Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mr. Horry Goes to Springfield: An Extended Conversation

Although never considered a superstar, Robert Horry was a key member of several elite NBA teams for over a decade. He won 7 NBA Championships during his 16 years in the league. Only 8 other players have won as many championships, all 8 of whom were on the 1960's Celtics. The importance of Horry's contributions to the Houston, LA and San Antonio dynasties of the past decade and a half is undeniable. His late-game heroics alone earn him a place in NBA mythology. But was it enough to earn him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame? I brought together Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold and GrungeDave from The Dream Shake to discuss this very question.

Graydon: I feel like the prevailing wisdom on this issue is that Horry was a role player. A great role player. Maybe even the greatest role player of all time. But fundamentally a role player, and therefore he does not deserve a spot in Springfield. That is exactly why I am going to turn it over to GrungeDave, who does not share that opinion. So, why does Robert Horry deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame?

Dave: Robert Horry is a Hall of Famer. The purpose of the Basketball Hall of Fame is to recognize the elite. Be it an elite scorer, an elite defensive player, or an elite distributor of the ball to teammates. There are no specific rules or requirements for "who" is qualified for the Hall. The facts are undeniable that Robert Horry was an essential and necessary piece of seven different championship teams. Without Horry, it is quite likely that none of these teams would have emerged victorious in that particular year. Furthermore, these seven championships were acquired by three different organizations.

In short, Robert Horry is the greatest winner of the modern era. Yes, even moreso than Michael Jordan. Horry has more championship rings than anyone not affiliated with the Celtics (whose own championships are watered-down given the fact that it was an 8-team league that intentionally limited the impact of African-American players).

Every single year Robert Horry played, his team made it to the playoffs.
And they never got bounced in the first round. Ever.

What made Horry great is he did whatever it took to win. Everyone knows about his penchant for clutch shooting. What is often overlooked is his willingness to do all the little things. Everything from a hockey assist, to taking a charge, to closing the passing lanes, to the flawless post-entry pass. These are not things that show up in a box score anywhere other than in the "W" and "L" columns. These just happen to be the most important statistics of all. And Horry made sure his teams filled the "W" columns every May and June.

It is no accident that Horry played in more playoff games than anyone in history. It was not just about picking the right teams or being aligned with the best players. Hakeem was never a champion until he met Horry. Same for Shaquille and Kobe. Tim Duncan admittedly would have 2 less rings if Horry was not there to bail him out in '05 and '07.

If being the greatest winner of your sport in a particular era is not enough, the Hall of Fame has problems.

Kurt: What exactly is elite about Horry? He's a nice player, he made some key shots, but he got those seven rings because he was fortunate enough to play with four of the 50 best players of all time (Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe). Thanks to those players carrying the heavy load, being the real stars that influenced games, Horry was in a position to flourish in a supporting role where he could impact the game in very specific ways. Horry can hit three pointers in the clutch, but that is only a handy skill if you happen to be paired with three of the all time great post men ever to lace them up drawing them inside.

Horry never averaged more than 12 points a game for a season, and for his career averaged 7. I love the guy. He will always be part of Laker lore. But this guy is not someone who made the major contributions to wins for 48 minutes every night, he was the guy who hit the three at the end. Very differnet things. Famous. A fan favorite. But not a guy for the Hall.

While Horry's contributions were great, they were great moreso because of their timeliness (clutch factor) rather than great because of their cumulative effect on the game (steady contributions that dictate the flow of a game). To me, great players (the type of players that do belong in the hall; the type of players whose steady contributions effect the tone and flow of every game they're involved in) allowed Horry to flourish in a role that highlighted his abilities and allowed him to thrive in a supporting role where he could impact the game in very specific ways and concentrate on doing the smaller things that do contribute to wins (just not with the same magnitude that the great players contribute to wins). Horry would not be the player he was if he did not play with 4 of the greatest 50 players to ever lace them up.

Dave: You see, this is precisely the reason why players like Stephon Marbury, Latrell Sprewell, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and countless others will never be winners...... too many people pay too much attention to whether a player can make a box score look pretty and help their fantasy teams win.

While Horry did whatever was necessary to win, today's players - and many of the fans who follow the NBA - really only care whether someone can average 20 points or record a double-double (the most overrated stat ever).

The moment someone tries to justify Horry's value by citing simple statistics is the moment I realize that everyone completely misses the point.

But if it's statistics you want...

# of rings these "top 50" players would have if Robert Horry decided to stop being a basketball player at Alabama and instead be a math major:

Hakeem Olajuwon (0)
Shaquille O'Neal (0) -- No way Shaq gets the 4th ring without the experience gained from the 1st 3.
Kobe Bryant (0)
Tim Duncan (2) -- though 1999 barely counts.

[Ed. Note: The 1999 Championship absolutely counts. But I'll save that argument for a later date.]

Again, without Horry's immense contributions, these guys now being compared to the greatest of the great -- Hakeem, Shaq and Kobe -- would be more often compared to Ewing, Elgin Hayes and McGrady -- very good individual players but without the rings. Thus, they would never be seen as the true elite.

If the Hall of Fame can make room for every marginal player on the 50s and 60s Celtics squads, certainly it can recognize Horry for his own unique brand of greatness.

Kurt: think it's just as foolish to say that rings make a player great. Mark Madsen has rings. Great players like Charles Barkley do not. So, Mark belongs in the Hall before Chuck? The Hall of Fame is for great players, the best players of their generation, but your argument turns logic on its head. The Shaq and Kobe Lakers, for example, would have won titles with or without Horry, but Horry would never have gotten near a title without being paired with truly great players. Horry never scored more than 10 points a game in the playoffs when he won those rings with the Lakers, the Lakers did not win because of him anymore than they won because of Isaiah Rider or Brian Shaw. Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Horrace Grant did more to get those Lakers rings than Horry, but you and many others are blinded by a few good shots. That shot at the end of the game counted just as much as Fisher's shot in the second quarter, but because it was dramatic your remember Horry's. Drama alone is not enough to get you into the hall.

Look, I get that Horry made clutch shots, and he was a fan favorite, but he was probably never better than the fourth best player on any of his teams (and, by the way, you are right that there are too many 60s role playing Celtics in the Hall). Nobody in their right mind is arguing Marbury belongs in the Hall because he could fill up a stat sheet (well, maybe Marbury himself is, but that goes back to the right mind thing). But, you need to be able to propel your team, to be the leading force that helps them win titles to be in the Hall of fame in my mind. Horry made some key shots, but he was standing on the shoulders of the people who did the real work, who really led the team through the first 47 minutes of a playoff game.

Dave: Three follow-up points...

1. Would Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and/or Patrick Ewing trade careers with Robert Horry right now if given the chance? I say yes.

2. I think Horry is actually *under*rated as a clutch shot-maker. Why? I can name exactly ONE time that Horry had a chance to win/tie a game in the playoffs and actually missed. That would be Game 5 in 2003 against San Antonio. There is not a single other time that he missed. His success rate for clutch shots will never again be matched.

3. You cite Mark Madsen and others... even Isaiah Rider... but the greatness of Horry is that he was able to win multiple rings with three different teams. No one else in the history of the league has ever done that. Getting lucky once is one thing... getting lucky twice is another... but by the third time you have to start ruling out the luck factor.

okay, make that four follow-up points... before Horry arrived in Houston, Hakeem was considered a malcontent and a disappointment. Before Horry arrived in L.A., Shaq was only known for getting swept out of the playoffs each and every season. Meanwhile, Kobe was known primarily for his airball-fest in Utah. Funny how perceptions change when you get a ring.

Kurt: Wow, all this time I thought Phil Jackson and Rudy Tomjonovich coached those championship teams, but according to your argument just having Horry on the team is what caused Shaq to play well with Kobe, and it was Horry's presence that matured Hakeem, not time and a good coach. I think I'm going to have Horry walk in the room where scientists are working to cure cancer, his presence may be the difference.

But I think that point highlights the biggest problem with your argument — you seriously overvalue Horry's contributions to those being championship teams. Horry is a good ball handler and shooter on the perimeter, But he was picked up by GMs who put him on teams with three of the all-time great post men, putting him in position to make some key shots. But, if you put him on Jordan's Bulls or Magic's Lakers, teams with more of a perimeter focus where he doesn't get those open looks, he doesn't make those teams noticeably better. However, put Shaq or Kobe or Hakeem or Duncan on those teams and they do get better. Because those are Hall of Fame players, guys who will make any team better.

Horry's never been an all star. Never been on an all NBA or defensive team. Never won an award of any kind. What Horry had was a very memorable career, far more memorable than the other guys you bandied about. Our kids will watch replays of his shots. But that is not the metric that gets you into the Hall.

Let's talk about guys not in the Hall of Fame. It hurts me to prop up a Celtic, but Dennis Johnson went to 5 all star games, was the finals MVP, won 4 titles, was all NBA twice (first team once), and all defensive 10 times, was top 10 in the MVP voting twice, and he's not in the Hall. Spencer Haywood was a 5 time all star, ABA MVP, 4 time all NBA and 1 time all ABA, twice a top 10 MVP vote getter. You can go on and on with Artis Gilmore, Bernard King, Sidney Moncreif, etc., etc. Horry's simply never come close to these achievements.

Graydon: Alright gentleman, this has been excellent. I have seriously thought about this topic in the past but both of you brought up points I had never previously considered. In all honesty, I'm still on the fence. This is your last opportunity to make a closing statement: Any points you have yet to make? Any points made by the other guy you have yet to address? Any kind words about Horry?

Dave: In closing, while I do not deny that Dennis Johnson, Artis Gilmore, Bernard King, Sidney Moncreif and others were very good to great players... this is not about them. This is about Robert Horry. And 20 years from now.... 50 years from now..... and maybe even 100 years from now, people will still be referencing Horry's routine springtime heroics. How many modern day players will really be remembered with such reverence? In my eyes, that's what makes a Hall of Famer.

Kurt: In closing, I hate being the guy who comes off ripping Robert Horry, because I really liked him as a player, he hit big shots for my team, he provided a lot of memories. Horry was very good at the things he could do, and was an underrated defender. He was a fan favorite for a reason. But, he was a role player, he was the supporting cast, and even if he was good in that role, to me the Hall of Fame is for the game's true superstars, the guys who can take control of an entire game and will their team to wins. The elite. And as much as I loved Horry the player, he was not that guy and not a Hall of Famer to me.

Graydon: After all this, I still remain undecided. I'm unconvinced by Kurt's argument regarding Dennis Johnson et al., but only because I believe those guys deserve to be in the hall and their absence shouldn't discount Horry. That being said, I'm unconvinced that Horry was as critical to earning those championships as Dave makes him out to be. He was, on the other hand, much more than a clutch shooter. He was one of the more sophisticated post players of his era. Personally, I have never placed that much importance on whether someone actually made it into the hall. Whether or not Horry is one day institutionally recognized as an elite player, he will still be a favorite of mine.


Brian said...

Hey, I'm a huge fan of what Robert Horry did at Alabama, but if he gets into the Hall of Fame then just close it down because it will have lost all meaning.

He was a great role player but was not in any way instrumental in any of his teams winning a ring.

He played with Shaq, Kobe, Hakeem, and Duncan. Q.E.D.

Also, calling someone a "winner" is one of those things sportswriters do when they don't have any facts to back up their point and just want to say things for the sake of saying them. It is totally unprovable.

Unknown said...

"not in any way instrumental in any of his teams winning a ring"

you're joking, right?

Okay, here's your SAT-level analogy for the day:

Robert Horry : NBA
Mariano Rivera : MLB
Adam Vinatieri : NFL

all these guys are admitted "role" players who were "instrumental" in winning championships for their teams.

And Shaq, Kobe and Hakeem would not be "Shaq, Kobe and Hakeem" as you know them if Horry didn't help them win multiple rings.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Not a valid argment. First of all,
Rivera and Vinatieri were the best/near the best in the game at their position for an extended period of time. You cannot say that about Horry.

Second, you are confusing "specialists" with role players.

Unknown said...

Isn't being a "specialist" playing a role?

And from 1993 through 2005, Robert Horry was a "specialist" (in fact, the best specialist) at knocking down clutch shots to win playoff series.

Your attempt at a semantical argument is inherently flawed.

Brian said...

Dave, your definitions are very flawed. You are insisting on this idea of "clutch" which is very poorly defined or at best an incredibly small sample size - too small for anything to be counted as any sort of special skill rather than luck.

Robert Horry was a decent player. He was on some teams that won rings and wasn't worthless on them. That's a plenty fine career, but to put him in the Hall of Fame would devalue everyone else who earned their place there.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"Robert Horry was a "specialist" (in fact, the best specialist) at knocking down clutch shots to win playoff series."

OK, how many playoff series did Horry "win" with his shots? A reasonable definition of that would be that his shooting was the biggest single reason that his team was victorious in that series.

Unknown said...

How many playoff games did Horry play?

How many of those were won by Horry's clutch shooting?

And lastly, could you have won more games if you had some other player than Horry playing?

Anonymous said...

Let me preface this by saying that Robert Horry is one of my favorite players ever.

But to say Kobe and Shaq could not have won any championships without Horry? That is absolutely ludicrous. I think you're reaching just a bit with that one. Kobe and Shaq are two of the greatest players of all time and combined to make one of the most unstoppable duos this league has ever seen. As an avid Lakers fan, I'll venture to say that they undoubtedly would have found a way to win at least one title without him. Horry needed Shaq and Kobe a whole lot more than they needed him.

Going by your logic, you could make the argument that the Lakers would not have won the title in 2000 without Brian Shaq. Because as your remember, he was instrumental in that Game 7 comeback against Portland. But that's one game. One game a title does not make.

Anonymous said...

Er...Brian Shaw* Haha i had Shaq on the mind I guess.

Unknown said...

Not that many were won by Horry's clutch shooting, and arguably most of those would still have been won if they'd had a better player than Horry for the other 47 minutes of the game. None of this is a knock on Horry. He was a good player, earned his money, and had some tremendous games. That's not enough to earn the HoF, which should be reserved for the elite.

Way way way too much is made of the 7 rings. I say, BFD. KC Jones has more rings than Jerry West. No sane person would maintain that Jones was the better player.

Yes, Horry was instrumental. So were Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Bruce Bowen, and others. Being instrumental is not enough. It's about being essential. The Lakers could have won just as many championships without Horry. They could not have won just as many without Magic, Kareem, Shaq, or Kobe.

Unknown said...

"KC Jones has more rings than Jerry West. No sane person would maintain that Jones was the better player."

KC Jones is in the HOF.

Thanks for making my point for me...

Anonymous said...

Kurt said : HOFs will their team to a win. Well making clutch shots is sort of willing the win. We will never know who all else could have made that shot on multiple teams over 15 years. I guess coz there is nobody else :P.

Horry is no shaq or kobe or duncan. But willing the team to win in the playoffs. I think he is right up there with them in contribution on team. If believing and faith are important in the playoffs, then having a Horry on your team, yer already thinking about the second round lol.

BTW, just for record, Horry single handedly one of the game 5's for Spurs in 2005 or 07...can't remember. He took over in fourth or so.

Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

Dave seems to like to use aggression to help make his point.

Shaq would have zero rings without Horry, including the one with Miami? That is a ridiculous statement. How are you going to even halfway prove that? I think he won a ring in Miami because he played with Wade, not because Horry's spirit was with him or something.

Also, ridiculing the 1999 season is childish. 82 games if anything is too long of a season. The Spurs went on one of the great runs of all time to finish the year, and it started in the regular season, not the playoffs. I doubt you would have taken a jab at the 99 title if some other team won that you did like.

Horry in the HOF is a great debate, but it's great because it can go either way. You ruin the argument by going to such ludicrous extremes.

Unknown said...

Colonel D,

I make fun of the '99 season because I live in Houston and too many people nearby are Spurs fans. I can't help myself.

Also, I firmly believe that Shaq would never have been traded to Miami in the first place without those 3 rings to help his cause... if by 2004, Shaq was still ringless, he'd have been seen a mammoth NBA bust for his stature. Horry helped him in ways you can't even measure. Of course, such things can never be *proven* - for this isn't exactly a science experiment.

Unknown said...

should a player who doesn't show up consistently in the regular season and only show up 1-2 games in the playoff every year to go into HoF? I would vote for Steve Kerr to go to HoF if that's the case. Jordan wouldn't win 6 titles without him.

Unknown said...

Did this dave guy seriously compare Robert Horry to Mariano Rivera and Adam V.???? This idiot seriously lost all logic in his argument.

Jay said...

Those Celtics role players should not have been HOFers in the first place. But because they are, it doesn't mean that Horry should be. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Here's an alternative: The Lakers and/or the Spurs should retire his number though. The Spurs are probably more likely to do that since he destroyed Detroit that one game and the Lakers didn't even retire Goodrich's number until AFTER he made the HOF.