PINCHED CHEEKS

Posted by: Tom Sunnergren
04/03/12 3:14 pm EST

In the context of modern professional athletics, there are vanishingly few exchanges that don’t involve the treatment of head injuries that can be called, honestly, unjust.

“Sports” is a series of games that, in the interpretation that grants it the greatest possible importance, amounts to a business that succeeds or fails, like most ventures, on the basis of its ability to efficiently distribute income from the middle classes to the already fabulously wealthy. So short of Franks Red Hot, nothing stirs up my indigestion worse than reading middle-aged, out of touch, sense of proportion-less hacks spout histrionics about this or that miscarriage of justice that sullied the dignity of this or that playing field.

This said, it’s an absolute travesty that Mo Cheeks didn’t make the Hall of Fame.

I’m too young to have watched Cheeks play—I was, unfortunately, born in time to watch him do a coaching job that oscillated between mediocre and very bad—but I certainly didn’t miss the meaning of Mo. Neither, fortunately, did the numbers.

A blind career comparison between three players:

Titles Pts/36 TS% Ast% TO% ORB% DRB% Stl% Blk% AllNBA* WinShare
Player A 1 12.6 .572 29.2 17.5 2.3 7.4 3.2 0.5 5 103.5
Player B 0 18.6 .518 10.8 16.7 9.3 22.7 1.3 3.1 1 20.1
Player C 0 19.1 .614 14.4 10.5 2.2 7.8 1.6 0.4 3 174.4

*All-NBA first, second, and third team selections + All-Defense selections

There are a few things I should acknowledge up front here. One, it’s the basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame, so it was a touch disingenuous of me to list NBA stats as though they are the only criteria for selection. Secondly, it’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Impressive Efficiency Relative to Position and Era. We’re not just considering the best players, but the ones who had the greatest impact on the sport. And we’re invited, I believe, to consider “impact” in the broadest terms possible.

So the fact that Player A, Mo Cheeks, had arguably as a good an NBA career as Player C, Reggie Miller, and a much better career than Player B, Ralph Sampson, both of whom made the Hall of Fame ahead of him, should be taken with a grain of salt. Ralph Sampson was an underachiever as a pro, but was one of the greatest—at least most compelling—college players of all time, while Reggie Miller was very famous, came from a great basketball family—which only added to his famousness—had a classic rivalry—not with a team, but with a celebrity filmmaker—and pretty uniformly saved his best for the most brightly spotlighted parts of the biggest stages. Needless to say, he’s well remembered and deservedly so.

Mo Cheeks was merely a great NBA player. East of Detroit, he was as efficient an offensive point guard as graced the ’80s, was the decade’s premiere defender at the position, and quarterbacked what was, arguably, the greatest single-season team in the history of the franchise—and maybe the city of Philadelphia.

If that’s not good enough for Springfield, we should think long and hard about what is.


 
 
 

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