Kansas, as well as head coach at Pomona-Pitzer. He then made his way to the NBA, serving as assistant coach of the Spurs between 1988 and 1992, and Warriors between 1992 and 1994. He finally became the Spurs’ head coach in 1996.
He’s currently in his 27th season as the Spurs’ head coach and has coached 2,104 games with the team – he has led them to a 1,358-746 record. He has the most wins of any head coach in NBA history and the third-most NBA titles among head coaches – he won 5 times in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014.
5. Jennifer Azzi
Jennifer Azzi played four years of college basketball at Stanford University between 1987 and 1990. During that time, she averaged 13.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The team went 101-23, won two Pac-10 titles, and won the 1990 NCAA Division I championship her senior year.
Between 1990 and 1998, she helped lead the United States to an Olympic gold medal (1996), two FIBA World Championship gold medals (1990, 1998), and a FIBA bronze medal in 1994. She was also a co-founder of the ABL, where she began her pro career with the San Jose Lasers between 1996-1999.
In 1999, she made the transition to the WNBA and played five seasons with the Detroit Shock, Utah Starzz, and San Antonio Silver Stars. She retired in 2004 and began a coaching career at the University of San Francisco in 2010. She led the team to a 73-114 record and one NCAA tournament appearance.
4. Gary Blair
Believe it or not, Gary Blair played baseball most of his life – not basketball. In search of a coaching gig in baseball, he ended up being offered a physical education coaching job at South Oak Cliff High School – where he eventually became the school’s first women’s basketball head coach. He also coached golf.
At South Oak Cliff, he led the women’s team to a 239-18 record and three state Class 4A titles. He went on to become an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech between 1980 and 1985 before being named head coach at Stephen F. Austin. He spent eight seasons with the school, leading them to a 210-43 record.
He was also head coach at Arkansas between 1993 and 2003, leading them to a 198-120 record and a WNIT Championship in 1999. He’s perhaps best known for his 19 seasons as head coach at Texas A&M. The team went 656-274 under his leadership – his 852 wins as a college coach ranks 13th all-time.
3. Marian Washington
Marian Washington played seven different sports in high school and went on to play college basketball at West Chester State College – she was a member of the first national women’s championship team in 1969. Upon graduating, she pursued a coaching career and spent one year as an assistant at Kansas.
After that year, she was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at Kansas and held that title for 31 seasons. During that time, she led the Jayhawks to a 560-363 record and 61% winning percentage. They made 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and the Sweet 16 twice. She retired in 2004.
In 1982, she served as head coach of the United States’ women’s national team and led them to a silver medal at the 1982 William Jones Cup – they lost to Canada 70-67, falling four points shy of a gold medal. She was also an assistant coach for the United States in 1996, when they won an Olympic gold medal.
2. Becky Hammon
Becky Hammon played four 4 of college ball at Colorado State, where she was a 3-time All-American. She set records for most points, points per game, field goals made, free throws made, three-pointers made, and assists. She was inducted into the Colorado State University Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
She went undrafted in 1999, but was quickly signed by the New York Liberty and went on to have an impressive 16-year career in the WNBA – finally retiring in 2014. She averaged 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. She was a 6-time All-Star and 4-time All-WNBA point guard.
After her playing career, she moved on to coaching. She became the second female coach in NBA history with the Spurs (under Gregg Popovich) and was an assistant NBA coach between 2014 and 2022. She most recently became head coach of the Las Vegas Aces and led them to a championship her first year.
1. Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade was drafted by the Miami Heat with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft after playing two years of college ball at Marquette. He quickly became the man in Miami and went on to have an iconic 16-year career in the NBA – he was a 13-time All-Star and 8-time All-NBA shooting guard.
In 1,054 career games played, Wade averaged 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 33.9 minutes per game. He won three titles with the Heat – one with Shaquille O’Neal (HOFer) and two with LeBron James (future HOFer) and Chris Bosh (HOFer). Wade was 2005-06 Finals MVP.
In addition to his All-Star nods and All-NBA honors, Wade was a 3-time All-Defensive player, was named All-Star MVP in 2009-10, and was the league’s scoring champion in 2008-09 with 30.2 points per game. He shined brightest when his team needed him the most and is a lock to be inducted into the HOF.
Active Players Who Will One Day Be in Basketball Hall of Fame
Being named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame isn’t easy for any coach, player, referee, contributor, or team – let alone being inducted. It’s a tremendous honor and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone. With that said, there are several active players who are surefire locks to get in.
Some of those players that come to mind are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. These three players not only have the accolades and statistics, but they’ve culturally changed the landscape of the NBA/basketball as we know it and have the championships to go along with their individual success.
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Other players with a realistic opportunity include Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Kawhi Leonard. You never know who might make it, but these players have a good shot.
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