Ranking the NBA players of the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame class
The 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement will take place this weekend, entering another class of NBA players into the annals of basketball history. The 2021 class isn’t nearly as stacked as the 2020 class (headlined by Kobe Bryant, Time Duncan and Kevin Garnett), but it still features quite a few notable names that are essential to the story of basketball. It’s tough to rank the best of the best, but let’s try anyway.
Side note: Bill Russell will not appear on this list, as he is being entered into the Hall of Fame as a coach. He’d obviously be no. 1 were he being enshrined as a player, but that already happened back in 1975.
6. Bob Dandridge
Dandridge was a four-time All-Star for the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Bullets, and helped both teams to titles in 1971 and 1978 respectively. He was a lockdown defender, making the All-Defense team in 1979. He’s considered to be one of the greatest forwards of his era.
5. Tony Kukoč
Kukoč’s NBA resume isn’t too decorated beyond his three titles with the Chicago Bulls and his Sixth Man of the Year award, but his international resume is impeccable. He was a FIBA World Champion MVP, EuroBasket MVP, a three-time EuroLeague champion and a three-time EuroLeague Final Four MVP. He’s also won titles in the Italian League and the Yugoslav League. He’s without question one of the greatest European players ever. Who knows? If he’d come over to the NBA earlier in his career, perhaps he’d be held in even higher regard than he is now.
4. Ben Wallace
While Big Ben had little to no offensive game, his staggering defense more than made up for it. A four-time Defensive Player of the Year (tied with Dikembe Mutombo for most in the history of the award), Wallace was arguably the most important player on the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, who upset the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to win the NBA championship. That Pistons squad is largely considered to be one of the greatest team defenses ever assembled. Though he was only 6’9, Wallace was able to protect the rim better than anyone in the league. His gritty defense defined an era (one that the league actively tried to move on from, as defense is simply not as entertaining and marketable as offense). It’s also worth noting that he’s easily the greatest undrafted player of all time.
3. Chris Bosh
Bosh might’ve been the third banana as a member of the Miami Heat, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn’t have won those two titles without him. He could’ve remained in Toronto or gone to a new team and remained the no. 1 option, but he chose to sacrifice counting stats in exchange for championships. His unique blend of midrange scoring, rim protection and three-point shooting made him the perfect third star alongside two ball-dominant perimeter scorers in James and Wade. Bosh was a deserving 11-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist and walked away from the Toronto Raptors as their all-time leading scorer (DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have since passed him on that list). With his skillset, he might still be playing today were it not for an unfortunate blood clot issue that forced him to retire while he was still on the tail end of his prime.
2. Paul pierce
The only player on this list to win Finals MVP, Pierce is a Celtics legend and the face of the original Big 3. Kevin Garnett was the best player on that squad, but Pierce embodied the heart and soul of Boston, giving Celtics fans 15 years worth of great perimeter scoring and a killer mentality. He trails only John Havlicek on the Celtics’ all-time leading scorers list (yes, he’s ahead of Larry Bird), and leads the team in threes made, free throws made and steals (and turnovers). He wasn’t quite good enough to carry a team on his own, but once he was given running mates in Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, he flourished as their go-to shot-maker.
Another side note: It should be interesting to hear from Pierce after his scandalous firing as an ESPN analyst. Hilariously, the enshrinement will be broadcasted on ESPN.
1. Chris Webber
C-Webb is only player on this list to make First-Team All-NBA in his career. He had the skillset, athleticism and basketball IQ to be one of the greatest power forwards ever were it not for injury struggles. When healthy, he made five All-Star teams and led his Sacramento Kings to the Western Conference Finals. He’s also historically significant as a college player, leading the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” to back-to-back championship appearances and shifting the cultural narrative around collegiate basketball. He might not have the longevity-based counting stats due to his injury history, but when he was at his best, Webber was the best of this Hall of Fame class.