Building a legacy: Grant Hill, Phil Jackson, and more

08.03.09 10 years ago 40 Comments

In Smack over the weekend, the question of Bruce Bowen‘s legacy came up. Considering the usual level of hate generated by the Spurs and Bowen everywhere outside San Antonio, the reader response was surprisingly positive. Most people were able to appreciate not only Bowen’s game, but his backstory. Reader Bobby Stew put it best: “Bruce Bowen’s story is that of a man who made something out of nothing. He is the symbol of the American dream. He worked his way from the bottom to the top through hard work, determination, and hustle. Think about it, what real talent did Bowen have?”

The Bowen debate got us talking about some other NBA figures who are near the end of their run, and how their careers will be judged when it’s all said and done. Tell us how you’ll remember each of these guys…

One of the most intriguing “What if?” stories in modern sports. For his first six years, Hill was on his way to becoming a legend, something along the lines of Kobe Bryant without the off-court drama and love/hate relationship with the fans/media. In Hill’s prime he was good for 25 points, six boards and five assists a night, and was only getting better. Had he stayed on that path, what kind of force would he have been not just on the court, but as a pop culture icon?

Then the injuries happened, and where somebody like Gale Sayers would’ve just been done right there, Hill recovered and re-made himself into a valued role player in the latter part of his career. At 36 years old, he put up 12 points and five boards last season, and could still be a starter on a playoff team for at least another year or two. Will Grant’s game be his enduring legacy, or will he be remembered more for what he could have been?

You can’t argue with 10 NBA championships, 12 Finals appearances, about 1,040 regular-season wins, and winning percentages around .700 in the playoffs and regular season.

Or maybe you can argue. Phil has never not had a prime Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant on his team, and the few times he hasn’t had at least two Hall of Famers on his side, he hasn’t won championships. Phil got out of Chicago at the same time MJ retired (the second time), and arrived in L.A. when Kobe was hitting his prime. Is he really a great coach, or just a great opportunist?

Unlike Kobe, KG, LeBron, T-Mac and Dwight Howard, J.O. is one of the prep-to-pros success stories who is often forgotten. He made six straight All-Star Games from ’02-07, and for a span of a few years, could’ve been considered the best big man in the East before Dwight came around and Shaq got traded to Miami. Dating back to the Palace Brawl, however, Jermaine’s career has been on a downward slope, and today he’s seen as an overpaid decent starter.

At his best, Finley was primarily seen as just a really good player on a good team. As his career winds down, he’s seen as little more than a solid contributor who’s infinitely better on a contending team. People forget Finley was a two-time All-Star. He ranks 11th in NBA history in three-pointers made, and cracks the Top-75 in career scoring — ahead of Joe Dumars, Tiny Archibald, James Worthy, Pistol Pete, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Bill Russell, among others. There was a five/six-year run where Finley was a dependable 20-ppg scorer, but at the same time, his numbers always dipped in the playoffs. He’s not a Hall of Famer or anything, but he’s more than just another guy.

Everybody knows Sloan has been with the same team forever and that’s he’s more than overdue for an NBA Coach of the Year award. Here’s something not as many people realize, though: Longevity aside, Sloan’s resume isn’t as impressive as you might think.

Before you accuse me of hating, just check the facts. In his 21 seasons with the Jazz — 15 of which he had Karl Malone and John Stockton together — Sloan has made the playoffs 18 times. But Utah has been knocked out in the first round eight of those times, and exited in the second round four other times. For his career, Sloan has a sub-.500 postseason record (94-98). By comparison, longtime coaching peers Rick Adelman, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Rudy Tomjanovich, the late Chuck Daly, and even Mike Dunleavy Sr. (seriously, look it up) are above the .500 mark.

Sloan will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame next month, and nobody is saying he shouldn’t be there. Forget the Coach of the Year thing; the reason he’s never won it is because his teams have been too good from year-to-year for him to go into a season with very low expectations. But given those other numbers, Sloan might rank lower on the list of all-time great coaches than his reputation warrants.

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