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Wilkins, Barkley, Dumars, Auriemma, Vitale on list

HOUSTON -- Moments after he was chosen as a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame, Charles Barkley lobbied all 24 voters to elect Dominique Wilkins.

"Dominique should have got in last year," Barkley said Friday after the 16 finalists for the Class of 2006 were announced.

Dubbed "The Human Highlight Film" for his breathtaking above-the-rim game, Wilkins was a finalist last year but didn't make it. The Paris-born Wilkins was a nine-time NBA All-Star and
two-time slam dunk champion. He's one of three Atlanta Hawks to have his jersey retired.

"People who know basketball, in the basketball world, understand what my place is in basketball history," said Wilkins, now the Hawks' vice president of basketball. "And I'm confident things will be fine this go-round. Do I think I was a first-ballot? Of course. Hopefully things will work out this time."

Among the other finalists are Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars and ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.

The finalists emerged from a list of more than 100 nominees; players, coaches, referees and contributors are eligible. To earn enshrinement, a finalist must receive at least 18 votes from the
24-member Honors Committee. There is no limit on the number of electees.

The Class of 2006 will be announced April 3 at the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in Indianapolis. Enshrinement is Sept. 7-9 at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who had been a finalist in
2002 and 2003 and was under consideration again, did not make the
cut. Sutton, 69, is on a medical leave of absence after being
injured in a car accident a week ago in Stillwater, Okla. He was charged
Friday with driving under the influence of alcohol.
Barkley and Wilkins were the only finalists to attend a news
conference at a hotel across the street from the Toyota Center,
site of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game.
"I know that both of them are ultimately worthy," said NBA
deputy commissioner Russ Granik, the chairman of the Hall of Fame
board.
Barkley, who was selected one of the NBA's 50 greatest players
in 1996, averaged 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game across a
16-year career.
"I've had a really great life in basketball," said Barkley,
now an NBA analyst for TNT.
Barkley is considered a slam dunk for election. Some thought the
same about Wilkins last year.
Like Barkley, Wilkins never played on an NBA champion. But
Wilkins said that shouldn't work against him.
"If you look at a lot of guys who have made it in the Hall of
Fame, a lot of them haven't won championships," Wilkins said. "I
think a lot of times it can be an excuse from giving a guy his due.
You look at Ewing, you look at Karl Malone, you look at myself and
Barkley, we never won a championship, but that didn't make us any
less of a great player."
Other finalists include Adrian Dantley, whose 23,177 career
points rank 18th in NBA history; Ralph Sampson, a three-time
national college Player of the Year whose pro career was shortened
by injuries; Big East founder Dave Gavitt; former Purdue coach Gene
Keady; seven-time NBA all-star Chet Walker; Dallas GM and coach Don
Nelson, a former player who is under consideration as a coach; Van
Chancellor, who coached the Houston Comets to four straight WNBA
titles; former Spanish coach Pedro Ferrandiz; Sandro Gamba, a
former Italian star player and coach; John Isaacs, who played for
the first all-black National Basketball League team in 1949; and
the late Ben Kerner, who owned the St. Louis Hawks.