Notebook: Colangelo defends the indefensible

February, 19, 2011
2/19/11
12:35
AM ET
Hollinger By John Hollinger
ESPN.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Colangelo and I have a fundamental disagreement.

He thinks transparency and openness are bad things. I think they're good things. As a result, I remain a steadfast critic of the Hall of Fame selection process.

Smooth and composed as always, Colangelo withstood a barrage of questioning about a broken process at today’s Hall of Fame nominee announcement. It made news for its exclusion of former Pacers great Reggie Miller, but in a more typical Hall of Fame moment it also shunned the all-time leader in NBA coaching wins (Don Nelson) and a two-time NBA champion (Rudy Tomjanovich), while including what would be the 10th college women’s coach in the Hall.

While I have no particular animus against the nominee, Tara VanDerVeer, only 10 NBA coaches have been inducted and the league’s history is more than twice as long as that of women’s college basketball. I think we can all agree that’s completely ridiculous.

And the culprit, once again, is an opaque process in which a clique of unidentified insiders select the nominees and then, months later, the inductees.

To his credit, Colangelo genuinely wants to make the institution better. This year he's instituted some changes to address a pattern of oversights that left the Hall heavy with coaches and nearly barren of players.

Nonetheless, the Hall’s biggest shortcoming remains its near-total lack of transparency, and the minor modifications Colangelo came up with -- announcing the composition of the committee but not who is on it -- are mere window-dressing.

“The only thing we’re going to fall short of is specific names of people,” said Colangelo.

In other words, the only thing they’ll fall short in terms of transparency and accountability is … transparency and accountability.

“We’re trying to keep it pure,” said Colangelo in a moment of unintentional comedy. It’s 100 percent pure, alright ... purely corruptible.

Show me a secretive process, in any walk of life, and I’ll show you one rife with corruption, politics and pettiness. The only cure is the sunlight that a transparent selection process provides. This is why we instinctively recoil when things are decided for us in darkened back rooms.

"We're trying to protect these individual from being politicked,” said Colangelo, but what he’s really doing is protecting them from having to defend indefensible selections and exclusions. If he’s not going to identify the voters and their votes, there’s little to prevent backroom dealing and score-settling.

We don’t know why Miller, Nelson and Tomjanovich were excluded. But we do know that the process with the most transparency, baseball’s, is also the one that works the best, while the one most similar to the NBA’s -- the NFL’s -- has faced similar complaints about insiders patting each other’s backs.

“Some of the people who are doing the voting [in baseball] don’t mind all the calls and all the e-mails,” said Colangelo. “That’s a personal thing. There are those who would rather not be bothered with that kind of process.”

All at once now: Then don’t include them, Jerry!

Contrary to Colangelo’s belief, there are lots of people who consider this important enough that they’re willing to make defensible choices and stand up for them in public. Until we get such a system, the Hall of Fame will remain a flawed institution.

It’s unfortunate, because it plays an important role in preserving and communicating the game’s history. And while Colangelo has helped the institution tremendously in some respects, he’s going to have trouble gaining more respect for it until its secretive process is fixed.

“It’s my job to convince you and everyone else that this is a good system,” said Colangelo. On that we agree. As long as the current system is in place, however, he won’t succeed in his mission.

For Favors, the end nears

    Carmelo Anthony isn’t he only player at the All-Star game facing trade questions. New Jersey’s Derrick Favors -- the centerpiece in the Nets’ proposal to pry Anthony from the Nuggets -- was here too. He played in the Rookie-Sophomore game and had a relatively uneventful night with nine points.

    Regardless of whether he lands in New Jersey or Denver, he knows he only has to put up with this until Thursday.

    “I can’t control it. Whatever happens, happens,” said Favors. “I can’t wait for it to be over with. It’s been happening since the beginning of the season. I’m just tired of hearing about it.”

    Ironically, Anthony was on the opposite sideline as an assistant coach for the sophomores.

    Not the type of ceiling we usually talk about

      If they need somebody to re-paint the world-famous ceiling fresco at the Residenz in Wurzburg, Germany, we might have just the guy. Asked what he’d be doing if he weren’t playing basketball, Mavericks star and newly confessed Per Diem reader Dirk Nowitzki answered that he’d follow his father’s footsteps and have a painting business.

      “Be the tallest painter in Germany,” said Nowitzki. “I’d get all the ceilings without a ladder.”

      Nowitzki, now in his tenth consecutive all-star game, says it’s a different experience from the first time he came in 2002, in Philadelphia.

      “I was just in awe,” said Nowitzki. “Just being in the same locker room with Shaq, Kobe, KG back in the day, some of the guys that I looked up to -- it was an amazing experience. That will always be something special."

      “Then it gets a little more routine and you know the guys a little better and you know the circus around it now, and the whole hype. But the first time I’ll never forget. [It’s] all about soaking it in, getting to know the guys, enjoy the hype around it. I’m sure Blake [Griffin] and Kevin [Love] are both going to have a blast.”

      The loneliest table

        For the fifth straight year, Joe Johnson of Atlanta made the All-Star team. And for the fifth straight year, he had the most barren table at Friday's media day. While mob scenes surrounded Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, Johnson talked before an intimate gathering.

        I asked him about it, and it turns out he's fine with that.

        "Y'all know how I roll," said Johnson. "I don't cause a lot of havoc, I'm an easygoing guy. I come out to have fun, it doesn't bother me that there's not a lot of reporters around my table. I just enjoy the moment."

        For Johnson, it's the game, not the fame... and his relative anonymity has its advantages.

        "I think what a lot of guys tend to lose is that when we started playing basketball it wasn't for the fame or the money. It was because we love the game, that's all it was about."

        "I love the fact that I can get up and go to the mall from time to time.... not to say I won't be noticed, but I won’t get bum-rushed. I enjoy that I can lead a normal life a little bit."

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